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How to Format an Ebook for Self-Publishing

Updated on March 13, 2015
Putting some thought into the presentation of your book or ebook will be time well spent
Putting some thought into the presentation of your book or ebook will be time well spent | Source


Self-publishing is becoming an incredibly popular way for writers to share their work with the world. If you're thinking about publishing your own ebook, you'll want to make sure that it's formatted to make it as easy as possible for your audience to read and enjoy.

The possibility of writing and publishing an ebook is now in reach of any author, but with the number of ebooks being published every day, you need to find a way to stand out.

This article provides practical advice on how writers can use design and formatting in their books to support their written content, encourage people to read their work and recommend the book to their friends. We'll cover:

  • Thinking about the style and subject of the book
  • Picking the right font
  • Choosing the right font size
  • Choosing your heading style
  • Deciding on your background and font color
  • Deciding on accents and design flourishes
  • Putting your margins in place
  • Spacing your lines
  • Justification and alignment
  • Bullet points and lists
  • Headers and footers, page numbers and table of contents
  • Experimenting and asking others for their thoughts

Thinking about the style and subject of the book

One of the main decisions that you'll need to make about your formatting is: how it is going to reflect the subject, approach and style of your book?

An epic novel set in outer space is going to have a different feel to a short guide to investing and the stock exchange. The formatting goes a long way towards setting the tone of your work, so think about your overall approach when you're making decisions about formatting.

An easily readable font is essential to the comfort of your audience
An easily readable font is essential to the comfort of your audience | Source

Picking the right font

Fonts are the single most important aspect of your design and formatting and will have the largest impact on how easy your work is to read. Fonts fit into two main types, 'Serif' and 'Sans serif':

  • Serif fonts have little 'tails' or 'accents' on the letters and are most commonly used in printed materials. Most of the fonts that you see inside a physical book will be of the serif style and they are also used extensively in newspapers and magazines. Serif fonts generally appear more traditional
  • Sans serif fonts do not have the little accents or tails and as a consequence look cleaner. They are more suitable for materials that are being read online. Sans serif fonts appear more modern
  • Popular serif fonts include: Times New Roman, Georgia, Garamond, Baskerville and Palatino
  • Popular sans serif fonts include: Arial, Calibri, Verdana, Tahoma, Gill Sans and Trebuchet

There is a third family of fonts, that are much more fancy or different in other ways; this includes fonts based around calligraphy and handwriting, Old English lettering, scripts, engraving, comics and many more. You probably shouldn't consider using these types of fonts as they will make your work hard to read and distract from the content of your book.

Choosing the right font size

Depending on the font you choose, and whether your work is intended to be read on-screen or printed out, you will probably want to set the font size at between 10 and 13 points.

A good rule of thumb is that a 12 point font is relatively comfortable to read on most sizes of screen.

Heading styles act as a great way to guide your reader easily through your work
Heading styles act as a great way to guide your reader easily through your work | Source

Choosing your heading style

The chapter headings and subheadings in your book also make a big difference to the format. You don't have to use the same font for your headings as you do for your body text, and in fact a contrast between them can look really good.

You should distinguish your headings in some way though, either using bold letters, larger font sizes or other methods of helping your headings to stand out.

Deciding on your background and font color

You will probably want to keep the background of your book as light as possible. Certainly a white background is standard and is the easiest to read, however you could go for a slightly off-white color like cream, very light gray or something else.

Your font color should be dark, either black, a very dark gray or a very dark blue.

Deciding on accents and design flourishes

You might want to make some design decisions about other parts of your book. For example, if you have an 'explanation box', you might choose to put light text on a dark background.

Perhaps the header area of each page includes the name and chapter of your book. If you're not certain what you are doing yourself, it might be a good idea to consult a designer.

Putting your margins in place

The margins are the white space at the edges of each page, around the text. You will probably want to have margins of around 1" at the top and bottom of your pages and perhaps 1.25" on the left and right.

Margins are an often overlooked factor of page design, but make a significant difference
Margins are an often overlooked factor of page design, but make a significant difference | Source

Spacing your lines

This is the amount of space between each line, either as lines run-on from each other, or after a paragraph. 1.5 spaces or double spaces lines are generally considered easiest to read.

Certainly, you should avoid single spaced lines as they will make your book look very cluttered.

Justification and alignment

You will want to left align your text (so that the left hand side of the page is lined up). Avoid full justification of your text as this can cause spacing issues and look awkward.

Proper line spacing breaks up your content and makes it easier to read
Proper line spacing breaks up your content and makes it easier to read | Source

Bullet points and lists

If you need to break down complex information or provide a step-by-step guide in your work, bullet points and numbered lists are a great way to go about this.

Headers and footers

You might want to put your book name, chapter name or your name in the header of each page; you should include the page numbers in the footer and there are several options that you can use with the page numbering style.

Using chapter headings and page numbers correctly will also make it much easier to create a table of contents at the front of the book.

Experimenting and asking others for their thoughts

Once you've completed your formatting, step away from your manuscript for a while, so that you can come back to it with fresh eyes. Look at it as a reader would - does it look good and read well? Is it pleasing to the eye?

This is also a great time to share the manuscript with friends, family and colleagues to get their feedback on your design. Do they like it? What would they change? If you have the time, you may even want to have two or three different designs so that they can compare and contrast.

From Word to Ebook

What's the most important aspect of formatting?

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In closing

Spending some time thinking about and experimenting with the design for your ebook is a great way to get it to stand out. Making sure that it is as pleasing on the eye as possible will encourage people to read it and recommend it to their friends.

Once you have a design that you are comfortable with, you can work with the people that are doing your self-publishing to make sure that they include your formatting in the book. Always insist on a 'print ready proof' of the manuscript so that you can authorize it prior to the print run starting. And good luck!


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    • Paul Maplesden profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Maplesden 

      3 years ago from Asheville, NC

      I think it's a way of finding a balance between paying someone else to format your work for you, or taking the time to do it yourself. certainly, an editor or proofreader could help to format, and if you're hiring one anyway (which I would recommend), they should be able to do it as part of their service. If not, it's definitely worth taking the time to do it yourself.

    • FreakFran profile image

      Francine Oliveira 

      3 years ago from Minas Gerais, Brasil

      Thank you for that! Very objective and useful!!!


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