Take pride in your eBook formatting

To me, one of the key elements that sets apart a professional eBook release from that of an amateur has always been the technical presentation of the book. Sure, anyone can write a document in a word processor, run it through some export tool, use a fully automated conversion utility or peruse the services of an online service, but the sad fact of the matter is that none of these approaches typically results in, what I call, production-level digital books.

So, why are people using them? I have spent a lot of time thinking about this and observing how other authors approach their eBook publishing, and the more I examined it, the more I have noticed that there are generally two reasons for it.

The first reason is that many authors simply don’t know any better. They write their book, complete it and look for the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to deploy it. Don’t be one of those authors! It is a sad testimony in my opinion, and certainly not a valid excuse. You have labored over your book for months, maybe even years, you have read and re-read it countless times, cleaned out typos and grammatical errors, massaged the style and worked on the structure, grinding away in the wee hours of the night alongside holding a daytime job and maybe having a family. You did not get here just to break the first cardinal rule of book publishing:

Don’t get sloppy on the home stretch! It will reflect poorly on your work.

If you’re anything like me, an author you’re not familiar with has one shot to prove himself to you. I will never again touch the book of an author who has made a bad impression on me by delivering a broken eBook that is clearly sub-par. I can forgive many things in a book if I so please — stilted language, poor pacing, logical errors, uneven style, even the occasional typo. However, one thing I cannot forgive is poor eBook formatting, particularly if it is to the point that it becomes distracting from the actual reading experience, and sadly I have seen too many of these in recent memory.

I started reading books as a form of entertainment 35 years or so ago and to this day I have not once found a printed book that had formatting problems! Every book that goes to print is practically flawless, except for a typo, perhaps, or print issues such as ink blotting or somesuch production-line flaw. However, I have never seen a book where the font size suddenly jumped, where the font face suddenly changed, where indentations were all over the place or where paragraph adjustment switched from justified to left aligned halfway through a paragraph.

Since the dawn of eBooks, however, these things have become prevalent, and, what’s more worrisome, is the fact that too many authors this seems to be completely acceptable. To me that notion is ridiculous and disconcerting, and no writer who is worth their salt should ever be caught publishing an eBook that is not equally flawless as the longstanding tradition of print books has dictated.

You may frown upon traditional publishing houses and their supposed arrogance all you want, but most indie authors would still do well to take a few lessons from these dinosaurs. Among many other things, at least, they know how to produce and package a product for sale and do not discount professionalism as a sales point at the expense of instant self-gratification.

If you are a self-publishing writer and want to be taken seriously, spend a little time getting acquainted what digital eBooks actually are. Learn how they work, how they originated, what they can and cannot do. You might be surprised how many cool features you can actually add to an eBook with the proper background information and some of these capabilities may truly enhance your books. Sure, some of the features are not very useful for most types of books, but, just as an example, did you know that you can actually embed video content in eBooks?

The second reason why many authors never take the time to create proper, optimized eBooks is that they are perhaps intimidated by the process. It is a technical process, to be sure, but it is nothing to shy away from or to be afraid of. All it requires is a very basic sense of structure and sequencing, things we’ve all been taught since first grade and that we have down pat.

Let’s be realistic, for a moment. This is you, a smart and intelligent person. You have written a book. You have mastered the spelling of millions of words. You have internalized grammar rules and overcome countless stylistic challenges over the course of putting your book together, not to mention that, most likely, you had to plot it all out properly to create a dramatic arc, or to create a stream of conscious that readers can follow.

By comparison, creating professionally formatted eBooks is as easy as burning a marshmallow over an open fire.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will post different installments on this blog to show you how you, too, can get to state-of-the-art, professional-looking eBooks that work perfectly on any eBook reader in the market, taking the guesswork out of creating your final product. Stay tuned…

Take pride in your eBook formatting
Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VIIPart VIIIPart IX

Need help with an eBook project? Check here for more information.

ZenCoverIf you want to keep up with my eBook formatting work, don’t forget to subscribe to my Newsletter. That way I can keep you updated about the latest developments, updates to my books, code snippets, techniques and formatting tips.

Also, don’t forget to check out my book Zen of eBook Formatting that is filled with tips, techniques and valuable information about the eBook formatting process.


231 Replies to “Take pride in your eBook formatting”

  1. consuelo baehr

    Very generous of you to do this. My books are all up and I used The Smashwords Style Guide. Friends who have downloaded and read say they are 90 % fine. However, I’d like them to be at least 99% so I will read whatever you have to say and change if necessary.


  2. Simon Royle

    Totally agree with what you’ve posted here Guido. The other major blunder of course is the Cover.

    If you’ve written a book and want to sell it a good cover, which usually means (unless you are talented at graphic design; specifically book cover design) hiring a pro. There’s a few of them out there and while it can cost from a couple of hundred to five hundred dollars it is worth it if you really want to get your book noticed. Consider it the first hurdle for a prospective reader.

  3. Guido

    I completely agree. It seems too many indie authors seem to think that covers are not important enough to be done properly. It is something I will most likely touch upon also in the future. I mean it is something that drives me up the wall so you can be pretty sure that I will snark about it at some point.

  4. Helen Hanson

    The skill sets aren’t identical. The writer of a novel gets to make up everything and adheres to rules that, theoretically, are now habit. Formatting an ebook requires learning an entirely new set of rules, rules that demand obedience.

    I agree, good formatting is essential. So it should be worth either the effort to learn or the money to pay someone who already knows.

    Great topic!

  5. Guido

    Oh, I agree. The skill sets are far from being identical. What I was trying to say is that they are every bit as easy to acquire as learning how to write and spell, which all writers have mastered.

