Format Your Story so it Looks Good on the Kindle and Other EReaders

by on December 22nd, 2010
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When you’re considering formatting for eReaders there are some never-dos and must-dos. I’ll talk about some popular ones in this article, but I don’t touch on all considerations – things like font choice and size can certainly be argued. The points I mention are meant to help you from becoming a raging, frustrated maniac while you hike your way through eReader formatting burrs. Save a copy of your story that is *Formatted for eReaders* as a DOC and save a copy of your story as *Print Version* – usually a PDF. Half of the rules below will not apply to *Print Version* Email both versions to yourself for when your computer goes all apocalyptic.

You’ve written the most incredible story and you want to share it with the world. By sharing, you mean you want half the world’s population to pay 99 cents for your fantastic and clever book so they can download your art to their eReader. You want them to experience the cool font you used for the title and see how perfectly you formatted the thing so it’s appealing to the eye. Trouble is, whatever you’ve done to the manuscript to make it appealing to the eye for a print version probably makes it look horrible on an eReader. I want to tell you some simple ways to make sure your story reads beautifully on eReaders. Below, I will say a lot of blah blah blah, then I’ll give you a sum-up list of the most important, basic points.

When I put my first book out, Fairy Circle, I was jittery with uncontained excitement to *see* the book on the Kindle for the very first time. Sigh – much like other aspects of publishing – what I got was not what I dreamed of getting. I took one look at the first page of the finished product and *pop* – muy stinky. Page 1 should have said Fairy Circle; instead, it said, Fairy.

Then there were some empty pages like this….

Empty

Empty

Empty

On the bottom of the fifth page there hung, Circle.

Ah, such a disappointing start. I ranted and raved and realized, no matter how much I loved my magical font, I just couldn’t use it. Even though it was a found, free treasure. Even though it was incredibly beautiful. :o( Boo hoo. You should never use a fancy font – stick with Times New Roman, Courier New, or Georgia. You should never go above a size fourteen with your fonts when formatting for eReaders. Each eReader displays your story differently so you need to stick to basics with your manuscript. Until the brainiacs of technology catch up to us and our schmancy font use, you must stick to stone-cold boring or risk looking discombobulated and disturbing on the eReader display screen. You don’t want to disturb your reader. Bad reviews, dontcha know.

My lovely friend Elizabeth ran into another problem – one of her chapters started on the very next line after the ending line of her previous chapter instead of starting on the next page like a good little chapter should. You may have used multiple ‘returns’ to start a new chapter or may have forgotten to start a new page by going to ‘Insert’ and ‘Page Break’. Always use ‘page break’ to start a new chapter. And while we’re here, let’s make it clear that you should never have multiple returns anywhere in your manuscript. You can get away with hitting return twice. Say you don’t want your dedication at the very top of the page so you hit ‘return’ twice and begin writing. That’s okay. If you hit return more than that, you risk having your dedication being split between two pages and that looks terrible too. Remember, one page in your word document does not equal one page on an eReader.

What else. You may have hit the space bar too many times. I was giving one of my documents a routine going-over yesterday and was shocked at how many times I hit enter 3 times in a row – sometimes 5 times in a row! Truly, I don’t remember doing this. (Must’ve been a wily fugue state) I’m using Word 2007. Look up there at your tool bar. Go to ‘Find’ and press it. In the ‘Find what’ bar press the space bar three times and hit ‘Find Next’. Go through the entire manuscript. This will highlight where you hit the space bar more than twice – and you never want to hit the space bar more than twice anywhere in your manuscript. Matter of fact, many of the cool-dude, big-guy publishers aren’t having you double space between sentences anymore. Nope, just one space between sentences. Do you know how difficult that is for us old people to adjust to? I still haven’t been able to force myself to single space between sentences – I space-space like a droid.

Another habit I had (long ago when I was young and naïve – okay – three years ago) was to press ‘tab’ to begin a new paragraph. Oip! So bad! You may need to take all of the tabs out of your MS. That’s easy. Go to ‘Replace’. In ‘Find what’ put ^t then put nothing in the ‘Replace all’ bar. Next, you’ll want to have automatic indents magically happen whenever you hit ‘return’ and want a new paragraph to start.

Here, do this:

Go to ‘Select’ and hit ‘Select all’

Go to ‘Home’

Go to ‘Paragraph’. Somewhere around ‘Paragraph’ (for me it’s to the right of ‘Paragraph’ in Word 2007) there’s a wee little arrow. Press on the arrow.

Under ‘Indents and Spacing’ see ‘Indentation’

Go to ‘Special’

Choose ‘First line’

Look under ‘By’. You’ll see 0.5″ appear. Leave it like that. This means each new paragraph will automatically indent by .5 and you want that. Since were being so restrictive and bland, why don’t you go ahead and have your paragraphs start at .6 or .7 so you can feel a little rebellious and ease the pain of not being able to use that wicked cool font for your title. Then rein your enthusiasm in, we don’t want you going crazy and doing anything else too original.

So, how do you make your story look better on any eReader? Lemme sum up.

In your entire eReader manuscript:

1. Never hit ‘return’ more than twice. 2. Never use a fancy font – stick with Times New Roman, Georgia, or Courier New (This rule applies for your title too!) 3. Never go above size 14 with any of your fonts. 4. Never have more than two spaces 5. Never haves tabs (for fiction), use the above instructions to take out tabs and program automatic indents.

Yes? What have I missed? Comment below for your fellow Indie Writers. Best of luck. xoxo


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