Formatting an Ebook

It’s about time I discussed formatting an ebook, right? While I have decades of experience in print media, A Path of Stones is my first ever ebook. It took some time to learn to format it, and make sure my process worked before passing the information to you. This post is long, but it’s based on a month and a half of reading, studying, and trial and error, all in one spot.

This ebook formatting process is my process. It works for me with minimal hair loss and alcohol abuse. There are many other ways to do it, using the same programs.

To format your book for epublishing, you will need the following programs:

  1. Word Processor: This sounds like a duh. If you’re writing a book, you’re probably using a word processing program. For an ebook, it plays a slightly different role than it does for print. I will assume you are using MS Word, but the process works for Open Office and other programs.
  1. Sigil: This is an ebook design and editing program. The majority of our work will be done in Sigil. You can download it here.
  1. Calibre: This is an ebook reader. It also permits conversion of an ePub file to Mobi, but you won’t have to for actual publishing. You can download it here.
  1. Kindle Emulator and Previewer: Even if you have a Kindle, you will still need the Kindle Emulator from Amazon. That is, unless you know how to transfer an ebook from your computer to a Kindle. I don’t. Besides, many readers use the Emulator. It allows Kindle books to be read on any device. The Previewer is specifically designed for previewing a book formatted for Kindle, and simulates the look and function of several different Kindle sizes. I recommend using both.

Sigil, Calibre, Kindle Emulator, and Kindle Previewer are all free.


Ebooks aren’t books as we know them. They’re actually websites. They are in HTML format and rely upon Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). They come in two file types: Mobi (for Kindle), and ePub (for everyone else). Formatting will be in ePub, which can then be uploaded to Amazon and converted to Mobi with ease.

There are many parts of formatting for print that you won’t need to worry with in an ebook. First, ebooks do not require headers and footers. They don’t take them, so don’t set them up. Second, the page numbers are assigned by each individual device, so don’t bother adding them. A smaller device has more pages, while a larger has fewer. Third, indentation is made with a paragraph indent, not a tab. Ereaders do not recognize tabs. Fourth, don’t set a specific font face, as most readers set their own on their devices to suit their tastes.


You have that book all nice and pretty, with perfect line spacing, a wonderfully artistic font for your chapter title, and mirrored headers. Guess what? Now, you have to trash it all. The only thing to be carried over to Sigil is the text itself. Fortunately, this step is easy.

If you saved a master document, with all the chapters in one file, this will be simple. If you worked with separate and individual chapters, then you will need to do the following to each chapter. It is a bit of a hassle if you did. On the other hand, transferring your book to Sigil will be easier than if you have just one file.

In Word, select all. Change the font to something ubiquitous, like Times New Roman. While you’re at it, if you used tab to indent your paragraphs, perform a find/replace and replace the tab code with nothing. Then, while still in select all mode, add an indent paragraph command. Indent paragraph is found under Paragraph -> Special. In the drop down menu, select First Line. Set it to either .25 or .3, depending on your tastes. We will perfect that in the Sigil steps. If you have headers, footers, and page numbers, remove them.


Now, save your book as a Rich Text Format file. This strips any remaining Word format commands out of the book, leaving only raw text. Other ebook formatting processes save to HTML, but I found that process retains too many Word format commands.

You may close your book now. Don’t save it, in case you need to come back. Open the RTF version and let it sit there. You will need it shortly.


I won’t teach you how to use Sigil, only the parts for formatting your book. It does so much more than what I’m going to show you, but my book is a simple novel with little fancy formatting. There are several free Sigil guides available online, and they can be read with either Calibre or Kindle. Dave Heiland’s Sigil User’s Guide is superb, and can be downloaded here.

Below is the screencap of Sigil with my book A Path of Stones loaded in WYSIWYG view. The important parts of the Sigil interface that we need are:


A.  Individual chapter

B.  CSS location

C.  WYSIWYG view

D.  HTML view

E.  Paragraph style

F.  H3 header style

G.  Break and start new file at cursor location

Step One: Set Up Your Book

When you open Sigil, it should offer you a fresh, new file. If not, select File -> New.

You should see a blank page, named Section0001.xhtml. Select HTML view. You should see this:


 Select the HTML code. All of it. Replace it with the following:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″?>

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.1//EN””&gt;

<html xmlns=””&gt;


<title>Your Title Here</title>

<link href=”../Styles/mainstyle.css” rel=”stylesheet” type=”text/css”/>



In fact, you can just copy and paste the above. Change “Your Title Here” to the actual title of your book. Save this under the name of your book. It will save to Documents/Sigil Docs.