  6. Emily White

    Oh my goodness, this is EXACTLY what I’ve been looking for! I’ve recently decided to self-publish my book and I plan on going about it as professionally as possible. My one concern was the ebook formatting because I’m not exactly technically savvy. Thank you SO much for doing this!

  7. Lori

    Thank You Thank You!!! I can’t say it enough. This series of posts have been a blessing to me!

    You are honest and straightforward, and I truly appreciate that. With so many people these days just wanting to make a quick buck, especially in the book world, straight-forward information like this is hard to come by.

    I am the designer for several self-published authors who have recently asked me to format ebooks.

    It’s been an interesting process, especially since the printed versions are professionally done in InDesign. I started by formatting according to the Smashwords guidelines, the results have not been publish worthy. In the midst of that, I was given a link to this page, and have decided to go back what I originally knew was the right way to go, which is directly through Amazon, B&N, etc…, this way I have predictable results & skip the middle man. It’s worth the time and effort. The authors may be self-published but they have high standards, thus I am required to produce the best ebooks possible. It’s a fun challenge.

    I’ve been asked to create a series of Children Books into ebooks, and the only suitable outlet I am finding is the Nook Color, yet B&N doesn’t give formatting guidelines. I am not seeing a way to ensure that it is only sold on the Nook Color as well. Even when I ask B&N, through emails, phone calls, etc. they haven’t given me anything specific to the Nook Color & how to format for it. Have you come across any information on this?

    Thanks Again! ~Lori

  8. Guido


    Thanks for the kudos. I have not come across any information regarding the Nook Color but I think it is safe to assume that even if they wanted to, at this point B&N would not even be able to treat books for these devices as separate entities.

    What I would do is to putting very clearly and in bold letters in the product description that this book is designed exclusively for the Nook Color and that it is not recommended to be read on other devices. You have to remember though, that the software eBook readers also work on desktop computers, which can give you a similarly large and colorful representation.

    On a related side note, I think you should also look at the iPad for these types of books.

  9. R. Scot Johns

    Hey Guido,

    I just want to point out one flaw in your comparison of print to ebooks, which is that you were not around when print books were in their infancy, as you are now at the “dawn of ebooks.” Just one look at any 15th or 16th century manuscript will reveal the fallacy of your argument: no punctuation, fonts styles and sizes all over the place, variations in spelling from instance of a word to the next, line run together, spread out, cut off… you name it. Shakespeare’s First Folio is a perfect example, and after hundreds of years of critical nitpicking it’s intended formatting still can’t be determined.

    I’m not arguing at all with your point, and cudos to you for the breadth and depth of this post, which will be highly useful to many aspiring (and published) authors. However, don’t lay false blame where it isn’t deserved. Ebooks are a new format and they change from month to month with new software and technology. There is no set standard as yet, and writers as a general rule are not code programmers, nor should they have to be. The transition to a new medium is bound to be fraught with difficulties, and it’s just one more thing striving writers now find themselves having to deal with. Cut us a little slack, like everyone else, we’re still learning.

  10. Guido

    R. Scot,

    Thanks for your comments but I could not agree less with you. You are just trying to give authors and publishers an excuse they do not deserve.

    The kind of quality level we are talking about was simply not possible in the 15th or 16th century because books were written by hand. In addition, aesthetics were different back then.

    It is very much possible to create a top notch eBook today. We have all the technology in place to make it not only possible, but to make it easy. Contrary to what you are saying, the eBook formats are not changing constantly. They are not a moving target, really, and have been defined pretty well. At least well enough for anyone with the willingness to do good work and learn to be able to do so.

    Ultimately it comes down to whether you want to treat formatting like a pro or like an amateur.

  11. R. Scot Johns

    I wasn’t talking about hand written manuscripts, but rather the first print editions coming off the early presses in the mid-1500’s, and even up through the mid 18th century. Authors did not then, nor do they now set their own manuscripts for press, so why should they be obligated to do so with electronic texts? And unlike print, there are multiple ebook formats.

    Aesthetics have nothing to do with it. My point is that the print industry has had hundreds of years to develop and refine a standard of production value, whereas electronic texts have had just four decades, only the very recent portion of which has been within reach of authors. And while it may be becoming easier to manage your metadata and css encoding, I would argue that it’s still well beyond the average writer’s purvue to learn the additional necessary skills to create and fine-tune even the three or four main digital formats in anything but very basic layout.

    I’ve been struggling with it for two years now. And just so you know, I did every aspect of my first self-pubbed book, including inner and outer art, layout, typesetting, editorial, and proofing. I’d love to agree that it’s easy, or even possible, to create an equivalent e-text edition of a print book, but things like custom word wrapping around interior art, or specialized line-integrated fonts in foreign languages, just aren’t possible without some fairly advanced skills (if at all). Calling anyone who can’t do that an “amateur” is like calling any pilot who can’t fly a space shuttle a novice. Honestly, I doubt very many “pro” authors could do format their own ebooks.

    Many of my writer friends have completely given up on formatting ebooks with anything but Amazon or B&N’s default settings, and most won’t ever consider doing more than that. But again, I highly appreciate your efforts to change that by informing your readership, and I will do my part by sending mine your way.

    Give ebooks another hundred years and then we’ll see where we are.

  12. R. Scot Johns

    By the way, through this Saturday on my blog you can download for free the first book in my debut novel series in either ePub or Kindle formats, as well as PDF. Check the PDF out to see how it should look in the other formats, but doesn’t.

