Smashwords Style Guide
Mark Coker 2008-2014
Edition License Notes:
free ebook may be copied, distributed, reposted, reprinted and
shared, provided it appears in its entirety without alteration, and
the reader is not charged to access it.
Published at Smashwords:
Book Marketing Guide
(how to market any book)
Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success
(ebook publishing best practices)
10-Minute PR Checklist - Earn the Publicity You Deserve
(PR strategy for entrepreneurs)
(novel about soap operas)
Table of Contents
or hire help?
Smashwords publishes, what we don’t publish
to distribute books with Smashwords
ebook formatting is different from print formatting
to Meatgrinder: How we convert your book into multiple ebook formats
the different ebook formats
beauty and utility of simplicity
helps identify common formatting errors
required source file
Make a back up
Activate Word’s Show/Hide
Turn off Word’s “AutoCorrect” and “AutoFormat” features
Turn off Track Changes
The Nuclear Method
Hug a loved one
Managing and modifying paragraph styles, fonts
How to choose the best paragraph separation method (first line indent
How to implement your chosen paragraph separation method
How to define a proper first line indent
How to define trailing “after” space for block paragraphs
Special tips for poetry, cookbooks and learning materials
How to define proper line spacing
Managing font color
Check your normalized text
How to automate the removal of tabs and space bar spaces
Managing paragraph returns
Managing external hyperlinks
Designating chapter breaks, page breaks, section breaks
Working with images
Managing font sizes
Style formatting, symbols and glyphs
Headers and footers
Margins, page sizes and indents
Add the Heading style to your Chapter headers (optional)
Building navigation into the manuscript
Creating the NCX
Creating the linked Table of Contents
Advanced link building (Footnotes, Endnotes)
Troubleshooting and testing
Title and copyright page (required!)
Add a Smashwords license statement below copyright page
End of Your Book
The end of your book
Preparing your cover image
Review requirements for Premium Catalog distribution
Your Book to Smashwords
How to upload your book
How AutoVetter works
After you publish – check your work
Check for EPUBCHECK compliance (important!)
Your Book with Smashwords
How Smashwords distribution works
to Market Your Book
Read the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide (how to market any book)
Read the Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success (best-practices of
Watch our video workshops on YouTube
Welcome to Smashwords!
Welcome. If you’re
not familiar with Smashwords, a quick introduction is in order.
Smashwords makes it fast, free and easy to professionally publish and
distribute an ebook.
Smashwords is the
world’s largest distributor of ebooks from self-published authors
and small independent presses. We created Smashwords to put free,
professional-quality publishing and distribution tools in the hands
Style Guide is one such tool. In the last five years, this guide has
helped over 70,000 authors and publishers around the world
collectively release over 250,000 high-quality ebooks through
intimidated by the length of this guide. It has a lot of pictures.
The Style Guide is
written for non-technical readers. No prior experience is assumed or
required. I present simple, step-by-step instructions to help you
produce a professional-quality ebook that meets the requirements of
major ebook retailers. All you need is a word processor, preferably
Microsoft Word, and the patience to follow step-by-step.
Like everything in
life, ebook formatting is easy once you know how. I’ll show you
manuscripts in two forms, either as a Microsoft Word .doc file or as
an .epub. Here’s how to choose the best option:
Word .doc - We recommend the Microsoft Word path as the best
option for most fiction and narrative non-fiction because it’s the
easiest method to produce high-quality ebooks that are readable on
any e-reading device. It will also generate your ebook in multiple
ebook formats at the Smashwords store, making your book readable on
any e-reading device.
Direct .epub upload – In 2012, we introduced a new upload
option we call Smashwords Direct which allows authors and
publishers to upload professionally designed .epub files. The
Smashwords Direct option accommodates authors and publishers that
don’t use Microsoft Word in their publishing workflow, or those
with complex books that require more sophisticated formatting and
layout than is possible with Microsoft Word. Learn more about
Smashwords Direct in this blog post -
or on our Smashwords Direct help page at
Books formatted to
the Smashwords Style Guide earn inclusion in the Smashwords
Premium Catalog, which is the collection of
books Smashwords distributes to major ebook retailers such as the
Apple iBooks store (51 countries), Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo,
Flipkart (India’s largest online bookseller), Oyster, Scribd,
Diesel, Baker & Taylor (the Blio.com e-reading app and the
Axis360 platform for public libraries) and public libraries. Your
book will also be available as a multi-format ebook at our own
fast-growing Smashwords store at Smashwords.com, where customers can
pay one price and access your book in multiple formats such as .mobi
for Kinde devices, PDF and .epub for all other devices.
