Susan Kaye Quinn’s Self-Pub Basics (Part Two of Four): Formatting, The Easy Way

She’s back, WG2E-Land!!!

Here’s the fabulous Susan Kaye Quinn with Part Two of her superb Self Pub Basics Series. Take it away, Susan…

Self-Pub Basics (2 of 4): Formatting, The Easy Way
by Susan Kaye Quinn

Thank you again to D.D. for having me on WG2E! This is the second in my series on Self-Pub Basics, including Where to Publish and Formatting (the Easy, the Hard, and the iTunes). Today I’m going to talk about the Easy way to get your ebooks formatted and on the way to selling copies.

Ebook Formatting
The problem with ebook formatting is that there’s a ZILLION ways to do it. I am not joking. And when you have so many options, sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to make it work SIMPLY. Since this is the BASICS of self-publishing, we’ll talk about the easy ways to format first.

Word: the format your MS is in when you write it
EPUB: Barnes & Noble format
Mobi: Kindle format

Getting from your Word manuscript …

… to an EPUB/Mobi reader is what formatting is all about.
It looks deceptively simple. It is not.

There are basically two kinds of formatting:
Plain (text only, plain fonts) and Fancy (images, fancy fonts)

The Easiest Way of All
Pay someone to format for you. This can cost anywhere from $25 – $150 depending on whether you’re formatting print or ebook or both, and whether you want plain or fancy formatting. But it may well be worth your time to pay someone else to do it (I highly recommend my formatter/cover designer Dale Pease). The problem with paying someone else is that if you have to make changes (typo fixes, updates to back matter, new links) either you’re paying them again, or you’re bugging them to do it for free (not so cool).

It is possible to edit your formatted Epub using Sigil and converting to Mobi using Calibre, but if you can understand that sentence, you probably already know how to do it The Hard Way (which we’ll talk about in a future post). Even if you know how to code your own ebooks, you may still opt to pay someone else – it all depends on whether you’re more pinched for time or money.

The Easy Way
Kindle and B&N, your two biggest retailers, have nice interfaces that allow you to upload your manuscript pretty much directly from Word. This is only for a plain, text-only document (no images or fancy fonts!), and you need to clean up your file first. Here’s the 1-2-3 to easy epublishing:

  1. Format your Word document using Smashwords Style Guide (you may not want to publish to Smash, but the guide will tell you how to clean up your MS, getting rid of stray returns, problematic tabs, and various formatting no-no’s). Add in your front and back matter (the copyright, acknowledgments, etc). Make a version of your manuscript with Kindle-only links, and one with B&N-only links. If you’re not using Word…well, I can’t help you. I would export to a Word doc and start cleaning it up from there. Most of the hassles I see people having source from using a different word processor than the “standard” Word document.
  2. Upload your Cleaned Up Word document to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP/Amazon) and PubIt (Barnes&Noble). Kindle has a previewer that allows you to preview your Word-converted-to-Mobi file before it gets published. B&N has the same. They even both have options where you can download a Mobi or Epub file to test on your own devices (do this! The previewers are not always true-to-real-life-devices). Press “publish.” You. Are. Done.
  3. If you want to distribute elsewhere: upload your Cleaned Up Word document to Smashwords, which will put it through a “meatgrinder” converter that will turn your file into a variety of formats. Use Smash to distribute to iBookstore (Apple) and Kobo, and anywhere else that Smashwords distributes. You can upload to those places directly, but it’s NOT EASY, and this is the Easy Way, remember?
NOTE: If you take the Smashwords epub and try to upload it somewhere else (like Kobo) you are violating Smash’s Terms of Service. This is true for B&N and Amazon as well – most retailers do not want you using their conversion tools to sell books elsewhere. However, free tools exist for this – come back for my future post on Formatting The Hard Way for more on that.
The Harder Way
We’ll dive into this in a future post. But why would anyone choose the harder way?

Because plain text is, well, plain. And even if you don’t care about fancy fonts or titles, you might want to include pictures. In fact, if you’ve written non-fiction, it’s almost required. You can pay someone to do the fancy formatting for you, but then you’re back to being limited in making changes.

Also, it reflects well on you when you take time to format your ebooks well, whether by paying someone else, or doing the hard work to do it The Harder Way yourself. Dale’s formatting of my ebooks has netted me LOTS of compliments along the way. Also, having the flexibility to format yourself means you can play around with stuff, like I recently did with my Mindjack Origins Collection, which included a variety of novellas, flash fiction, pictures, and fonts.

So, if you’re greedy (like me) and want everything (i.e. beautiful ebook formatting plus the ability to make as many changes as you like), then come back later this month when I’ll walk you through formatting The Hard Way.