  13. Guido

    I do understand your point and I don’t necessarily disagree, but to say it as plainly as I can, if someone doesn’t know how to create an eBook then he should be formatting/publishing it in the first place. Instead he should consult someone who does have the experience and knowledge to do it right. Just like we peruse editors and proof readers to whip our writing into shape, just the way we use cover artists to prepare our presentation, all because those are skill sets most writers do not have, authors should peruse professionals to do the job they can’t perform properly themselves.

    Just because it might be hard, fraud with issues and needs to be learned is REALLY no excuse to release technically poor eBooks. That is really my main point.

  14. R. Scot Johns

    Yeah, I definitely agree on that last point, and well said. I’ve seen far too many crappy ebooks coming out of MAJOR publishers, let alone independents. Shoddy work is definitely not an acceptable option these days.

    Another distinction should probably be made here though, which is that ebooks are for many authors, myself included, a secondary outlet, with the print edition taking precedence (though digital is gaining ground). I know a lot of self-pubbed authors are going the digital-only route, in which case there is absolutely no excuse for shoddy work (there never should be). For most authors, however, the manuscript is laid out for print first, then the ebook is made from that, so your “no word processor” criteria is bit more difficult to adhere to.

    That said, your advice is well stated, and incredibly valuable in either case.

  15. Guido

    I hear ya. On the other hand, with a clean manuscript it is actually fairly easy to convert it to an eBook the way I described because it has been cleaned up. You simply copy and paste it – the way I outlined in one of the steps – and then start marking it up with the necessary HTML tags. With the right tools that is really no more than a few mouse clicks.

    It gets a bit more tricky of course, once you start dealing with images, special fonts, etc. and you want to have maybe web links and stuff in it, but for most novelized books even that is usually in manageable measures.

    There is an inherent learning curve, naturally, but once you got over the growing pains it is usually a very straight forward process that is virtually the same for each book.

  16. Ed Robertson

    This is a great guide. I picked up some HTML several years back, but they’ve added a lot since then–and this really helped bring me up to speed. Thanks for putting this up.

  17. Allan R. Wallace

    Well said. There are many elements to self-publishing; and each decision made has the potential to limit, expand, or alter readership. The fun part is deciding which readers you want to reach and crafting your art to fit them.

    It’s your book.

  18. Morris Graham

    Your series of articles are awesome!

    I was able to create styles and tags for every situation I needed but am perplexed about something.

    It seems that you can’t get em size over 2em with a paragraph tag.

    Using H1 tag, I can get the size to 3em for my book title and for two other headers that I want, but I have to do it unconventionally.

    using the following H1 style

    font size: 3em;
    text-indent: 0em;
    text-align: center;
    font-weight: bold;

    By itself, this will not honor the center, size or weight attributes.

    I found an unusual way to make it work, but I am unsure if it might crash in some device. MOBI PC reader likes it.

    I added these two styles with the one above…

    text-indent: 0em;
    text-align: center;
    font-weight: bold;
    text-indent: 0em;
    text-align: center;
    font-weight: bold;

    Ok, here is the only thing I can get to work…


    My question is, will this work for all devices? Is there any better way to do this?

    second question… I have real curly quotes throughout my document. Am I supposed to replace them with the html code or just leave them as is?

    Thanx, Morris

  19. Morris Graham

    sorry, when I put the code in there it simply translated it..


    I added the centering p tag and span like you showed in your example, but wrapped tags around my title inside of the span. It works great, but certainly there is a better way to manipulate a header to make it center up properly and still be 3em font size.


  20. Guido

    The curly quotes will have to be converted to named entities, just as I describe in part VI of this series. Not converting them at all, or converting them to numeric entities, will inevitably create display problems on certain devices and platforms.

    As for the centering, I do all my centering with a p and a span tag, like this

    <p class=”centered”><span class=”centered”>This is my text to be centered</span></p>

    Just a quick note, you will not have to repeat setting the font to bold in the span style definition. It will automatically be inherited from the p tag that is wrapped around the span.

  21. Morris Graham

    Ok, the centering with a p and a span tags work fine, but since you don’t encourage the use of Header tags, I am at a loss for how I would code the following. I need to center a line, make is bold, and 3em, and color: #E36C0A; The only thing that I have seen works in MOBI reader is using your centering with header tags wrapped around the text, inside the span.
    The last thing I tried, works except the font size.

    I tried…

    font-size: 3em;
    font-weight: bold;
    text-align: center;
    text-indent: 0em;
    color: #E36C0A;
    font-size: 3em;
    font-weight: bold;
    text-align: center;
    text-indent: 0em;
    color: #E36C0A;

    The results was a HUGE font size in IE and Firefox, and no more than 2em in MOBI reader. In fact, I don’t’ see any way to control the size other than wrapping the test in a header tag inside of the centering span. I even tried DIV tags, and that didn’t do anything. Is there a limit to the size MOBI will read a paragraph tag attribute?

    I think I have the rest of the novel whooped.

    Oh, one more question?
    I added a border to the body or my test…IE and firefox love it, but MOBI reader doesn’t even display it. I used…

    Any way to add a border for ebooks?

    Thanx, Morris

  22. Guido

    As I mentioned before, you do not have to repeat all the settings in the span style. The span style could really just consist of a “text-align: center;” setting, like this

    text-align: center;

    I am not sure I understand what you mean by “Header” tags. The way you would do it is exactly the way you describe. You create a style for your text and then wrap it with the respective tags.

    <p class="topsecret1"><span class="centered">This is the text</span></p>

    If you don’t see the font larger that 2em, it is a software issue with the reader. I have noticed that the Kindle software does not display fonts larger than 2em, but the device actually does.

    As for borders, the MOBI file format does not support borders so, no, it is not possible to create borders in MOBI eBooks. It does work in ePub, though.

