…about formatting for Smashwords.

When you’re a bright and shiny new author with a sparkly story to share, the question is: how are you gonna make it available to likely readers?

The answer used to be: write a query letter. No…write tons of query letters and drop them in the mail. Wait for the rejection slips to pour in. Rinse. Repeat. And some “experts” say you have to continue this process indefinitely. Bleh.

The prospect of that uphill slog discouraged me when I was at the bottom of the hill looking up. Until I found new ways to share my story.

One of them was Smashwords. It amazed me that I could format my manuscript by Smashwords’ guidelines, upload the file, and it would be available to the whole wide world as an ebook within the hour. WOW!

Now, I’m no expert when it comes to computers, text manipulation, or any one of a myriad of other abilities. But I was able to format my story, using the instructions I found in Mark Coker’s Style Guide (which is a free download from the Smashwords site). If I can do it, anyone can do it.

The main thing to remember in this process is: when in doubt, follow the guide.

But here’s a brief idea of how I set up a manuscript for uploading to Smashwords.

First, before I do anything else, I make a copy of the document to work from, then put the original in a safe place, and I don’t touch it. I work from the copy.

And let me mention this: before I even get so far as formatting my manuscript for Smashwords, I do one thing while typing my manuscript that simplifies my life: I never ever use the tab key to indent text. Nor do I use the space bar. I use the Paragraph > Format feature of Word to set indents. But if you’ve used the tab key, remove the tabs from your document using Search and Replace. Same thing goes for space bar indents.

Now, to get started with the formatting, I strip the undisplayed control characters within the text of a document (just because you can’t see them, don’t think they aren’t there. They are there, biding their time, waiting to make hash of your manuscript when it is converted into an ebook. So I remove them as a first step).

I copy the entire text of the document (Select All, Copy), then paste the text into Notepad (Notepad is a nifty little program you can find in your Accessories folder). That strips the embedded word processor control characters from it (except for tabs. They have to be removed manually or with Search and Replace, as I already mentioned).

Close the Word document. Open a new Word document, copy the text from Notepad and paste it into the new Word document.

At this point, you may be thinking your document looks pitiful…no indents and your italicized words are plain jane now. Not to worry. Notepad stripped out the control characters that told Word about the indents and other formatting niceties. We’re going to put them back manually. Here’s how:

1. Highlight all the text using Select All.

2. Go to the Paragraph > Format menu. Click the ‘Special’ drop menu on the right and select ‘First Line.’ A box will appear with the number .5 in it. You can leave the indent set at that amount or you can change it (I usually set my indents to .3).

3. Start at the top of the document and manually re-center chapter headings and any other text that has to be centered. Note: be sure to go into Paragraph > Format and change First Line to None for any text you want to center.

4. Start at the beginning and manually add any italics or bold attributes that Notepad stripped from your text.

5. At the beginning of the document, make a title page, following the Style Guide’s instructions. Include the title, name of author, copyright notice, the Smashwords license notes and any disclaimers (I also include the license notes at the end of the book). I always include attribution and copyright notices for the images used on my covers. I also put other information at the end of the book, like, my website address, contact information and a list of my other books.

And that’s it. I’m ready to upload.

Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?



4 thoughts on “…about formatting for Smashwords.

  1. Great article for use of Word. You explained things well. I use Scrivener so I'm working on getting that right. I've axed all the tab stops, I think. Will have to make sure before I'm totally finished.

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