Format a Book with Word: Formatting for Smashwords #1

By Colin Dunbar

Special thanks to Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords for his permission to use material in this post.


Smashwords now offer the option to upload the .epub format. In the posts on this blog I cover the option for Microsoft Word, as this is “the best option for most fiction and narrative non-fiction authors because it’s the easiest method.”

Formatting your book for Smashwords is similar to formatting for the Kindle (this post). Since Smashwords now also submits your ebook to Kindle, you may be thinking that you only need to format it for Smashwords, and save on the time to format it specifically for the Kindle. There are two reasons I would not recommend this:

  • At time of writing it takes a long time for your Kindle version to be available at Amazon, when submitted through Smashwords.
  • Submitting your ebook directly to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) gives you more control as the author, and your ebook will be available at Amazon a lot sooner.

Having your book available at Smashwords (in the Smashwords Premium Catalog) means your book will be available at:

  • Apple iBooks store
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Kobo
  • Flipkart
  • Oyster
  • Scribd
  • OverDrive
  • Baker & Taylor, and
  • Available in the Smashwords store (multiple formats).

For this reason, I highly recommend having your book available at Smashwords. The extra time to create a Smashwords version could be well worth it in the long run.

Five Common Formatting Mistakes to Avoid:

  1. Improper Indents – Don’t use tabs or space bar spaces to create first line paragraph indents (instead, code your paragraph style to define a special first line paragraph indent: see Paragraph Style in a later post).
  2. Repeating Paragraph Returns – Never use more than four consecutive paragraph returns (that is, hard returns, created by pressing the ENTER key) to arrange text on the page (this creates blank ebook pages on small-screened e-reading devices).
  3. Improper Paragraph Separation – Paragraphs require either first line paragraph indents or the block paragraph method (see examples below). Otherwise your paragraphs run together and it becomes unreadable because your reader’s eye can’t distinguish where one paragraph ends and the next begins. Use one method or the other (indents are best for fiction and many non-fiction, blocks are usually only for non-fiction), but don’t use both. If you’re aiming for the block style, do not add paragraph returns between paragraphs on empty lines (to create the blank line). Instead, modify your paragraph style to add a 6 pt trailing “after” space following each the paragraph (see Paragraph Style in a later post).
  4. Font and Style Mistakes – Don’t use fancy non-standard fonts, colored fonts (colors often disappear on some e-reading devices), kerning, compressed or expanded fonts, large font sizes over 16pt, and don’t go overboard with multiple paragraph styles (this will make your ebook look unprofessional, and amplifies the possibility of unexpected problems). Modify your paragraph styles so they don’t define fonts larger than 18pt.
  5. Copyright Page Mistakes – Don’t forget to include the required “front matter” (required for acceptance into the Smashwords Premium Catalog).
First Line Paragraph Indents

First Line Paragraph Indents

Block Paragraph

Block Paragraph

Head the following advice from the Smashwords Style Guide: “The secret to ePub formatting success is “Keep it Simple!” Unnecessarily complex formatting or layout will hinder the readability of your ePub. If you attempt to make your ebook an exact facsimile of your print book, you will cause yourself – and your readers – unnecessary frustration. It may also cause your ebook conversions to fail.”
As you will remember from formatting your hard copy book (if you’ve done that already), you understand that you control the layout of the pages. That’s because print is a fixed format – where you place something (text, graphics, etc.) is where it stays. Ebooks don’t work the same (except PDF). You can’t make your Smashwords ebook look like your hard copy (printed) version. It’s best to follow the steps for formatting specifically for Smashwords (similarly for Kindle).
Note that the following errors may prevent your book from gaining inclusion in the Smashwords Premium Catalog (the steps in these posts ensure that these errors not made):

  • more than 4 consecutive paragraph returns in a row (creates blank ebook pages)
  • tabs (eliminate all tabs. which you created by pressing the Tab key)
  • indents made with space bar spaces or tabs (a common bad habit of all authors)
  • exotic fonts (instead stick with Times New Roman, Garamond and Arial; these are time tested fonts and you can’t go wrong with them)
  • large font sizes (11 or 12pt is best. 14pt is a recommended maximum)
  • text in columns (Smashwords don’t support columns)
  • text in tables (Smashwords don’t handle tables. Import tables as images instead)
  • text in text boxes (Smashwords don’t support text boxes. Use the method explained later to remove all special styles.)
  • multiple conflicting paragraph styles for your body (for example, don’t mix Normal style with Body Text style)
  • automatic footnotes (Smashwords don’t support automatic footnotes – may cause the conversion to fail)
  • text wrapped around floating images (instead, right-click on the image, choose the Format Picture option: Advanced: In Line with Text, then use Word’s center button to center)

As I said above, you will not run into these errors, as the steps on this blog avoid all these gremlins – you will be able to format a stellar ebook file, ready for Smashwords.


A Smashwords sample formatting template is available here (perfect for practicing):

The Smashwords FAQs are available here –

Keep in mind the file you upload to Smashwords should be a Word .doc file (.docx is not suitable for uploading to Smashwords).

“If you’re stubborn and want to use Open Office (a good free word processor popular with many Smashwords authors) or Apple Pages (also popular), you can still use the Style Guide if you’re careful to implement the intent of the instructions, though you should understand up front that your book may not come out as you intended.” Smashwords Style Guide

The Smashwords Style Guide is available here:

Your manuscript will need to be a very basic Word file that you upload to Smashwords – nothing like the formatting you did for your hard copy book. If you have already formatted your ebook for Kindle, you can use that file and with small changes it will be ready for Smashwords.

When you publish your ebook at Smashwords, it will be available in all the following formats:

ePub. This format is distributed to Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and others.
Mobipocket. Smashwords report that many customers enjoy buying .mobi ebooks at the Smashwords store.
Palm Doc. Primarily used on Palm Pilot devices; but software readers are available for PalmOS, Symbian OS, Windows Mobile Pocket PC/Smartphone, desktop Windows, and Macintosh.
PDF. File format readable by most devices, including handheld e-readers, PDAs, personal computers, and Macintosh.
LRF. The old format for the Sony Reader (Sony has shifted to the ePub format).
RTF. Cross-platform document format supported by many word processors and devices.
Plain Text. The most widely supported file format. Note that images are not available in this format.
HTML SmashReader. The online reader of Smashwords, allows customers to sample or read your book from their web browser.

My book, Seasons, available at Smashwords

My book, Seasons, available at Smashwords

Remember to save your Word file in the .doc format, not the .docx format.

In the next post, we start Formatting Your Word Manuscript.


Filed under Smashwords Formatting

2 responses to “Format a Book with Word: Formatting for Smashwords #1

  1. Reblogged this on SSpjut | Writer's Blog | Stardate and commented:
    For the writer in all of us.

  2. kevin james

    my family was looking for a form earlier today and found a great service that has a lot of fillable forms . If people require it too , here’s a

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