  23. Morris Graham

    Ok, hopefully last couple of questions…

    Can I use non-whole numbers of em, like 2.5em?

    I noticed that IE and Foxfire shows some really large sizes when I make it 3em. Is that realistic? What is the largest title em font size you would go with?

    Thanx, Morris

  24. Guido

    Yes, you can use decimal numbers.

    The way IE and Firefox render the text is correct, yes. 3em is a really big font size. I would only use that if you have something like only the number as the chapter heading, like “1”, “2” etc.

    If you have text like “Chapter 1” or so, I would not go above 2em for aesthetic reasons.

  25. Morris Graham

    I am done! All things work, and all I have to do is a final walk-through to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Well, almost time to design the cover, and then I’m through.

    Thank you,

    • Guido

      No, it does not. TextMate is purely a programming editor. If you are looking for something that can automatically export an HTML file from you manuscript, word processors like Word can do that. Scrivener – the best writing software on the planet – can do it, too, and actually does an amazing job at it. However, you will have to be careful, as the caveats from Part II of my series do apply.

  26. Serena

    Hi Guido,

    I am making a book that has some special physical exercies in it that i have created. They will be displayed by photographs. However after reading your blog that sasy video can be imbedded that does facinate me. I did think of making a separate dvd and selling that with the video demonstration, however i could make an ebook with embedded short video displays instead, or maybe sell that version at a higher price. What concers me is if I make a video imbedded is it possible to stop it from being completely copied and put up on someones youtube channel. And secondly is that bad for my sales if it is on youtube and everyone can see it there, will they buy my book? Or as some say is that good promotion to spread the word. Maybe people will think there is more in the book that they have not seen? I would appreciate your advice?

    • Guido

      Video will limit you to a small subset of the existing eBook readers, such as the iPad, and the other tablets. In addition, if you embed the video in the book it will bloat the file dramatically. This will mean that it will take a looooong time to download, plus Amazon will charge you a hefty fee for every download, and you will fill up people’s memory really quickly. None of them are desired scenarios.
      If you link to a video on the Web, you are assuming that the user has an Internet connection, which is not always true. Not only can people turn off their wireless connection, but depending on their location, additional fees could be incurred, access could be blocked altogether, etc. Even if the user is connected, the download speeds might be prohibitive. Altogether, that is an even less desirable situation.

      So all in all, I do not recommend the use of video on eBooks at this time, unless there is a very good reason for it, and if it is small enough so that it can be safely embedded without creating an extreme monetary overhead and memory footprint.

  27. Robert

    Thanks so much for this series of posts. I attempted to self-publish a set of short stories via Create Space and Amazon and was plagued with most of what you mentioned format-wise. Line and paragraph breaks and shifts, abrupt font style changes (seemingly for no reason I could surmise), PDF conversions just plain gone wrong. All lead me to throw up my hands and give up – then! But, here I am again, and thinking that self-publishing may be my only avenue for ANY possbile publishing, I’m giving it another shot. I’ve bookmarked this. Thanks again!

  28. Leigh Arrathoon

    Hi Guido,
    I have read your tutorial two or three times, and, being technologically deficient, I’ve formatted a short story, with the help of a friend, so I am very, very grateful to you. Now it’s time to get serious and do the books! I’m wondering if the devices I will be formatting the books for will be able to view drop initials? I used to be a typesetter in my spare time, so the books have beautiful drop initials in them. If these would show up in e-books, would I just make jpegs of the initials and drop them at so and so many ems in and so and so many ems down. Being a novice at HTML, what would that look like in the style sheet?

    I read that you were looking for a way to watch foreign movies in the U.S. I just went down to a discount computer store, bought an HP, and chose the sector I usually watch movies in. I think it was 3 or 5, and it included France, Britain, and something else. Anyway, I just opened up the computer, it asked me what sector I wanted, and voilà! The only problem is that it still wont stream movies from those countries into the U.S., but at least I can play the discs I buy from France.
    Thank you for all your help.

  29. Shay Brightman

    Thank you so much for this……i published today on amazon in complete ignorance, and the very first review stripped my book bare…it was hard to read, and I simply wasn’t aware what would happen when my book went on to Kindle. I feel stupid, and the guy who left the review has labelled me as a spammer and given me 1 star, because i inadvertently discussed my book on his amazon thread. What a day; after 6 years teaching myself to write, overcoming my dyslexia, and finally drumming up the courage to put my work out there, this is what happens. Just brilliant. I now need your guidance to sort it out. So thank you for taking the time to help people like me.

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  31. Salvatore Pedi


    I’m making some preparations to write my very first ebook for Amazon’s kindle. This is the first step for me as I’ve never written a book before.

    My main problem at this stage is to find the proper format (or, word processing) to write my story with. I’m using an Apple iMac…. I currently have “PAGES O9 ” but, I’m not sure if I could use that..

    I’d surely appreciate any information you could give me.

    Thanks……salvatore pedi

    • Guido

      Personally, I’m a huge fan of Scrivener (http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php). I’ve written all my books using that software can say nothing but good things about it. I don’t think a regular word processor like Pages is really all that great to write books, for the sole reason that it is not possible to organize things such as research, ideas, references, links, etc. The result is always a tedious clutter somewhere on your hard drive. Scrivener helps in that way by keeping it all together, neatly organized and immediately accessible.

  32. Gabriel Beyers

    Hello Guido,

    Once again, thank you for these informative posts. I hired out my first book’s formatting, but now I find myself a bit short of cash and am looking into formatting my next book. It’s fairly straightforward, so I think I can follow your instructions.

