Kindle/CreateSpace/Smashwords Formatting Woes: I figured out the hard stuff so you don’t have to! (Part 1)

I’m just coming up for air after an intensive multi-day foray into the surprisingly (and frustratingly!!) difficult world of formatting a book for consumption through CreateSpace print-on-demand, Kindle KDP, and Smashwords.  My impressions:

1. I honestly don’t know how anyone without a software engineering background publishes a Kindle book.  As a former Microsoft employee and someone with a general interest in programming, I have plenty of experience writing code and markup, and I have a pretty decent knowledge of HTML (which is what format the book needs to be in for Kindle).  Despite my credentials, I had a REALLY hard time getting the damn thing to behave how I wanted it to behave.  How do normal people ever figure this out??

2. Again, as an ex-Microsoft person, you would think I would know basic Microsoft Office programs like Word inside and out.  And compared to most people, I think I do.  But even so, I STILL spent hours learning new Word features and figuring out how to get them to do what I wanted.  Again, how do writers who don’t have a background in these areas ever get this right??

3. There is a serious lack of comprehensive help information on the KDP or CreateSpace sites.  I put off all this formatting stuff until the end b/c I (mistakenly) thought that Amazon would have easy-to-use tools that were designed to help self-published authors get their books to market quickly and easily.  Instead, I spent hours upon hours wading through blogs and online forums to find tips from other authors who had struggled through it and eventually figured it out.  Amazon, get your shit together and write up a step-by-step guide for newbies!!!  (After a lot of digging, I did find this, but it was no-frills and definitely targeted towards people with a basic understanding of Kindle publishing and HTML, which I don’t think most first-time self-published authors really have.)

4. Smashwords does a much better job of making the formatting steps clear, BUT I was disappointed that after I had gone through hell with my Kindle format and finally got a good working ebook, I couldn’t just upload it to Smashwords.  Instead I had to start from scratch, again.  And then when I uploaded my file expecting to get a preview back, it published it!

So I guess this is why there are so many companies that now charge $400+ to format your book for you.  At first I thought, how hard could it be?  Why would anyone throw away $400 on formatting?  Well, now I know.  If Stitch makes ANY money, I can promise you that in the future I will be dishing out to have someone do this for me as well, since I spent WAY more than $400 worth of my time to figure this stuff out.

Okay, so now that I’ve finished my rant, I’ve got a list of useful tips for anyone who might be trying to sort through these same problems.  Below are tips for Print formatting for CreateSpace, and Part 2 of this post will has Kindle & Smashwords tips.  Hope this helps!

(NOTE TO READERS: My tips are based on my experience in summer 2012 doing this in Word 2010.  Things change quickly in the world of software, so just be advised that my tips may be out of date by the time you get to them…)


#1 Advice: Start with a Template!

CreateSpace has kindly posted formatted and basic templates for all available print sizes here.  I used the 5.5 x 8.5 Formatted Template and it got me 80% of the way there – I just saved their template on my computer and wrote my manuscript right in there.  I liked it b/c it gave me a good idea as I was writing how long my book/chapters would be and what the final product would look like.

#2 Advice: Think Kindle from the beginning!

It’s easy to focus on getting the print version perfect and put off the Kindle formatting until later, but based on my experience, it would have been A LOT easier to make sure I was using Kindle-friendly formatting in my Word doc BEFORE I converted it to HTML for the Kindle version.  So if you landed here just looking for CreateSpace tips, if there’s any possibility you will also release your book on Kindle, make sure you read the Kindle tips in Part 2 of this post as well.

Customizing Fonts, Spacing, Indents, etc. with Word Styles

This is huge.  You CANNOT, I repeat, CANNOT just highlight text in Word and change the font like you usually do.  There are a few reasons for this:

1. If you change your mind about your how you want your font/spacing/indents/etc. to look (and you will!) it will be a NIGHTMARE to fix it, b/c you’ll have to go through every spot and fix it manually, instead of just changing the style in one place.

2. It will be even MORE of a nightmare once you convert your book to HTML for the Kindle version and there’s so much formatting markup that you can’t even read the damn thing.

So my recommendation: use Word’s Styles feature.  There’s plenty of information out there about how the feature works (here’s a nice long tutorial from Microsoft).  I had a handful of different styles – one for regular body text, one for the first paragraph of a chapter (with no indent), one with a special “newspaper” font, one with a “newspaper” headline, and one for front/back matter.  The main things that I got snagged on:

– If you’re trying to modify a style, sometimes you will run into difficulties because the style is inheriting properties from another style, in which case you may need to modify the “based on” style instead.  For example, when I tried to change certain properties of my body text style, I found that they wouldn’t take until I noticed that the “Style based on:” was listed as “Normal” which, in order to access and edit, I needed to open up the Styles window and go from there (see the tutorial above for info about finding the Styles window).