For the next step, open Microsoft Notepad, or some other basic text editor. It’s time to set up the CSS for your book. I won’t teach you about CSS. There is too much to learn. This is for a simple novel. Copy the CSS below and paste it into a fresh text document:

body {

display: block;

font-size: 1em;

margin: 20px;

text-align: left;

line-spacing: 1.35%;


p.normal {

font-style: normal;

font-family: serif;

font-size: 1em;

text-indent: .25in;

margin: 0;

text-align: left;

line-spacing: 1.35%;



font-style: normal;

font-family: serif;

font-size: 1em;

text-indent: 0;

margin: 0;

text-align: left;

line-spacing: 1.35%;


h3 {

font-family: serif;

font-size: 115%;

font-style: bold;

text-indent: 0;

margin-top: 1em;

margin-bottom: 3em;

text-align: center;


Save it as mainstyle.css, and put it where you can easily find it. Make sure your text editor will allow you to save the file as a CSS. Word 2007 doesn’t, but MS Notepad does.

A little bit about this style sheet. This is mine in particular. It is simple, but I can verify that the resulting ebook looks good on both Kindle and ePub readers. Feel free to change it to suit your own tastes. I use align left, or rag-right. That gives even spacing between the words of a line. Most people prefer align full, or full justify. Note font-family. The choice of serif forces the book into a serif font, but does not limit it to any one face. This permits the reader to choose Georgia, Times New Roman, Garamond, or any other option offered by the ereader device. If you assign a specific font face, such as Times New Roman, you run the risk of setting the font and prohibiting readers from changing it. That will annoy them. If you do it at all, reserve specific font faces for chapter titles. For line spacing, 1.25 or 1.35 is optimal. Less, and serif fonts can run together. More, and there is just too much white space. I have two paragraph styles, normal and first. P.Normal is for all but the first paragraph. P.First handles the first paragraph, where I do not use a first line indent. H3 is for chapter titles.

You may always edit this CSS at any point during the process. Changes automatically convey throughout the entire book. If you don’t like the way your book looks in the ereader, tweak the CSS. It’s a heck of a lot easier than tweaking an entire book in a word processor.

This CSS proved to be the optimal way to remove the extra line space between paragraphs. That plagues far too many ebooks, and is usually a carry-over from Word.

Return to Sigil. Select the folder marked Styles. Select menu option Files->Add->Existing File. Browse to mainstyle.css, and click Open. That loads the CSS into your book.


You’re halfway done at this point. The new HTML tells Sigil to find mainstyle.css, and apply it throughout your entire book.

Step Two: Add Your Book

Return to the RTF document. Select all and Copy.

Now, return to Sigil. Select the tab marked Section0001.xhtml. Select the WYSIWYG viewer. Place your cursor at the top of the page. Click Paste. Go get a cup of coffee as this will take some time, especially if your book is one document. When you come back, your book should be pasted into Sigil. Save it. Remember the old gamer’s motto: Jesus saves, and so should you.

There is another way to import your book to Sigil. That is through File->Add New. It’s much faster. However, the cut and paste method strips out any lingering Word formatting codes.

If all went well, Sigil automatically assigned Paragraph Normal (p.normal) to everything. Switch to HTML view and check. If it did, great. If not, select a whole bunch of paragraphs. Then, click P. That assigns the Paragraph Normal style from the CSS.

Step Three: Formatting Chapters

Time to set up individual chapters. If you wrote your book chapter by chapter, and saved each as a separate file, importing each chapter is a pain in the neck, but it does make formatting a bit easier as you won’t need to split the document at the end of each chapter.

Start with your Title Page. I recommend not having separate Title and Half-Title pages. Just have the Half-Title. That’s the page with the title, your name, and publication year. Go to the end of the year, and place your cursor. Now, click Split at Cursor. Voila! Sigil splits the document at that point, giving you two files, not just one.

Rename Section0001.xhtml to something like Title. Rename Section0002 something like Chapter1. A note about chapter names. In the actual book, you can name it whatever you want. The Table of Contents Generator will see that. For the file name, on the left, do not use spaces. All ebook distributors will reject your book if you do. Name it something like mydoghasfleas or chapter1.

Select the actual title of your book, in WYSIWYG viewer. Now, click H3. That marks the title as a header. The Table of Contents Generator will see it. It’s your choice as to other formatting, such as bold, italics, or size. I recommend using bold, and a larger font size for titles and chapter titles, just to make them stand out.

If your title page doesn’t look right, there may be some leftover Word formatting commands. Go to HTML viewer to find out. Those can be removed. If Sigil doesn’t like that, Sigil will tell you.