    My only problem right now is I would like to have some hyperlinks in the book, like links to my other books, my Facebook page, etc.

    Could you explain how to format links? I would really appreciate it.

  33. Ksenia Anske

    Guido, thank you for the fantastic article. I’m still a few months away from being ready to publish, but have already started looking for a formatting guide to deliver an extraordinary experience to the readers. I’m writing my YA 1st novel that I want to look akin to a hand-written diary. Do you have any tips on how to insert written comments into typed text – as if they were made by hand? Or, should I shelve the idea?

    • Guido

      Since most eBook readers do not support font embedding, there’s no good way to do this. You could save the passages as images and insert them, but that will take a lot of storage space.

  34. Lance Foster

    I wrote a bilingual book that uses English and Yoruba. Yoruba uses a particular kind of font. Since you say that most eBook readers do not support font embedding, then it seems the only way I can publish this as an ebook (it is about 26 pages long) is to handle each page as a jpg, including the text, rather than as text (because the Yoruba text uses orthography that needs a particular font)?

    • Guido

      More and more eBook readers now support custom font, so you could go that route, but you should be aware that you’d still be cutting out a large portion of the market, namely those with Kindle 1, Kindle 2, original Nooks, etc. You will have to weigh your options, becasue using image files has severe drawbacks as well, not the least of which is their size, of course, and the fact that they don’t scale well.

  35. J Thomas Beaton

    Hi Guido – do you know of a good instructional site or blog like this one where creation of a bespoke dictionary is so clearly laid out? i have been searching but only get a few vague references to automatic pgms that I’d rather no use, having seen what they did to my first attempts of my ebooks. Thanks very much.

  36. Wirral Writer

    Very good post. As a published author on Amazon Kindle (True Ghost Stories series and Horror Stories), I would like some information on how I can make links in ebooks work. I have just saved a Word doc as an ebook PDF. However, I don’t know why the links I created in Word won’t work.

    Can you advise?

    • Guido

      PDF files are not really eBooks, they are digital documents, which is big difference. But be that as it may, it all depends on the process you are using to actually build eBooks as to why links would be dropped.

  37. Misty Spears

    Very good advice! I just finished my first kindle platform book and I think I’ve re-exported into my own Kindle device at least 10 times adjusting things to make it look good. Of course, I have to hope everyone sees it the same way I do.

  38. Davey Northcott

    Hi Guido

    Can I just say thank’s a lot for this guide, it is proving absolutely invaluable to me as I embark on my first ebook formating experience. No coubt I would have already hurled myself from my 5th floor flat window by now so, you could say you have saved a life … hehe!

    Anyway, down to business. Is it neccessary to put commas, full stops, question marks, hyphens, colons and semi-colons into HTML?
    The reason being, I can’t find the code for these, at least in the letter form (I’ve found the numerical form but you mentioned these were’nt to be trusted). For the more complicated symbols it hasn’t been a problem but …
    If you know these codes it’d be great if you could paste them in here.

    Thanks again.

    Davey Northcott

    • Guido

      Davey, general punctuation does not need to be converted into entities. You can freely use things such as question marks, commas, periods, colons, etc. without having to worry about them.

  39. Davey Northcott

    Hi Guido. My ebook is looking better by the minute, thanks a lot again for the guide.

    I have two queries about problems I am facing, however, and cannot figure out why.

    There is one section of the book which is in italics and shouldn’t be. I have checked and rechecked the code and symbols that are wrapping it but can’t see anything that would cause this. The section before it is in italics and should be, and after this section I have the symbol. Any ideas as to what may be happening here?

    Question number 2 is this: Is there a limit on how much you can indent text? I have some lines where I would like to have every other line indented about 8.5em. However, the maximum that it seems to indent the text is 3.5em, no matter what number I put in. Here is the code I am using:

    text-indent: 8.5em;
    margin-bottom: 0.2em;

    Any ideas here also?

    Thanks a lot.

    See more about me and join in some IMAGINATION FUN in The imAgine RooM:

    @DaveyNorthcott on Twitter

  40. Guido


    The first problem you describe can’t be diagnosed from afar. Only a look at the actual code would allow me to see what is going on.

    As for indentation, no, there are no limits that I know of. It could be that Calibre is limiting it, however, the way it also limits font sizes to avoid excess. There is a switch somewhere, though, to turn that on and off in Calibre.

    Having said that, an indentation of 8.5em is HUGE, especially because the Kindle is still not calculating Em spacing properly and will probably make it look like 40em or so.

  41. Davey Northcott

    Thanks for the tip. I’ve reduced the indentation but, looking again, the maximum it allows me to indent seems to be 1.5em. It doesn’t indent opening up in the web browser either so I don’t think it’s calibre. What I’ve done in the end is, rather than indent every second line, I’ve put the indent of the other lines to 0em so it creates the same effect and still looks good when opened in calibre.
    As for the first problem, I’m currently taking out all of the italic commands before the ‘problem section’ to reinsert them again to see if that makes any difference. Fingers crossed! 🙂

  42. Davey Northcott

    Hi Guido.

    Just to let you know, after doing the above it seems to have solved the problem with the italics. I guess there was a rogue somewhere abouts!
    Thanks for the tips anyway.

    Davey Northcott

  43. Tasha

    Hi Guido

    I was wondering what is the disadvantage to embedding a font if you provide a generic fallback font like serif? Reason I ask is that it seems as if Georgia is the default font for a lot of devices (at least from using the kindle previewer) and Georgia causes some numbers to go beneath the line (e.g. 3).Also, I thought the kindle fires had the options to change the font yet in the kindle previewer the only font available is Georgia for the fire line of devices. It seems to be the default for the kindle for Pc software too.