– Don’t forget that a Style is also where you should edit things like line spacing, space before/after paragraphs, indents, etc.  You can find all of these things hidden under a little drop-down called “Format” in the bottom left corner of the Style Modify window (which you open by right-clicking on a Style and choosing Modify).

Use Word Section Breaks to Ensure Proper Header/Footer Formatting

The CreateSpace templates have some nice features already built in, like not showing the header on the first page of a chapter or not showing the page number on front matter like the copyright page and dedication page.  It all works great as long as you stick with the pages that are already there, but if you decide to switch things up at all, you might run into some trouble.

The key here is to understand how Word’s section break feature works and make sure you’re using them properly.  Here are instructions about how to add a Next Page section break.  I found that in my case, as long as I did this when adding new front/back matter sections or chapters, the formatting that was set in the CreateSpace formatted template worked just fine.

Word Automatic Table of Contents

This is another important one.  You’ll save yourself a ton of time and effort by using Word’s automatic Table of Contents generator, not only in the print version but also once you convert it to Kindle.  Here are some clear instructions from Microsoft about how to use this feature (skip down to the “Create a table of contents automatically” section.)

Adding Extra Space Before/After a Paragraph in Word

If you need extra space before or after certain paragraphs, DON’T just press the Enter key to add it.  Instead, use the Paragraph Spacing feature to adjust the amount of space before/after your paragraph as needed (instructions here – skip down to “Change the Spacing Before and After Selected Paragraphs”).  Remember, if you need to do this for ALL paragraphs in your book, use the Styles.  This is just to adjust individual paragraphs (for example, if you are showing a break in the middle of a chapter when changing point of view or skipping time).

Word Vertical Page Alignment (Centering Text Vertically on a Page)

This is actually very simple, but the feature is hidden away in a spot where you might not think to look for it.  This is particularly useful for front/back matter.  See instructions here (under “Center the Text Between the Top and Bottom Margins”).

Okay, that’s it for my print version tips!  Check Part 2 of this post and the Kindle formatting tips.


13 thoughts on “Kindle/CreateSpace/Smashwords Formatting Woes: I figured out the hard stuff so you don’t have to! (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Kindle/CreateSpace/Smashwords Formatting Woes: I figured out the hard stuff so you don’t have to! (Part 2) | Samantha Durante

  2. Thanks so much for all of this great info — the bit at the end about how to center text vertically on a page is a true treasure by itself! In the book I just published I could NOT find that feature in Word, so I’ll be very happy to be able to use that with my next book to make chapter section/title pages look super duper centered.

  3. Thanks for this great post!

    I’m currently trying to format a short story for CreateSpace for the first time (I already did the Kindle formatting, and I’m….fairly sure I got it right) and the whole process is just incredibly overwhelming. I have no software/programming/computer magic skills whatsoever, so when you say you don’t know how the average, non-tech savvy person figures this out…well, I can only agree. I’ve gone through more or less the same process as you have, searching random blogs and etc. I wish CreateSpace had a guide as straightforward as the Smashwords Style Guide.

    I have a quick question for you: the one really big thing (okay, one of several really big things) I haven’t been able to figure out is Widow/Orphan control. How did you handle this? I’ve done a bunch of searching, and I just haven’t found any definitive answers. I haven’t paid much attention to orphans but I’ve got several REALLY noticeable widows, and I just don’t know how to make it look right. My book has lots of rather short chapters, but in the 5×8 CS template I chose (and also in 5.25×8, which I’ve been experimenting with) there are several places where a chapter is just a half-sentence over a page long, so I have these ugly almost-blank pages with only one or two sentences, or even half a sentence on them.

    One bit of advice I found repeatedly on the CS forums was to slightly alter the spacing between the words to cause the text to either shrink back onto the previous page, or expand further onto the next to make it more substantial. But I haven’t been able to make this work without it looking really odd. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of commonly agreed-upon advice about how to handle widows, only that they’re pretty much universally considered bad form.

    If you can help, I’d most grateful!

    • You’re welcome, Leonard! You know, that’s a really good question and one I haven’t really found a good answer to either. There were a few places in my book where a chapter would literally end with ONE word on the page – it looks terrible.

      How I dealt with this in CreateSpace print format (since I had control of layout) was to just edit the language somewhere further up in the chapter and shorten it so the offending word/sentence would fit on the previous page. I know, it seems ridiculous to change my book’s prose for layout purposes, but sometimes just subbing out one or two words for something a little shorter will do the trick (look for paragraphs where the last line is only a word or two to minimize your changes – usually if you do this in one or two places in a chapter, it will do the trick). As others have suggested, you can also try playing with the line spacing for the whole book, but my experience is that no matter what settings you use, you’ll always run into these kinds of issues – hence the word choice edits, which I’ve found is the easiest way to handle it.

      And for e-book formatting, it seems like there’s not really much you can do – every e-reader interprets your text differently, and every (person) reader uses different settings with size/spacing/fonts, so there’s not really much you can do to ensure that your chapter breaks will end in an aesthetically pleasing spot. :-( Eventually I just said, “The hell with it,” with an understanding that e-book users know how these things go and are pretty forgiving about layout.