It’s not as hard as you might think. :)

Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling Mindjack Series, which includes three novels, three novellas, and a trailer. She’s currently writing a steampunk fantasy romance, just for kicks. When that’s out of her system, she has ambitious plans to embark on a series about the Singularity (the time when computers become more intelligent than humans) that should appeal to fans of the Mindjack novels. Or possibly play on Facebook all day. Could go either way.

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  1. Sharie Orr says:

    Thanks, Susan, for this bookmark / important file / printworthy series. Looking forward to the rest. And thanks to you, D.D. and company for all you do for your fellow writers.
    Great week to all!

  2. Alan White says:

    You need to mention April Hamilton’s book on formatting. She gives the best explanation on using Mobipocket for the first stage conversion of the Word doc. manuscript.

    • I’ve never used mobipocket for that, so I can’t speak to it, but can you give a link to April’s book? There are lots of books on formatting, so it’s always good to find one that’s recommended. Thanks!

  3. PJ Sharon says:

    Thanks for the 1-2-3, Susan. My husband and I format my books these days and it is doable, but very time consuming and often a persnickety process. It would be nice if all the distributers would get it together and just do a single format. But that would make sense and be too easy, right?

  4. UPDATE: Since I sent this post off to D.D., Smashwords has finally enabled their EPUB option! Which means you can upload an EPUB document (which I will tell you how to format in a future post!) directly to Smash, and keep all your pretty formatting. I actually tested this last week, and it works… at least for some EPUBs (it rejected one of mine, for errors undecipherable).

  5. Tamara Ward says:

    Thanks so much! This was fabulous!

  6. Jim Guigli says:

    After using a paid formatter, Calibre, and Sigil, I am now working with Jutoh (
    So far, I am very pleased. I want to have the control of doing my own formatting and editing. With Jutoh, you can easily and quickly EDIT your ebook in any form. I am using mobi and epub. Jutoh will simultaneously compile these versions, and instantly check the epub version for errors. You can then quickly view the results in an ebook simulator, and then edit, recompile, and view again in seconds. I will hold further praise until my little book is up on Amazon.
    Caution: for security reasons, I do not normally have JAVA on my pc. Jutoh requires that you download JAVA.

    • I know a friend that’s running Jutoh on the Mac and very happy with it too! Says it’s the easiest formatting she’s ever done. Didn’t know Jutoh runs on the PC! Will have to check that out someday…

  7. Julie Day says:

    I do the formatting myself. Then to make things easy for myself, I upload directly to Kobo, Amazon and Smashwords, letting Smash distribute to the rest of them. I’ve yet to do a Table of Contents, and work out how to format an ms for Createspace, but those two I plan to tackle later this year.

    • Come back for my “formatting the hard way” to learn how to make a Table of Contents among other things. I don’t talk about formatting for Createspace, but with the templates that Createspace provides, it’s really not difficult. Good luck!

  8. Lynn Kelley says:

    I found a reliable formatter with reasonable prices, but she only formats for ebooks. I tackled the formatting myself with CreateSpace, and thankfully I found lots of help onWANA Tribe. There’s a CreateSpace Tribe, and I got answers to many of my questions from the others. It was challenging for a tech idiot like me! Thanks for all the valuable info in this post, Susan.

  9. $someone=worth it!

  10. Talli Roland says:

    Yay for Susan! Great to see you here, and thanks for the wonderful tips!

  11. Jill James says:

    I love to see someone say formatting is do-able for the average person. I enjoy formatting but not everyone does, but it is nice to know that people can if they want to, or to save money.

    • I think it’s very do-able, especially the simpler formatting. And this is part of your trade! It’s worth investing to learn the skills (IMHO), but I can also see trading time for money for some people, depending on which is more dear.

  12. I plan to hire professionals for both editing and cover design, but formatting is one thing I planned to do myself. And now I have a great resource to refer to. Thanks Susan!

  13. Since I started selling eBooks through my website in addition to the online retailers and needed to convert to MOBI and EPUB to do this, I have had success with the free converter at .

  14. Hi Susan,
    I’m enjoying this series very much and pinning each installment to my writing pinboard.

    I use Scrivener to type my novels. It’s wonderful on so many levels, nothing I’ve ever used has made it so easy to organize chapters, notes, etc. One of my favorite features is that you can compile (convert) files into just about any file. Mobi, epub, pdf, word, etc. I haven’t run into any issues at all with uploading to Amazon or B&N with the mobi and epub files. That was probably the easiest part of the self publishing process!

    • I’ve heard other people say Scrivener is great for that as well! I’m a huge Scrivener fan for organizing my work, but I haven’t made the leap to using it for the manuscript. I’m too superstitious, I think! I like to have all the prose in one place in Word. Maybe someday… thanks for the great comment!

    • D.J. Gelner says:

      This! Scrivener has been worth every penny many times over. Very easy to correct mistakes, recompile, and standardize editions across formats. The only problem is my own organization: I don’t delete old versions nearly often enough, so my folders get a little messy, but nobody’s perfect!