    Thanks for your help and this invaluable guide.

  44. Mobi-ePub

    I agree that the formatting of an eBook is one of the most important aspects. Being very pedantic, formatting errors can really ruin the reading experience for me. Thanks for this article!

  45. Mari Beth

    I haven’t read all your posts on ebook formatting – I’m just starting my research on this. I’ve made a children’s book through Bookemon for a story my Dad wrote. I’d like to convert it to an ebook for other formats (Amazon, Kindle, etc.) Do you have any advice specific to children’s books which are full of color and pictures? (You may talk about this in your Zen book) And do you have any advice moving from Bookemon to other outlets? Thanks so much.

  46. Lovely Jirny

    Okay. I got your drift. Yet, another milestone in my writing career. I’m on it. I had a great writing instructor, the late, Louis Reyes Rivera. Errors glare at me from traditional books, not often, but glaring when they show up. I know absolutely nothing about eBook formatting. Just want to say thanks for your work, I do take pride in my work and I appreciate your input and guidance. I began studying and tweaking today.

  47. Stephen

    Hi Guido,
    Thanks so much for your site and its information. It has been encouraging and fun! I am an old guy trying to figure out how to provide the necessary html in order to make a work available as an ebook. However, I seem to be stumped at two big phases, and I can’t seem to get my head around them.

    I glanced through some of the threads in your “take pride” series, but nothing I saw seemed to address my questions (probably because they’re so basic that no one even thought to ask them!).

    Anyway, my first question is about JEdit. I followed all your steps through chapter VI, but I found myself getting stuck in opening the file in my web browser. I know you use text mate, but would you know how to open a file from JEdit into a web browser?

    My second question stems from the first. After being unable to open the file from JEdit, I then transferred it back to MS Word (despite your advice not to do so), with all the html included to account for headings, italics, etc. I saved the file as an .html, but when I opened it in a browser, I continued to see all the html language code included in the text.

    From there, I was lost, since I was unable to affect any of the changes to my documented as I should have been able to. Can you help me with these questions? Or are am I overlooking so many things that you can’t even begin to understand them?

    At any rate, I am still encouraged by the possibilities out there today, for the individual, and I am in part immensely thankful to you and your site. Thanks so much again, and

    All the best,

    • Guido

      If you save the file with a .html file extension from within JEdit, you should be able to simply double-click the file and it should open in your web browser. If not—which would indicate something is wrong with your computer, really—you could also always right-click the file and select something like “Open with…” and then select your browser.

      Saving a HTML file in Word will never work, in fact, it will not only not produce an HTML file, it will most likely also destroy your carefully crafted source code.

  48. Stephen

    Hi Guido,

    Thanks again for this and as a matter of fact my computer is now in the shop, at the time of this writing, so I suspect you were correct about there being something wrong with it…

    Thanks again for your reply and also for all your efforts in this wonderful site.


  49. Deborah

    Hi Guido –

    Thank you so much for this series. This is so helpful since I have just been contracted to create a series of ebooks for use as Moodle resources and I haven’t found out what formatting they accept that can also be used as separate stand-alone ebooks. I think if I just do the html files as you outline I will solve that problem so thank you! I hope I can contact you with any questions along the way.


  50. Morris E Graham

    Hi Guido. First of all, I want to thank you for this tutorial. In my credits of my debut novel, “Warzone: Nemesis,” I credited your help.

    I have an issue that I can’t seem to quite reolve. I have mastered Microsoft Word’s handling of the thin space even when the text is justified, but not so fortunate with my eBook. I would like to add a thin space between double quote and single quote, but Kindle doesn’t honor the code. It acts as though it is a single space and nothing I’ve tried so far makes any difference.

    Best regards, Morris E. Graham

    • Guido

      Thanks for the kind words, Morris. Interesting that you mention this. In American typography this is not commonly done at all—which is most likely the reason why it hasn’t been implemented in devices like the Kindle, iBooks off the bat. What you are referring to is something that is more commonly used in Europe. I remember in my days as a typesetter in Germany, we always inserted a narrow space following quotation marks, and also set apart things, such as exclamation marks with some narrow spacing.

      HTML supports the entities &thinsp;, &ensp; and &emsp; as different spacing characters, but as far as I remember, none of them are supported by eBook devices, so to answer your question, to the best of my knowledge, it is not possible. I would have to run some test, though, to confirm this.

  51. Guido

    Zen of eBook FormattingI just wanted to let you know that a revised, second edition of my book “Zen of eBook Formatting” is now available on Amazon. Unfortunately Amazon makes it a bit tricky for people who own the original to get the new one, but if you send them an email, it is my understanding that they will let you replace the version in your library with the updated one.

    If you haven’t purchased the book yet, make sure to do so now. The new version has been adapted to current developments and expands on various subjects to clarify and to accommodate new developments in eBook devices.

    Click here to grab the book on Amazon!

  52. L.C. McGehee

    Thank you so much for this tutorial, Guido — you’re a life saver! 🙂

    I wasted hours trying to follow Amazon’s directions on the KDP sites, and then messing around with Sigil, and ended up with nothing to show for it. After following the steps described here, I finally have an eBook that looks decent on Amazon’s book previewer. I’ve also purchased “Zen of eBook Formatting” so I have all the information in one place. (And I love the title, BTW!)

    However, there are a couple of little issues that I haven’t been able to fix. We started a small press last year, and my sister and I took great pains with the formatting of the print version of our first book, and I really don’t want the eBook version to look any less polished. (I’ve seen lots of sloppy eBooks, even ones put out by major publishers, but I’m far too much of a perfectionist to accept something that looks so unprofessional to me.)