Over 90% of our
authors’ sales come from our distribution network rather than the
Smashwords store. This is why you want your book accepted into the
Premium Catalog as quickly as possible. This Guide will show you
All you need to
publish at Smashwords is a finished manuscript, a computer, an
Internet connection, Microsoft Word or similar word processor (or, a
professionally designed .epub file for the Smashwords Direct option),
an ebook cover image, and the time and patience to follow this Guide.
Patience is key. If you try to take short cuts and skip over the
sections that follow, you’ll frustrate yourself and delay
To learn some
simple, time-saving keyboard tricks before you get started, see the
at the end of this guide. If any terminology in this guide is
confusing, check out our comprehensive e-publishing glossary of terms
in the Smashwords FAQ at
Do-It-Yourself, or Hire Help? – If you don’t have the
time, patience or skills to properly format your masterpiece to Style
Guide requirements, or you find yourself cursing and swearing (never
good!), consider hiring a fellow Smashwords author to help you. I
maintain a list called “Mark’s List” with the names and contact
information of several Smashwords authors who have volunteered to
provide low-cost Smashwords Style Guide formatting services for
around $40 and up. The list also includes low-cost cover designers
($40-$150). If you want a referral (we don’t earn a referral fee),
you’ll find the list at http://smashwords.com/list.
Please note: if you utilize one of these freelance service
providers, you’re hiring them, not Smashwords. By hiring them you
will not receive any preferential customer support or fast-tracked
approval. However, because they’re Smashwords formatting experts,
they’ll give you a clean file that will usually earn you Premium
Catalog approval on the first attempt.
template – Previously, I provided links here to the RTF files
of Smashwords books that served as good examples of Smashwords
formatting. Smashwords will eventually discontinue the RTF format,
so with this new edition of the Style Guide, I’m going to start
providing links to actual Word .doc files.
Here’s a link to
Smashwords template file, for use with fiction and narrative
non-fiction ebooks. http://bit.ly/SWebooktemplateV1
Once you click to the link, you can click “Download” to open the
file in Microsoft Word and save it to your local computer.
The template above
is somewhat unusual in that it contains extensive instructions.
Consider it a companion resource to the Smashwords Style Guide. It’s
not a substitute for the Smashwords Style Guide.
In future updates to
the Smashwords Style Guide I’ll add more links as we build out a
library of example files.
Publishes, What We Don’t Publish
Smashwords is a
professional publishing and distribution platform for serious
only original and legal works, direct from the author or the
exclusive digital publisher. We do not publish public domain books.
We also don’t publish incomplete or partial books, or books that
appear elsewhere on the Internet under other authors’ names, as is
common with Private
Label Rights scams. If you write erotica, all
your characters must be adults 18 or over. And finally, we strongly
discourage any book that advocates get-rich-quick “systems” for
making money on the Internet. To publish at Smashwords, an author or
publisher is simply required to abide by the Smashwords
Terms of Service and follow the instructions in
How to Distribute
Books with Smashwords:
Smashwords is the
world’s largest distributor of self-published ebooks. We’re
always working to open up new sales channels for our authors. The
Smashwords distribution network includes major ebook stores and
libraries, including Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony,
Flipkart, Oyster, Scribd, Baker & Taylor, and the Diesel eBook
advantage of formatting your book to the Style Guide and distributing
through Smashwords is that you upload it once to Smashwords and then
we take care of everything else. We’ll produce the files and data
necessary to support the unique requirements of each retailer, and we
deliver everything to them per their requirements.
manage your ebook distribution through your Smashwords Dashboard. If
you want to change the price, or upload a new version of your book,
or update your cover image or book description, you do it once from
your Dashboard and then we propagate the update out to all our
retailers. You can update your book as often as you like, and all at
control is a major time-saver for our authors. We help you spend
more time writing and less time hassling with distribution!
Once your book is
accepted into the Smashwords Premium Catalog, it’s ready for
distribution across the Smashwords distribution network. To achieve
Premium Catalog distribution, your book must satisfy higher
mechanical standards required by the retailers such as having a
quality book cover image, good formatting, a proper copyright page,
and other requirements clearly outlined here in this Style Guide.