Go to the end of chapter 1. Place your cursor there, and again, click Split. You now have two chapters. Rename Section0001 to chapter2. Every time you Split your book, Sigil will name the new file Section0001 or something similar. Just rename it and keep going. Every time you split your book, save it.

Now that you’ve broken up your book into individual files and named them, return to Chapter1. Select and mark the title H3. Again, that tells the TOC Generator to find it. Set it to bold, unless your CSS already does that. If you have a separate opening paragraph, change it in HTML view. You’ll have to change it manually by replacing class=”normal” with class=”first”. Do this for every chapter.

Here is what my first chapter looks like, in HTML view:


You can see the style codes for H3, Paragraph First (p class=”first”), and Paragraph Normal (p class=”normal”). Sigil, and ereader devices, know what to do with those.

In WYSIWYG, it looks like this:


Keep on going until you reach the end of the book.

Step 3: Finalize

Go through each chapter, and remove any extra spaces after the last paragraph. Those could create blank pages that annoy your readers.

Now, it’s time to add your metadata. This is critical. All ebook distributors want as much as possible. The important pieces are Title, Author, and Publication Date. Click on Tools-> Metadata Editor. To add fields, click the Add Metadata button. Below is mine, and you won’t need as much as I provide:


Save it one more time.

Now, create your Table of Contents. TOC serves a similar, but different purpose for an ebook. Like a print book, it allows a reader to find a chapter. Unlike a print book, an ebook TOC doesn’t contain page numbers. Instead, the entries are links. By clicking on Chapter 7, a reader goes to the first page of Chapter 7.

To create one, select Tools -> Table of Contents -> Generate. The Generator finds all those H3 marks, and makes the TOC based on them. It appears to the right of the screen. Check to ensure that every chapter appears. If one is missing, return to that chapter, and mark its title with H3. Refer back to the first Sigil image (the one with red letters) to see what the files and TOC should look like.

There is debate over Front Matter. Personally, I use as little as possible, with only a Title Page and Copyright Page. Acknowledgements go at the end. I also don’t have a cover page, as they are redundant. The cover image is for marketing, and shows up as the thumbnail on Amazon, Lulu, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere. Most markets have previews of up to ten pages, and you want those to be as much story as possible. No sense in clogging those precious pages with a cover image, thank yous, and other extraneous bits.

As for Back Matter, go ape! Remember, an ebook is a website. Make sure you provide active links to your website, blog, and social media sites. A reader can click those links and go right to your internet pages. Don’t let this marketing tool pass you by. Pricing is based on file size, not page count, so you can add a few images to the back, such as maps.

Save it again.


Sigil’s WYSIWYG viewer is only so good. Time to see how your book looks in an actual ereader. For this, start with Calibre. The interface looks like this:


To add your book, click on Add, and browse to Sigil Docs. Once it’s loaded (you can see A Path of Stones in the list), double click on it. The ereader will appear. If all went well, your book should look like this:


If it does, congratulate yourself. If not, return to Sigil and keep working on it. Keep reloading it into Calibre to check. Consult the Sigil User’s Guide for further information.


So. Your book looks great in Calibre. That means, it will look good in Nook, Apple, and other ereaders. What about the big one, Kindle? Let’s find out.

At the moment, your book is in an ePub format. In Calibre, convert your book to a Mobi file. Mobi is Amazon’s proprietary format for Kindle.

With your book selected in Calibre, click on the menu button Convert. This screen will pop up:


In the upper right hand corner drop down menu, select Mobi. At the moment, you don’t need to do anything else. Click Okay.

That converts and saves your book as a Mobi file for Kindle. Open your Kindle Emulator. There must be an easier way to do this, but I don’t know it. In your My Documents folder, go to Calibre Library. Inside you should find a folder with your name. Inside that folder, you will find your book, as a Kindle icon. Double click on it, and it will open in the Emulator. Mine looks like this:


The Previewer is easy. It actually lets you open the book inside. Browse to your Mobi edition, and Open. Mine looks like this, and it actually looks like a Kindle:


Now, you can see why I think it’s important to have both the Emulator and the Previewer.

If your book looks good in Calibre, the Kindle Emulator, and the Kindle Previewer, then your book is ready to upload to Amazon and the other ebook markets of your choice. If not, just go back to Sigil and tweak away.

You won’t need to convert your ePub file to Mobi to upload it to Amazon for Kindle. Amazon will automatically convert the file during the upload process. The best way to see how it looks on Kindle is to download an author’s proof before you accept it for publication.

I threw a whole theme park of information at you, and probably skipped something. If you have any questions at all, please leave them in a comment and I will try my best to answer them.


















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