    In the print version of our book, there is a dedication and an epigraph (each on a separate page) and I want them to have the same top margin as the chapter headings. I’ve tried a dozen different things (including making the formatting exactly the same as the chapter headings, with the only difference being that there’s no link to the TOC), and nothing works — the previewer still shows those lines right up at the top of the page, while the chapter headings have a much larger top margin. Ironically, the only device (if Amazon’s previewer is accurate) that most of my attempts have worked on is the Kindle DX, which in other respects appears to be rather retarded! On the DX, the preview shows no formatting of the fonts on the title page at all, and then it takes the logo of the press (which is just a small image on all the other devices, as it should be) and makes it huge and puts it onto an entire page by itself…!

    Is there any way to make that top margin show on the dedication and epigraph pages? And if the Kindle DX really is that goofy, is there some way to correct for that? I was wondering about the possibility of turning the entire title page into an image instead of text, in order to completely control the fonts and sizes, the way you did with the fancy chapter headings — would that work, or could it create other problems?

    Thanks again!
    L.C. McGehee 🙂

    • Guido

      Thank you so much for your kind words. Without looking at your actual code, it is hard to say why the top margin does not show in those pages. There’s no real reason why it shouldn’t.

      As for the title page, yes, if you want full control, making the entire page an image would solve your problem, most likely.

      The DX is beast all of its own and a lot of the issues surrounding it come from the fact that it is a first/second-generation Kindle. These devices use an outdated ebook format that has SEVERE limitations. By that I mean that it is, as an example, not even possible to scale images. Depending on how the image is coded in your HTML, it will either always show up in its original source size or scaled to the size of the full page. Very little can be done about that, but fortunately these early Kindles do not seem to have much of a market penetration any more.

      If you found the book helpful, please be so kind and leave a review on Amazon. It would mean a lot to me. 🙂

  53. L.C. McGehee

    Hi Guido – I wanted to say thank you for your reply and let you know that I did post a review of the book. 🙂

    I’ve found that making the entire title page into an image works quite well. Then I also ‘fixed’ the margin issue by inserting an image that was simply a blank place holder, but that seems to be a rather awkward way to do something that should be simple! So even though I’ve corrected the appearance of those pages in the document, I’d really like to figure out what the problem is and how to make the margin formatting work properly.

    If there is no formatting in a document other than the basics that were copied and pasted directly out of your tutorial, how would you recommend putting a larger margin on a single page with something like a dedication? Above the text there is a page break formatted like this: Other than that, there’s nothing that’s been added or changed. (And the page break is working fine.)

    Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

    Thanks again,
    L.C. McGehee 🙂

  54. Guido

    Thank you very much for the review, L.C. I truly appreciate it. Posting code in these comments doesn’t really work, unless you format the respective tags with entities.

    To create a separate page for a dedication page. for example, I simply do this.

    p.dedication { page-break-before: always; text-indent: 0em; text-align: center; margin-top: 4em; font-size: 1.25em; font-style: italic; }

    and then on the page tag it like this…

    <p class=”dedication”>This page is dedicated to Bruce Lee for his inspiration.</p>

    Does this answer your question?

  55. L.C. McGehee

    Thanks, Guido –

    That should have answered my question except that it still isn’t working . . . Just as it was with everything I’d tried before, most of the devices (at least according to the previewer) are completely ignoring that top margin and shoving the dedication right up to the top of the page.

    The only devices that recognize the top margin (and I changed the ’em’ value a couple of times to be sure) are that goofy Kindle DX and the iPad (and iPhone). All of the other Kindles (and the Android tablet and phone) just ignore it.

    Have you ever run into this problem before? I just don’t understand why such a simple instruction would be ignored, when all of the other formatting for that class, such as the centering and the italics, works perfectly fine. 🙁

  56. Guido

    Depending on how the HTML document is structured, yes, that can happen. Try padding-top instead of margin-top. That usually does the trick in those cases.

  57. L.C. McGehee

    Hi Guido –

    I’m afraid padding-top doesn’t work either. (All of the devices ignore it completely!) Do you have any other suggestions, or am I stuck with having to jury-rig the top margin by inserting the image of a blank space above the text?

    It just seem so odd that there would be no way to make it work with the standard formatting codes!

    Thanks again,
    L.C. McGehee 🙂

    P.S. I recommended “Zen of eBook Formatting” on my favorite writers’ forum. 🙂

  58. Guido

    This should not happen. Something is wrong with your code. Can you send me the HTML file via email, perhaps, and I’ll be happy to take a look.

    • Guido

      Yes, there are ways to do this, but there are some limitations, depending on the Kindle model and firmware the book will be displayed on.

      In general there are two ways to do this. Either create a span around the initial character and then adjust the font properties in that span, or to use the first-letter pseudo-element.

  59. Morris Graham

    Thanks. Can you show both examples of how to apply this code? I tried some that I found on the internet and basically wound up with one oversize letter on the first line and then it indented it to the second line to continue.

    Thanks, Morris

  60. Ski

    Hi Guido,
    I’ve nearly memorized your website and I have purchased your book, Zen of Ebook Publishing, but I still have a question.

    I am using sublime text, and am wondering if things like comas, exclamation points and question marks need to be coded like quotes etc. I can’t seem to find out if they should, and so far they appear correctly in both MOBI and EBOOK formats. I sure would appreciate your opinions.

    Best Rgds………Ski

  61. Storymedic

    Hello, I just bought your book as a thanks for writing this amazing free guide. The only thing I didn’t see you touch on is front matter. How do I make title pages that look good? Also, this is regarding images: if I use images for some of the fancier stuff, how big should I make them so they look good on all devices?

