Writer, format your ebook!

“The main difference between a paperback an eBook is the functionality afforded by an eBook’s menu.”

COMPARED to the process of formatting a paperback, putting an eBook together is relatively easy. The key to understanding the difference is the ‘fixed vs. fluid’ concept. The content of a paperback is fixed – every page remains locked in place however the file is printed; whereas the content of an eBook is fluid – there are no fixed pages and the content takes the dimensions and layout of whatever eReader (tablet, Kindle, smartphone, etcetera) the reader uses. The best place to start is to follow the guidelines provided by your preferred online publishing platform. Here are the basic elements of creating an eBook.

Adapt your paperback

It’s crucial that your paperback and eBook editions have the same content, and one of the best ways to ensure this is to adapt your paperback word processing document into a second document that you can then export as an Electronic Publishing format (ePub) file, bringing the same version of the content with the conversion. Be careful not to reformat your original file, ‘Save As’ or make a copy first. Remember, when you make an adjustment to the content of your book in one file, you’ll need to make the same adjustment to all other files. This is the first step in being an effective editor and proofreader of your own work: apply all changes to all editions!

What do you adjust?

When you have a copy of your original document, resize it back to the standard word processing dimensions (generally A4) but leave all body text of your chapters justified left and right.

Your new ISBN

International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) are unique to every edition of the same book, so you’ll need a new one for your eBook that is different to that of your paperback. Most independent publishers buy a cluster of ISBNs because it’s cheaper to buy them in bulk. Ensure you insert the eBook’s ISBN in the front matter of your eBook file. There is no need for a barcode on an eBook.

Drop your page numbers and headers

The good news about eBook publishing is that you don’t need to concern yourself with page numbering – if you’ve created a new document out of your paperback, turn off all page-numbering functionality. You also won’t need page headers or running headers. Your readers’ eReading devices will create page numbers and running headers within your eBook. Some online book distribution sites require you to nominate a page length for your eBook – use the page length of your paperback, it’s just a guide for booksellers and buyers.

“A great advantage of an eBook edition of your book is the ability to include hyperlinks for your readers.”

Breaking your pages

As with paperbacks, it’s preferable to break your eBook into sections. Books are divided into three main sections – front matter (introductions, copyright statements, etc.), body matter (often divided into chapters), and end matter (references, acknowledgments etc.). Check this guide to book sections for a broader description. In a paperback file, Section Breaks are used for this purpose, but Page Breaks will suffice in an eBook document.

What’s on your menu?

The main difference between paperback and eBook formatting is the functionality afforded by an eBook’s menu, or Table Of Contents (often abbreviated as TOC in word processing). Most online publishing platforms require all eBooks to have a TOC allowing readers to jump straight to each section or chapter by clicking on that section of the TOC. Many independent publishers find this the trickiest part of eBook formatting. The best way to start is to search your desktop word processor for instructions on creating a TOC for an eBook. They often provide a template for publishers to replicate.

9780645270525Your eBook cover

Covers for eBooks are the book’s front cover only, in ‘portrait’ (upright rectangle) aspect ratio. Your publishing platform will require it to be uploaded by itself, generally as a jpeg or a PDF, following guidelines about what size to make the image. There are many variations on this sizing, but it’s important to follow your platform’s specific requirements – they’ll make your cover work wherever it appears within their distribution network. Very often, publishing platforms require your cover to be inserted on the first page of your ePub file. Word processing documents generally allow images to be ‘floating’ (not centred on the page) or ‘inline’ (centred on the page). Your eBook’s ePub file may be rejected by your publishing platform if the cover image is not ‘inline’.

Embed your hyperlinks

A great advantage of an eBook edition of your book is the ability to include hyperlinks for your readers, allowing them to click through to other content, which could lead them to your other books on your social media platform, or related information, or other resources on your subject matter. The options are endless.

Exporting your eBook

When you’ve created your eBook document in Microsoft Word or Apple Pages, you’ll want to see how it looks on an eReader. The optimal way to do this is to export it in a format that eReaders can open, and ePub is one of the most popular. If you’re working on a desktop computer, you probably won’t be able to open your ePub file – email it to yourself and open it on your tablet or mobile phone. Check it for formatting errors, and adjust it as needed.

If you’re working on a desktop computer, you probably won’t be able to open your ePub file – email it to yourself and open it on your tablet or mobile phone. Check it for formatting errors, and adjust it as needed. When you’re ready to upload your ePub file to your online publishing platform, you’ll probably need to insert the ISBN as the file name (check their guidelines).



Ebooks are generally easier to format than paperbacks, with no need to worry about page numbering or headers. You can check your eBook formatting by exporting it as an ePub and reading it on a tablet or smartphone, seeing it just as a reader will when they buy your book from an online bookseller. Take the time to make sure you’re happy with the way it looks before hitting the publish button.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

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