How Ebook Formatting
is Different from Print Formatting
Before you embark on
your ebook publishing adventure, it’s helpful to understand the
differences between print book formatting and ebook formatting.
With print books,
you control the layout. Print is a fixed format. The words, fonts
and images appear on the printed page exactly where you want them to
different. Don’t try to make your ebook look like an exact
facsimile of a print book, otherwise you’ll disappoint readers by
creating a poorly formatted, unreadable ebook.
Ebooks are designed
for “reflowability,” which means your words and paragraphs will
shape shift and reflow and look good on any screen size, whether it’s
a small iPhone or a larger iPad, Kindle, or personal computer screen.
Reflowability enables your reader to customize the font sizes,
fonts, and line spacing to suit their personal reading preference and
With print books,
readers use page numbers to navigate. With ebooks, there is no
“page.” Ebooks use hyperlinks to navigate, and as you’ll soon
learn, this opens up exciting opportunities to make your words more
accessible to readers.
In order to prepare
your words to be stirred up and reconstituted in this digital soup,
it’s important your Smashwords source file is formatted to liberate
the words in digital form. The Smashwords Style Guide will teach you
how with our step-by-step instructions.
Meatgrinder: How We Convert Your Book into Multiple Ebook Formats
call our ebook conversion system Meatgrinder. Don’t let the name
intimidate you. Meatgrinder is your friend.
When you upload your
manuscript to Smashwords as a Microsoft Word .doc document,
Meatgrinder automatically converts it into multiple ebook file
formats that make your book readable on any e-reading device, such as
the Apple iPhone, iPod, iPod Touch, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble
Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo reader, Android smart phone, a computer
screen or virtually any other device with a screen.
If you upload a
properly formatted Word. doc, Meatgrinder will produce a
professional-quality ebook for you. If you ignore the simple
formatting instructions in the Smashwords Style Guide, Meatgrinder
may turn your book into hamburger. Please follow the instructions!
If you make a mistake, don’t worry. You can always click “upload
new version” from your Dashboard to instantly correct any errors.
The advantage of
this automation, especially if you carefully format your book to the
Style Guide, is that Meatgrinder will allow you to instantly publish
a high-quality, multi-format ebook, ready to be enjoyed on any
e-reading device. This automation also allows us to offer this
conversion and publishing service at no cost to you. You can update
your book at any time for free.
reflowable ebooks that look great on any e-reading device. As
I mentioned in the previous section, “reflowable” means that the
text of your ebook will look great on any screen size. Reflowable
books enable your customer to click a button and instantly enlarge
the font size for more comfortable reading.
well with straight-form narrative, and narrative + images, so we
excel at fiction, narrative non-fiction, poetry and other ebooks that
are mostly words. Luckily, straight narrative comprises probably 90%
of all ebooks purchased by readers. With some tweaks, flexibility
and patience, Meatgrinder can also support most of the other 10%.
custom styling, which helps you create professional-quality ebooks
your readers will enjoy.
pictures and images, but here ebooks – due to their reflowability –
lack the precision of print on paper. With some Smashwords formats
(such as plain text), page breaks will appear where you don’t
expect them. Images may not appear in the exact position you
intended, or the print-quality image that looks great on glossy paper
may not look so great on a black and white e-reading device, or on a
small cell phone screen. In other words, you should expect that your
ebook will look different from a print book. With patience,
experimentation and an open mind, you can make it work.
Some format outputs
have limitations. For example, a picture book or manga that’s all
images is impossible to convert into plain text (it wouldn’t be a
picture book anymore!).
Meatgrinder has some
minor limitations. It doesn’t support tables or columns, for
example, and neither do most e-reading systems. It doesn’t support
dropcaps. We’ll provide workarounds in this Guide, or you can
upload a professionally designed .epub which can support these more
In the meantime, the
benefits of such minor compromises outweigh the downside. By giving
up the control of fixed format print layout, you gain a lot with
reflowability by making your book accessible to millions of potential
readers across our ever-growing distribution network. If you follow
this Style Guide, you’ll learn how to make a
professionally-formatted ebook that looks as good as or better than
most ebooks from large publishers.
We care about
quality, and you should too. If you ever hear an author or reader
complain that their Smashwords book looked like [insert your favorite
expletive], it means the author didn’t follow the Style Guide.