      So, not super helpful, but I wish you the best!

  4. Thanks for the fast reply, Samantha!

    I’ve considered trying to edit the text itself to shorten it, but I was really hoping not to have to go that far. That seems to be about the only way, though! The advice I saw floating around often on the CreateSpace boards was to alter the spacing between words just within the paragraph that produced the widow, not the entire book. This was advice from pretty respected, frequent posters, but I just can’t figure out how to implement that advice without making the layout look abruptly, randomly inconsistent and weird. I just have no idea how you can change the spacing between text in just one paragraph (or even within a few sentences of a paragraph) and not have it come out looking really weird and noticeable.

    I have been experimenting with other templates (up to 6×9, which is supposed to be the biggest acceptable one for a fiction book) just on the off-chance that some would “fit” my text better than 5×8 did. I’ve played around with 5.25×8 and 5.5×8.5, and there has been a little improvement but as you noted, this seems to happen pretty much no matter what you do, so my hopes for trying out 6×9 aren’t high.

    Assuming 6×9 fails me, I’ll go ahead and try changing the prose a bit to shorten it in spots. This is difficult in a few places, though, because some of my widows are about half a sentence by themselves on a page with nothing else, so to fix those through trimming the prose I’ll wind up having to cut out at least 5-6 or so words, which could be an entire sentence (and my book is very dialogue-heavy, so that’ll be especially difficult).

    I’m not sure why, but it seems like, by now, someone ought to have devised an easier way to format! Formatting for eBooks (both Smashwords and Kindle) was pretty time-consuming for me, as I’m not the fastest learner. I spent most of January through February on it. I started my CreateSpace attempt in March and I’d hoped that formatting for print would be easier…but I’m actually starting to miss working on eBook formatting instead!

    Thanks again for the fast response and I’m certain I’ll need all the luck I can get! Hopefully as time goes by there will be some improvements in the formatting process that can make things a little easier for all of us.

    • Yeah, I don’t know how you could change the word spacing within a paragraph and have it not stand out! That’s why I always go the text edit route – I actually write my whole book inside the CS template, and now that I’m conscious of these things, I fix the issue as I go (which seems to make it less painful than tinkering with an already-revised text!).

      Alternatively, remember you could always *add* some text too, instead of shortening. I know it’s generally bad form to add unnecessary detail, but occasionally if I find a spot where things could use a little more clarifying, I do it to get the formatting right. Sometimes adding as few as 3-5 words will push an extra line onto the next page so that the widow doesn’t look so lonely. :-)

      And totally agreed – all of this is way more painful and time-consuming than it seems like it should be! In a couple weeks I’ll be doing it again for my second book (and not taking my own advice to hire a professional… I keep thinking it should be easier the second time around, so we’ll see!), so if I come across any new issues or tips/tricks, I’ll be sure to post them!

      Thanks again for visiting! Always nice to know this stuff is actually useful to someone out there. :-)

      • I’ll keep that in mind!

        Best of luck on your next time around, hopefully it does get easier for you! It’d definitely love to read any updated thoughts/observations/tips on the formatting process that you might decide to write as you go through it once again.

  5. I have just finished formatting my first book for Kindle and it seemed to go reasonably well. Not too many issues. I was pleased with the draft save and the preview facility which has given me a good opportunity to retest all the pages.

    This said, I now wonder about Smashwords. I see you say it publishes it without draft which makes me nervous because I read that new versions take a while to show on their site.

    One thing that is making me nervous is the table of contents.

    I am using Word 2010 and from their styleguide I got the feeling you couldn’t use the auto TOC so I took it out. Then I got to Kindle and they did tell me to use it, so I put it back in – and it worked great.

    Can you please confirm that you have used the Word 2010 TOC in a smashwords upload successfully or do I need to pull it out and follow Mark Cokers manual process of laying tags and hyperlinking. (Which I am happy to do, I used to manage a govt. website so have the skills.) It just seems easier to let Word do what it was designed to do however.

    • Hi Candy! Great, I’m glad to hear things are going well for you!

      It’s been almost a year since I did this, so it’s possible that Smashwords has changed their draft/publishing process since then. But I found that even though it “published” when I submitted the draft, I was able to un-publish immediately and continue uploading un-published drafts until I got it right, only republishing for public consumption when I was done.

      For my Smashwords TOC, I manually built it using the instructions in the Smashwords Style Guide to add the hyperlinks and tags. If I remember correctly, I believe I *did* try the Word TOC first, but it didn’t work quite right (at least not in all the formats), and I had a bunch of issues with other formatting as well, so that’s when I decided to go the “nuclear method” and just re-add all the formatting myself in a fresh doc, including the manual TOC.

      Good luck with everything!

  6. Pingback: DIY Editing Tips | Samantha Durante

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