eBook formatting isn’t just for newbies to publishing; sometimes even we old-timers can learn a new way of doing things.
Take software, for example. There are many great software tools for writers, editors, and publishers to use for ebook formatting. Today I want to focus on three, not because they are the three best or the three easiest to use, but rather because they get the job done. Not all three of these ebook formatting options are created equal, but depending on your budget and technical knowledge, one of these three could be right for you.
Choosing an ebook formatting software tool is not a topic I take lightly. While everyone has his or her preferences, I look for tools that help me be most productive. The problem is that in today’s publishing world, there aren’t many standards, and that goes for file formats and e-reading devices. We need to take our manuscripts and end up with a printed book, an ePUB, and a Kindle format, at the very least. That’s different three formats, and there aren’t many tools that will output all three. I don’t want to have three different documents to edit if I need to make a change, so I make sure the tools I’m using for book and ebook formatting will allow me to send my formatted manuscript to a tool that can output in every format I need, if possible.
1. eBook formatting with Microsoft Word
Let’s start with the most obvious formatting tool, Microsoft Word.
The power of Microsoft is its popularity and integration with almost every other publishing tool. What do I mean by that? Microsoft documents can be imported into almost all publishing software that is used for print and ebook publication.
What can you do in Word?
Editing your text is, of course, the first and foremost important job of Word. But beyond text editing, Word’s powerful style and formatting tools are hard to beat for print or ebook formatting.
- You can create body text styles and apply them to your chapter content.
- Create another style to be used in your front matter, such as copyright and dedication pages.
- You can create a style for your chapter titles that not only sets the font, but also creates desired spacing between the title and first paragraph without entering hard returns.
- Particularly if you are interested in ebook formatting, the character styles panel is an important function of Word. Most e-readers won’t recognize ‘bold’ and ‘italics’ unless you create them using a character style.
Word also allows you to set page breaks, which some e-readers will recognize. Page breaks are useful for starting title pages, dedications, chapters and About the Author sections on a new page. Word page breaks are not recognized by all e-readers.
While it’s not my first choice for creating printed books, you can create a PDF from Word with facing pages and a gutter. If you are not familiar with printing layouts, the gutter is needed to provide extra space along the spine for binding and creep. Creep occurs the more pages you have in your book. The center spread will have a wider spine margin than the other pages as you move to the front or back of the book.
You can upload a Word document directly to some ebook distribution sites, such as Amazon’s KDP or Smashwords. When you need an ePUB for distributors such as iBooks and Kobo, you can export Word as an html document and then build your own ePUB; but that’s a subject too involved for this article.
Finally, Word also allows you to add page numbers, headers, and footers to your printed book.
One big drawback of using Word, is that you can’t view facing pages properly, unless a feature has been added that I’m not aware of. When you proof your book, you should always proof the PDF, which will show your cover as a single-up, right facing page, and can display all of your odd and even pages positioned correctly.
2. eBook formatting with Google Docs
Here’s one you may not have considered: Google Docs for ebook formatting. From Google Docs you can export a PDF, Word, or html file. It has most of the same features as Word, but also allows you to collaborate online. This is especially helpful if you are working with another author or an editor.
Note: Microsoft Word and Google Docs allow you to create only the most simple formats for books and ebooks. Particularly for ebook formatting, neither offers much control over your final output. But both are a good starting place for then importing into a more professional publishing platform, or if you are on a really tight budget.
3. eBook formatting and print design with Adobe InDesign
Finally, one of my favorites: Adobe InDesign for print and ebook formatting. Now, let me say from the start, if you are not technically inclined or not interested in spending money on software, this is not the tool for you. But if you are willing to make an investment in your self-publishing business and step through the learning curve, Adobe InDesign is a powerful publishing tool.
For many years, InDesign has been one of the favored tools of professionals doing book layout and design. InDesign offers complete control over the ‘look’ of your book’s design.
- Master pages allow you to assign different margins and other static elements to different pages of your book.
- It’s also easy to place images and anchor them within the text.
The advantages of using InDesign for print books are too numerous to outline here.
In recent versions, InDesign has also made creating ebooks easier. InDesign now has an export to ePUB function, and there is a plug-in for exporting to the .mobi Kindle format that works quite well. Now, this tool is not simple or perfect. You do need to learn how to format an InDesign document so that it exports properly to both ePUB and .mobi formats. But if you take the time to learn it, InDesign can be a one-stop publishing tool.
If you write in Word, you can easily import your Word document into InDesign.
If you’ve done some initial formatting in Word, you can even map these styles to InDesign styles. Or you can create all of your styles inside InDesign. This all-around publishing tool also allows you to add some limited metadata right into the ePUB and Kindle export wizards.
What I love most about InDesign is the ability to use one publishing tool for print, ePUB, and .mobi Kindle files.
I can do my print layout and design and my ebook formatting in one place. I do have to open the ePUB file and make a few changes in order for this ePUB to validate. The iBooks platform requires validated ePUB files.
4. eBook formatting with professional authoring tools
Now we’re getting into high-end tools for pros who do lots of ebook formatting. These tools are used for those who want a single source document that can be output for multi-channel publishing.
My two favorites are Madcap Flare and Adobe FrameMaker. These tools allow maximum flexibility and time-saving publishing, if you know how to use them correctly. They both include all of the style formatting capabilities, plus some added advantages of creating conditional text that can be selected for individual outputs. And when you’re ready to publish, you select the version you want, click a few buttons, and BAM, you have print, epub, or .mobi for Kindle.
These tools may be overkill for the casual publisher, but for the professional who is publishing regularly, they are invaluable. I use these tools regularly, along with Adobe InDesign, depending on my mood and current needs.
Award-winning book designer Joel Friedlander, on his blog thebookdesigner.com, also offers a review of several ebook formatting, layout and design options, as well as how to decide which one is right for you: Book Design & Page Layout Software: A Guide for DIY Authors.
My best advice is that if you are creating many books or ebooks, choose your tool wisely. You want a publishing tool that makes your work quick and easy, especially if you need print and ebook formatting functionality.
Free download: Click the blue box in the right sidebar to Get Your FREE ebook Templates. These formatted templates are plug and play for publishing to KDP for the Amazon Kindle and Smashwords for iBooks and other distributors. The free package includes InDesign and Word templates.