Please take the time to follow the guide. You’ve invested years –
possibly even a lifetime – to write your masterpiece, so take 30
minutes or an hour to study the Guide start to finish and learn how
easy it is to create a great-looking multi-format ebook that will
make you and your readers proud.
Different Ebook Formats
One of the important
benefits of Smashwords is that we take your single file and convert
it into multiple ebook formats. Why is this so important to the
success of your book? Because readers read on many different
devices, so the more formats you offer, the more books you’ll sell.
You should publish
your book into as many digital formats as possible (even if certain
formats translate less well than others) because this expands your
potential audience of readers. Review the outputs of each format for
acceptability after you publish.
summary of the formats offered:
EPUB - This is your most important format! EPUB is an
open industry ebook format. This is the format we distribute to
Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Oyster, Scribd, Diesel eBooks,
and others. If your book is available in epub, it can be read on the
most popular ebook readers and ebook reading software applications
(Like iBooks or Bluefire on the iPhone or Aldiko on Android devices),
and will gain the widest distribution via Smashwords’ distribution
outlets (EPUB is a requirement for inclusion in Smashwords’ Premium
Catalog, and it’s what we distribute to every retailer except
(Kindle) – Mobipocket, A.K.A. MOBI, allows your books to
be read on the Amazon Kindle, so this is an important format for you.
Mobipocket is supported on many handheld devices and e-reading
applications. Mobipocket is a requirement for distribution to
Amazon. Even if you already upload direct to Amazon, don’t disable
the .mobi format at Smashwords, because many customers enjoy
purchasing .mobi books at Smashwords.
(PDB) - PalmDoc is a format primarily used on Palm Pilot devices,
but software readers are available for PalmOS, Symbian OS, Windows
Mobile Pocket PC/Smartphone, desktop Windows, and Macintosh. Be sure
to turn off “smart quotes” in your source file, otherwise they
may appear garbled in your PDB file. Our PDB is little more than ugly
Portable Document Format, or PDF, is a file format readable by most
devices, including handheld e-readers, PDAs, and personal computers.
It’s a good format if your work contains complex layout, charts or
images. Odds are, if your work looks good in Microsoft Word it will
look good in PDF. PDF is also a good option for readers who may want
to print out your book on their home computers. On the negative
side, PDF is a rigid, inflexible format because it’s not
reflowable, so it’s horrible for reading novels. Your customers
can’t easily change the font size or style to match their
preferences, the text isn’t reflowable, and the reader is forced to
read page by page.
This is the old (mothballed) format for the Sony Reader. Sony has
moved to the EPUB format, so LRF is less important than it once was,
though it’s still useful to users of the older generation Sony
- Rich Text Format, or RTF, is a cross-platform document format
supported by many word processors and devices. It is not efficient
with lots of images. Meatgrinder has a bug which can cause the text
in the RTF to appear as SMALL CAPS. Smashwords plans to discontinue
the RTF format before the end of 2014.
- Plain text is the most widely supported file format. It works on
nearly all readers and devices. It lacks formatting, but will work
anywhere. For best results with plain text, your source document
should not contain images or fancy formatting.
SmashReader – This is our online reader that allows
customers to sample or read your book from their web browser. Your
sample pages will be indexed by Google, which will increase the
ability for potential customers to find your book, even if they
didn’t know your book is what they were looking for. Think of it
as serendipity on steroids. If your book looks good in our HTML
reader, it will probably also look good in EPUB and MOBI. Linked
tables of contents (ToCs) don’t work in the HTML reader.
coming - In the future, we’ll add support for other formats
based on author requests. If there’s a particular format you want,
drop us a note.
The Beauty and Utility
The secret to ebook
formatting success is “Keep it Simple!” Unnecessarily complex
formatting or layout will hinder the readability of your ebook.
readers will read your book for the magic of your words. You want
your formatting and styling to make your words more accessible to the
mean you must format your book as plain text or make it “dumb” or
“lacking styling” As you’ll learn in the sections that follow,
Smashwords supports sophisticated, customizing styling, but like all
good things in life, you should use styling in moderation. Although
we’ll show you how to apply custom paragraph styling, try to
minimize the number of styles, because too many styles can make your
text appear busy. If your current formatting includes more than five
or ten custom paragraph styles, you’re asking for trouble. I’ll
teach you more about styling options in Step 7.
