eBook Formatting, Part 1 – Stripping it Down

As Dead and Buryd is my first novel, and the transformation from scribbles to published book is coming entirely from my own pocket, I decided that while I would need professional assistance for things like editing and cover design, there were some elements that I could complete myself for little cost. One of the biggest elements of this is formatting.

There are people (admittedly my editor included) who suggest that formatting should be shipped out to a company. I have been told that you can always spot a self-published book, not by the writing, but by the formatting.

Of course, there are elements that will immediately give away my book as a self-published novel. The fact that I don’t have that little recognisable Publisher’s logo on my Copyright page, for example. However, the formatting of the text does not need to be one of those elements.

So, I decided to format my book myself. I’ve spent over a decade taking part in online writing and the creation of forums for Play-by-Post RPGs, I’ve got a decent enough handle on HTML (one of the methods of formatting a manuscript for eBook publication,) and I figured ‘why not?’ If I crash and burn spectacularly, I can always ship it out to a company later.

Some people will suggest Scrivener for formatting, and if someone has a good enough grasp of Scrivener, there is absolutely no reason why it can’t create a fantastic looking eBook. I, however, do not have a good enough grasp of Scrivener, so I decided on the HTML route.

Through David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital, I found an absolutely wonderful tutorial on HTML formatting of an eBook. Guido Henkel’s Take Pride in Your eBook Formatting is informative and detailed. However, there are a few elements that I feel were missed. One of which, as I will go into detail of in the next part, I feel is very important. However, I would recommend that anyone considering doing their own formatting take the time to read this 10 section guide.


As you can see from the image on the right, I’ve already done quite a bit of my formatting. This is from one evening’s work. A few weeks ago, I spent an evening doing a test run, which drastically sped up the process when I went about it the second time around. Don’t be fooled, even if it’s difficult the first time, it will get much easier once you are confident in what you’re doing.

For my formatting, I am using Microsoft Word, Notepad++ and Calibre, the second two of which are free programs available to download. There are better programs that you can pay for, but actually, I think both of these do the job fantastically.

This section (first of 3) will be looking exclusively at Microsoft Word.

If you’ve been writing in Word, you may realise (or may not, depending on your knowledge of Word) that Word formats your work. Even when you haven’t inserted anything, it’s all formatted. What we need to do is strip that down so that it’s nothing. No formatting, nothing but your text.

As Guido Henkel points out in his guide, you first need to ensure that all of your symbols are the same as well. ” for example, is different to “. … is different to … . If you just have …, where you have typed a full stop/period three times, there is a chance that this will spread over two lines. We don’t want that. We want it all in one place. You wouldn’t expect a comma to be on the next line from the word it comes after, for example.

Stripping away these discrepancies now will make life much easier further down the road.

The first thing to do is to determine which symbols we are looking at. This, admittedly, will require looking through your text. There is no magical way to find out which symbols you are going to be playing with. If your book is set in present day England, you might use the £ sign. You may use the & sign at some point. These are all individual to the book, but must be consistent throughout.

From searching through my text, I found that I would require the following symbols.

“ ” … — ’ ‘

Looks rather ridiculous, doesn’t it, having to search through a manuscript for these symbols we use so often, but type them out on a computer screen.

” ” … – ‘ ‘

Vastly different, and not nearly as attractive in a book.

in HTML, these symbols (the first set) all have names.

“ =  “
” = ”
… = …
— – —
’ – ’
‘ – ‘

So, to clean up the text, we must make sure that every symbol is the same. Easiest way to do it… Highlight and then replace.

Highlight an instance of the symbol you want. Let’s go with the Ellipses, and use the replace tab to replace all with the actual ellipsis sign.


Going through is actually rather simple at this point. By clicking Replace All, you don’t even need to search through the document one at a time. Unless you were planning on having an ellipsis, you won’t have … anywhere. The same will be true of the other symbols.

The only one to be especially careful of is the dash. There are different lengths of dash. You have — emdash, ‒ figure dash, – endash, and ― horizontal bar. Each of these has it’s own symbol, and is not simply a hyphen. Make sure that all of your ‘longer’ dashes are the same. Select one and make sure it is the same all the way through. You may need to search manually for this one, I know I did.


The last thing to do before moving over to Notepad++ is  to highlight all of the italics and wrap them in tags. This, unfortunately, will not word for bold font. That is something that must be done through a style element, which I will point out when we’re looking at the pure HTML.

To wrap your italics for HTML, we will be using < em > and < /em > (I’ve placed spaces in there so that it won’t turn the and into an italic)

Finding italic in Word is actually simple and can be done using the find function.


 Go into the find function and click the More >> button on the bottom left. This will extend the box down, and you will see a Format Button (circled in red on the image.) Click that and select ‘Font’. This will bring up the new box, in which you can select Italic, and click OK.

Now, underneath the search box, you’ll see ‘Font: Italic’. Delete everything from the search box where you usually type a word to find, and click ‘Find Next’. This will take you to your first instance of italicised text. Wherever you find italicised text, put < em> at the beginning and < / em> at the end.

Save a copy (I called mine Dead and Buryd Formatting) and we’re ready to move on to Notepad++.


The next installment of this will be up very shortly, along with a post looking at examples of self-published and traditionally published formatting.


About chelecooke

Self-Published author of the Out of Orbit series and the Teeth series. UCL Residence Assistant, obsessive cross stitcher, avid reader and TV show watcher.
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One Response to eBook Formatting, Part 1 – Stripping it Down

  1. Pingback: Formatting, spot the Self-Publishing | Chele Cooke

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