    • Guido

      @Storymedic, how to make title pages look good is really a matter of personal taste and design. There is little I can say on the subject. It is achieved like everything else in the eBooks using style settings to achieve whichever design you desire.

      As for image sizes, there is a chapter on the subject in the book. There is no simple answer for it because of the many factors that play into it and the chapter in the book goes into a lot more detail about what thoughts should go in that particular decision process. It also depends, of course on exactly what it is that you are trying to do. Your explanation was unfortunately not very clear on that. 🙂

  62. Morris E. Graham

    Hi Guido. I am having trouble with being able to make large letters in my chapter headings and H1. For some reason, saying the size is 2em, or 3em, really doesn’t get it big enough. Can I see the CSS script you use that really works?

    Also my client wanted font type Brush Script Std, but it doesn’t show up on my Kindle.

    Thanks, Morris

  63. Morris E. Graham

    Okay here is my notepad file from top to end of head…

    html, body, div, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, ul, ol, dl, li, dt, dd, p, pre, table, th, td, tr { margin: 0; padding: 0em; }

    font-size: 4em;
    text-indent: 0em;
    text-align: center;
    font-weight: bold;
    font-size: 1.5em;
    text-indent: 0em;
    text-align: center;

  64. Morris E. Graham

    Now, here is my body where the text is:

    My Title

    This doesn’t allow for centering, bold, or size. What am I doing wrong?

    Thanks for your time.

  65. Morris E. Graham

    Correction, this is the first file


    html, body, div, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, ul, ol, dl, li, dt, dd, p, pre, table, th, td, tr { margin: 0;

    padding: 0em; }

    font-size: 4em;
    text-indent: 0em;
    text-align: center;
    font-weight: bold;
    font-size: 1.5em;
    text-indent: 0em;
    text-align: center;


  66. Morris E. Graham

    Okay to be clear. What I am saying is this: regular text is one size, like the regular paragraph tag with no size definition, presumably whatever the default devise decides. But,,,I don’t want the same size for everything. i want my title page and chapter headings larger. However, when I try to use this code below in my head, it doesn’t make it any larger, or at least not large enough. I’ve tested it on MOBI pocket reader and my new Kindle fire, same thing.

    font-size: 4em;
    text-indent: 0em;
    text-align: center;
    font-weight: bold;

  67. Morris E. Graham

    since you can’t put all the code in one post or it screws it up, I follow up: This is the line I apply in the body.


    Now, I think we’ve discuss this before, but with span class “centered”, it doesn’t even get centered, even though in my p.h1 tag, I told it so…

    I also used to be able to put a paragraph break in my book to make it look nice when I needed it, by adding the following code below, but it no longer works on new books.

    Anyway to sneak past the formatting Nazis and get a paragraph break in there?

    Also, any idea what the html color # for the default white they use in Kindle?

    Thanks, Morris

  68. Morris E. Graham

    Okay. I read your book, and gave it a five-star review on Amazon. I loved it Most of all of my questions were answered. On “Zen of eBook formatting,” I do have one question. On your title page, it appears that you created a picture for the first part of it, and then “Guido Henkel” was in text. Can you show me all of the code you sued to create that page, and also what the size of your picture was?

    And another question. Is there any way to vertically align animage to center?

    Best regards, Morris

  69. Guido

    Morris, vertical alignment is not possible in eBooks. It is really one of the most missed features for book design because it would dramatically help with page layout, even in free flowing books.

    There’s really nothing special to the title page. It’s just an image wit text beneath. The code looks like this

    <p class="title"><span class="centered"><img src="images/lettering.png" alt="ZEN OF EBOOK FORMATTING" /></span>
    <p class="centered"><span class="centered"> </span></p>
    <p class="centered"><span class="centered"> </span></p>
    <p class="authorname"><span class="centered">Guido Henkel</span></p>

  70. Grayson Penney

    After reading thousands of hard print books and hundreds of ebooks, I finally realized the amount of work in publishing. Your guide should help with formatting. Thanks

  71. Brian Robben

    I 100% agree with your message of finishing strong with ebook formatting. Authors, especially new ones, can get tricked into thinking all their work is done after writing and editing their book. That leads to sloppy and rushed formatting—no bueno.

  72. rebecca humphrys

    I am a beauty therapist not a pro writer at alllll. I have put together a manual of how to add pregnancy beauty services to your salon that can add $1000 to a businesses income. I’ve put it all together in a word doc. Where do I go now to make an ebook I can sell to salons.

  73. Jennifer Alvarado

    Definitely, authors make mistakes for publishing their books. But I want to ask if people not get any other option for promoting their content then isn’t this the right thing.
    If no, then you should share complete details as what things people need to do for becoming a better author or content creator.

  74. Morris E. Graham

    Hi, Guido. Love your “Zen” book. Got a quick question. When you build a book in Calibre, what things do you check, the settings, when you build the book. The user manual didn’t really explain a whole lot. I am getting good book output, but wondering if they can be better. Thank you sir, for your time.

  75. Charlotte Hyatt

    Hello Guido. I got here from a link Yeshenia Vargas gave to several ebook formatting guides: 7 Money-Saving eBook Formatting Links For the Indie Author.

    I believe everything about your ebook should be as close to perfect as possible
    and I was feeling pretty low at the fact that I have not been able to do a good job at it. I am disabled and my income does not even allow for the $5 for getting someone on Fiverr to do it for me.

    Thank you for this series. I hope it will answer many questions I have, especially how to handle some quotes and footnotes included in my book/memoir.

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