AutoVetter Helps You
Identify Common Formatting Errors:
AutoVetter is your
AutoVetter is our
automated formatting checker that inspects your book the moment you
upload it. AutoVetter provides you instant feedback regarding
potential formatting problems. If you get AutoVetter messages, don’t
despair! They’re easy to fix.
messages will be reported to you on your publish confirmation page
(the page that appears after your Meatgrinder conversion completes),
and also at the top of your book page and in a publish-confirmation
email. You can also access the AutoVetter messages from your
Dashboard after you publish, underneath the “Premium Status”
column. If the Dashboard link reads, “requires modification,”
click the link.
Once you learn of an
AutoVetter error, fix it immediately. Otherwise, the errors will
prevent or delay your book’s acceptance into the Smashwords Premium
Catalog which will prevent distribution. Once you fix the issue, go
to your Dashboard and click the “upload new version” link.
errors may prevent your book from gaining inclusion in the Premium
- more than 4
consecutive paragraph returns in a row (creates blank ebook pages)
- tabs (eliminate
all tabs, which you created by hitting 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)
- large font sizes
(11 or 12pt is best, 14pt is a recommended maximum)
- text in columns
(we don’t support columns)
- text in tables
(ebooks don’t handle tables. Import tables as images)
- text in text boxes
(Ugh, the horror! We don’t support text boxes. Use the nuclear
method, explained a little later, to reliably eliminate text boxes.)
conflicting paragraph styles for your body (for example, don’t mix
Normal style with Body Text style)
footnotes (not supported, may cause the conversion to fail)
- text wrapped
around floating images (instead, right mouse click on image, click
Format Picture: Advanced: In Line with Text,
then use Word’s center button to center)
- and finally, to
avoid the copyright error, carefully follow tip 21b below
Your Required Source
Your source file is
the file you’ll upload to Smashwords for conversion and
distribution. This section summarizes how you can get your
manuscript into a format ready for upload to Smashwords.
Word .doc Files:
This is the recommend option, and the most popular option selected
by Smashwords authors. The remainder of this Smashwords Style Guide
provides instructions on how to format your book as a Microsoft Word
Smashwords accepts .epub files (version 2, not .epub3), provided the
file passes the EpubCheck validation system at
To learn more about Smashwords Direct, our direct .epub upload
feature, visit https://www.smashwords.com/swdirect
Files: InDesign is a common layout application used by
professional print book designers and publishers. Smashwords does
not accept InDesign files. However, InDesign will allow you to
export your manuscript to the .epub format, and you can upload this
to Smashwords if it’s formatted to the Style Guide. Also from
InDesign, you can export your book to the .RTF format. Once it’s
in RTF format, you can reopen the file in Microsoft Word, save it as
a Word .doc, and then follow the Nuclear Method to clean up
all the gunk InDesign creates in your RTF. With the Nuclear
Method, you open your file in Word, copy and paste it into
Windows Notepad (or some other simple text editor that strips out all
formatting), close Microsoft Word, then reopen Word to a fresh new
Word document, then copy and paste the book from Notepad back into
Word, and then carefully re-apply the minimal necessary formatting by
following the Style Guide.
PDF Source Files
(Not allowed): You cannot upload a source file as a PDF. If you
only have your book in PDF form, here’s a free online service that
will convert your PDF into a Word doc: http://www.pdftoword.com/
You upload your PDF to them and then they email it to you as a Word
file. But be warned, the output it gives you will *not*
be ready to publish on Smashwords. You will still need to perform
clean-up. To save time, you’re better off contacting whoever
converted your original manuscript into PDF and ask them to forward
you the original source file, saved as either a Word .doc or .RTF
If You Only Have
a Print Book: Many authors only have print copies of their
books. How do you bring your book to life as an ebook? It’s
easier than you might think. Consider this cool service called Blue
Leaf Book Scanning, which uses optical character recognition
technology to convert your book back into digital form. For around
$25.00, they will scan your print book and send it to you as a
Microsoft Word file. I’ve seen the raw files they produce, and
they’re remarkably accurate. However, the service is not
infallible. The Word file they send you will still require careful
proofing, editing and reformatting.
files: If you’re a screenwriter, scriptwriter and playwright
and you work in a program called Final Draft, save your document as
an RTF file (however, you will need to manually correct the margins),
and then open it in Word, save it as a Word .doc, and clean up from
Files: If you only have your source file as an HTML file, follow
these instructions: 1. Open the HTML document in a browser.
