6 Formatting Tips for Smashwords, Kindle, and CreateSpace

dictionary3Ugh. Formatting. There is not a single Anglo-Saxon epithet vile enough to do it justice. I hate formatting. I loathe it down to the very toenails of my soul.

However, I made it harder on myself than I needed to, so I thought I’d give you a list of mistakes to avoid. That way you can make your very own when it’s your turn.

  1. All you need to load ebooks are Windows documents (along with a jpeg for the cover). Don’t pay for mobi or epub formatting.

I thought I needed a mobi or an epub file. So I wasted considerable time trying to figure out Scrivener. Ugh. It still doesn’t do what I want.

Then I paid someone on Fiverr to do it for me. I had problems loading those files, so I had to talk to Amazon on the phone. Awesome move, by the way. The people on the other end were amazingly helpful. You can email them, too. They also got back to me that way.

And it turns out KDP would prefer you load a Word document. So I loaded my rtf file, which was awesome because I knew how to make changes on those, and I didn’t have to go through another Fiverr round.

2. Read the Smashwords guide first. The Smashwords guide is here: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52. It’s free, and if I’d done this first, I wouldn’t have had to contact Amazon at all. Individual problems that I had were:

a. Never use the tab key. This is apparently a bad writer thing. Instead, pick the first window style (on the Home tab in Windows) and make sure the margins are set where you want them. Go to the little arrow in the bottom right corner of the paragraph area and click it. That will bring up a dialogue box. Under indentation, choose special, and then select first line. Then you have to set a distance. I chose .3 inches (the Smashwords Style Guide recommends .25-.3).

b. What if you’re like me, and you already have a manuscript full of those pesky tabs? The Smashwords Guide says: “How to automate the removal of tabs and spaces – If you try to manually remove, one by one, the tabs and space bar spaces that comprise your indents, it can take hours and you’ll make mistakes. Luckily, Word’s awesome search-and-replace feature will handle it in mere seconds.

First, make sure you have Word’s Show/hide feature activated so you can see your formatting marks. If you used tabs, press CTRL+H (hold down the CTRL key and the H key at the same time) to “find and replace,” or from the menu select Edit: Replace. Then for the “Find what” line enter ^t (the “caret t” is the symbol for tab) and then in the Replace with space don’t enter anything. Then click Replace All. If you want to see them one by one before you replace them, then click Find Next and then click Replace. After you zap all your tabs, remember to modify your Normal paragraph style (if you haven’t already) to define a “Special First Line Indent” of .25” or .3 inch. Don’t go more than .5 inch.”

Anyway, the guide is full of all sorts of awesome stuff like this, and you really should read it. If you take away only one thing from this post, I would have you read the Smashwords guide before you try to format. It’s mostly about how to use Word.

My only quibble with them is that they’re fine with single spacing on ebooks, although they say 1.5 line spacing is okay. I’ve done a lot of internet research, and most sites don’t recommend single. I’ve seen 1.25-1.4 as optimal, but really, 1.5 should be close enough and it’s a standard setting. Less to get wrong.

3. You need a linked Table of Contents.

First, save a copy of your book without it. You’ll need it for your CreateSpace version.

Then follow the directions on this video to make one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpB9hmlgeU4. Since ebook readers specify their own font, page numbers don’t really mean much. So you’ll need a ToC that can take them right where they need to go. Be sure to include about the author with a way to contact you on your ToC.

4. Once you’ve got your manuscript all bright and shiny, load it onto KDP first. KDP has a step where you can go view your manuscript before you publish. It’s great instant feedback so you can get everything perfect before you hit that publish button.

5. Then load onto Smashwords, if you’re going that route. I know some people go KDP select, but I’d rather have the cut from the other publishers than give Amazon exclusive access. Some countries don’t have Amazon.

6. Finally, load onto CreateSpace. The paperback is the hardest of the lot, and you want to do it last because it adds a lot of extra formatting that you’ll just have to strip out for the ebooks. I guess some people go with Ingram/Spark, but as long as I’m not trade published and unlikely to be in bookstores anyway, CreateSpace is by far the easiest to use.

They have a number of templates based on size here: https://www.createspace.com/Products/Book/InteriorPDF.jsp, and most of the tricky stuff with headers and footers is already started for you. Still, expect to have to fiddle with it for some time. But it’s a huge time saver. And it’s free. I saw plenty of people trying to sell templates online.

And none of the steps above cost any money. So be smarter than me, and don’t pay any out. I’m constantly amazed at the number of people waiting to take your money once you’ve finished a book.


Avid writer and reader of Faerie tales and noblebright fantasy.

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6 comments on “6 Formatting Tips for Smashwords, Kindle, and CreateSpace
  1. frenchc1955 says:

    Thank you for an excellent post! This is extremely useful, and you are very kind in sharing this information.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great tips, Cathleen! Sharing… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. brmaycock says:

    Bookmarked! Thanks for this, am getting down to formatting for Smashwords this very weekend and am terrimified;) so all help very gratefully accepted!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You’ll do fine. 🙂 Just be sure to check out that Smashwords guide.


  5. Wow. I’m so happy I read this!! Thank you so much Cathleen!


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