2. Copy and paste the entire document into a new Word doc by
clicking "Edit: paste special" within the Word menu, then
selecting "unformatted text" as the output. 3.
From here, you'll find that you've got a consistent number of spaces,
such as four spaces, making up your indents. This won't work, so do
a CTRL+H (press the CTRL key and the H key at the same time) search
and replace and search for ^p space space space space
(the “^p” symbol for a paragraph return followed by four taps on
the space bar) and replace with only ^p. This will
eliminate the leading spaces at the beginning of each paragraph. 4.
Next, CTRL+A the document, right mouse click, click paragraph, and
then under “special” do a first line paragraph indent of .25”.
5. Next, clean up the remaining minor issues, like manually
removing the indents from your title and copyright pages, and, using
Word’s center button, center those sections.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How long will
it take for me to format my book for Smashwords?
This depends on your
knowledge of Microsoft Word. Most authors, if they take the time to
carefully study and implement the Style Guide, can successfully
complete their formatting in under two or three hours. Most
Smashwords experts can complete a book in under one hour. Novels are
easiest. If you decide to skip the Style Guide because you already
have decades of experience in publishing, then you’ll frustrate
yourself and waste days. The Style Guide has a lot of pictures to
help guide even computer novices down the path to formatting success,
and it’ll save you money in the process. We created Smashwords so
you shouldn’t have to pay anyone a penny to publish. If you don’t
have the time, skills, or patience to follow the instructions, and
you’d rather hire someone to help you, see “Mark’s List” of
low cost formatters (fellow Smashwords authors) at
who for around $40 to $100 can professionally format your book.
Q: Can you share
already taken the first step, which is to read this Style Guide. It
will save you a lot of time, prevent frustration and help you get
your book distributed more quickly. Other tips: 1. Jump
down to my Keyboard Shortcuts section in the Appendix
if you want a quick refresher on some keyboard tricks that will save
you time and reduce errors. 2. Follow the Style Guide’s
steps in sequential order. Don’t skip any steps. 3. Take
a look at my sample template file at http://bit.ly/SWebooktemplateV1.
4. Use Microsoft Word because you’ll get the best, most
predictable results. 5. If your book has been touched by
multiple word processors during the writing, revision and editing,
consider using the Nuclear Method below to clear out the formatting
gunk and start fresh because these other programs have a habit of
introducing hidden anomalies into your file.
Q: How many
books will I sell, and how do you pay me?
Any book, ebook or
print, is difficult to sell. Some Smashwords authors haven’t sold
a single book. Others sell thousands of copies each day. The latter
group is not the norm, so you should keep your sales expectations
modest. Read the free Smashwords
Book Marketing Guide to understand what we do
to help you sell your book, and what you can do for yourself. Also
Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success (also
FREE!) to learn the best practices of the most commercially
successful Smashwords authors. You are responsible for writing a
book that resonates with readers, and for marketing that book. Our
responsibility is to help you get your book published and
distributed. Over 90 percent of your sales will come from
Smashwords’ rapidly expanding network of ebook retailers, thus the
urgency for you to follow the Style Guide so we can quickly
distribute your book. All your sales originating at Smashwords.com,
our small retail operation, will be reported instantly to you. Sales
reporting from our retail partners is time-delayed. Learn more about
how Smashwords royalties are calculated and paid by reading our
Q: What types of
books are most difficult to format for Smashwords?
The most challenging
books at Smashwords include large-format coffee table photo books,
and picture books for children where the words are embedded in the
image. Smashwords ebooks are designed for reflowability, so they can
be enjoyed on screens large and small. Large format pictures, or
tiny text embedded in images do not read well on small screens. With
some special care, you can modify most types of books to work well on
Smashwords. For children’s picture books, for example, liberate
the text from the image so the text can become reflowable.
Q: Can I upload
a work in progress?
No. Smashwords is
only for books that are complete and ready for public consumption.
Q: Can I upload
only a sample chapter or two?
No. We only publish
complete books. If your story doesn’t represent a complete reading
experience, you can’t publish it at Smashwords, because our
customers expect a complete story. However, when you upload your
complete book, you can designate a certain percentage of the book,
starting from the word one, which we will make available as a free
Q: Can I upload
public domain books?
No. We do not
publish public domain books.
Q: Can I upload
“Private Label Rights” articles to Smashwords?
No, never. We have a
zero tolerance policy on PLR. It’s a violation of our terms of
service for anyone to upload it to Smashwords. If you’re not
familiar with PLR, it’s generic content that is licensed and
republished by multiple people. I consider PLR a scam. I wrote about
PLR for Writer Beware at
If we discover someone has uploaded PLR content, or content that
originated from PLR source material, or PLR that was later modified
using “article spinners” to evade PLR detection systems, we will
close their account without warning and they’ll forfeit all
earnings. If you’re not the original author of the book, or you’re
not the exclusive distributor or publisher, we cannot publish the
Q: Can I take my
Smashwords ebook conversions and sell them elsewhere?
We ask that you
don’t do this. Why? Our free conversion services, for which we
have invested significant resources to build and continually improve,
are provided to Smashwords authors and publishers as a free benefit
of our ebook distribution services. It's bad karma to take the files
we create and upload or sell them elsewhere. Just as you're trusting
readers to honor your copyright, we trust our authors to respect our
terms of service. Of course, you can do anything you want with the
Microsoft Word source file you create.
Q: Do I put my
cover image in the manuscript file?
uploading a direct .epub using our Smashwords Direct feature, it
should have the cover image inside the .epub file. If you’re
uploading a Word .doc file, it’s best to not include your cover
image inside the manuscript because Meatgrinder will automatically
insert your cover into your EPUB and MOBI formats. If you want the
image in the PDF and RTF formats, you can import it into the top of
your Word file. The downside of doing this, however, is that this
will cause your cover image to appear twice in your EPUB and MOBI
Q: Do you edit
my book prior to publishing?
No. It is your
responsibility to upload a completed, professionally written, edited
and proofread book.
Q: How important
is it that my book has been proofread and copy edited?
Don’t publish your book at Smashwords until it has been thoroughly
proofread for grammar, spelling and typos. One of the biggest
criticisms leveled against self-published authors is that their work
is not professional quality. Don’t perpetuate this stereotype.
Take pride in your work and invest the necessary effort to have
others proofread and copyedit your book prior to publishing it on
Smashwords or anywhere else. Your readers will thank you and your
book will be more successful.
Smashwords format my book to make it look perfect?
No. If we did that,
our service would not be free. Our technology is completely
automated. We provide you the free tools, and the knowledge to use
them. All file conversions are automated by our Meatgrinder file
Smashwords provide professional formatting and text design services?
Smashwords does not
provide paid services of any kind. This guide provides guidance on
how to prepare your book for quality ebook conversion through
Meatgrinder. If you decide you require assistance visit
to obtain my list of low-cost formatters and cover designers.
already formatted my book perfectly into separate versions for PDF,
EPUB, Mobi and others. Can I just upload my books and bypass the
At present, we only
accept Word .doc and .epub. In the future, our Smashwords Direct
feature may add support for direct uploads of Mobi and PDF, and
possibly other formats.
Q: Can I use
“drop caps” at the beginning of a paragraph or chapter?
A drop cap is the
large initial capped letter you may see in the first paragraph of a
chapter in a print book. A drop cap usually extends down two or
three lines. If you’re uploading a professional quality .epub file
with drop caps, then you can use them. If you’re uploading a Word
.doc, you cannot use drop caps, so eliminate all usage of them. A
common and attractive alternative to drop caps used by many
Smashwords authors is to make the first letter of the first paragraph
of a chapter a slightly larger font size, and bold.
Q: Will my
finished Smashwords digital book look like my original print
Often, it will look
different. It’s dangerous to try to make your ebook look like an
exact carbon copy of your print book. You want your ebook to be
reflowable, which means it’ll read well on any device or screen
size. If you carefully follow the Style Guide, you’ll get good
Q: I don’t use
Microsoft Word. Can I still publish on Smashwords?
Microsoft Word is your best option. If you want to ensure the best
results for your ebook, and you don’t use Microsoft Word, consider
investing in a copy. You can usually find it for around $150 or
less. Word will give you the greatest control over your formatting
by allowing you to follow the Smashwords Style Guide. If your time
is valuable to you, and you plan to publish multiple ebooks with
Smashwords, Word is a good investment. If you’ve already got an
older version of Word, that’s great. You don’t need the newest.
If your word
processing software allows you to save a file as a Microsoft Word
.doc file, then it might work for you. There are numerous free Word
processors that emulate Microsoft Word or will convert files into
Microsoft Word format, but keep in mind they’ll make formatting
more difficult, they might introduce corruption into your Word
document, and we can’t coach you on how to use them. One free
option popular with many Smashwords authors is Open Office
which is available for the PC, Mac and other platforms. You can also
use Apple Pages to output a Word .doc file. We do not recommend
WordPerfect because it caused our authors headaches, which causes us
headaches (see next question).
Q. I use
WordPerfect. Can I save my manuscript as a Word .doc or .RTF and
who try to convert their WordPerfect files into Microsoft Word .doc
format are often frustrated beyond belief. Based on our experience,
WordPerfect does not reliably export to Word .doc or RTF. It inserts
tabs instead of proper first line paragraph indents, and it
introduces corrupted data and strange control characters. If you use
WordPerfect, we recommend saving your file as plain text, and then
reopening it in Microsoft Word. Next, follow the recommendations in
this Style Guide for the Nuclear Method before reformatting with
Q. Is there a
maximum size file I can upload?
Yes. The source
file you upload must be smaller than 10 megabytes. If your file is
larger, it usually means it contains large images, or multiple
images. For essential images, reduce the file sizes (see the next
tip for how to do this). If you’re unable to optimize the file
sizes of the images, consider if each image is really necessary. If
you’re using images for chapter headings or similar artistic
flourishes, for example, remove them and replace them with text.
Q. How do I
reduce the file size of my images?
First, if your file
is an RTF, save it as a Word .doc. Word .doc files handle images
much more efficiently. If you’re using Microsoft Word 2003 or
later, Word has a GREAT feature that will compress your images
without visibly harming quality. Just right mouse click on any image
in the document, select format picture, then under the picture tab in
the lower left hand corner you'll see a link for "compress".
This will compress many images 80% or more. You can also use a
photo editing tool such as Photoshop, or a free utility such as
Paint.net at http://www.getpaint.net/
or Picasa by Google at http://picasa.google.com/.
Please note: It doesn’t impact the file size to
simply click the corner of an image and drag it inward. If you want
to reduce the height or width of an image, it’s always best to do
that outside of Word, and then re-insert the corrected image.
Q. What’s the
best way to format poetry?
For best results,
present your poetry left justified, or, if it’s meant to be
centered, centered. Don’t use indents to arrange the text on the
page, because the indents could cause your poems to appear too far to
the right of the screen (or worse, word-wrapped) on small-screened
devices. This is why we suggest left justified. For additional
poetry tips, see our special poetry tips section (Step 7b-c) in this
Smashwords support preorders?
Yes! In July 2012,
we announced preorder distribution to Apple, Barnes & Noble and
Kobo. Preorders allow fans to reserve a book before it’s available
for sale. On the day the book goes onsale, their credit card is
charged. At Apple and Kobo, all orders accumulated during the
preorder period credit on the day the book goes onsale, causing it to
spike in the bestseller lists. There are a lot of compelling reasons
to do a preorder. Visit http://smashwords.com/preorder
to learn strategies for doing a successful preorder.
Q. Should I
worry about piracy?
No. The biggest
risk faced by every author and publisher is obscurity, not piracy.
If you price your ebook reasonably, and you make your book available
for purchase at as many retailers as possible, it’ll be easier for
readers to purchase a legal copy than it is to obtain an illegal
copy. On the off chance a fan gives your book to a friend and tells
them to read it, consider it the most powerful form of low-cost
marketing. That new fan will seek out and purchase your other books.
Books live and die based on reader word of mouth. The most
successful authors don’t limit their book’s distribution for fear
of piracy. Some best-selling authors are even known to upload their
own books to pirate sites, simply because they view pirating as cheap
How do I eliminate Word’s Indexing Field Codes?
Smashwords does not
support indexing, so if your source document uses Word’s field code
for indexed words or phrases, you’ll want to eliminate the field
codes before you upload to Smashwords. The field codes become
visible when you activate Word’s “show/hide” command (as we
mention below, you NEED to activate “show/hide” to expose
your hidden formatting). Although you could strip them out manually,
it would take hours and will introduce errors. Here’s a quick tip
that takes only seconds: See our Keyboard Shortcuts section learn how
to use Word’s “Find and Replace” feature (type CTRL+H) and then
in the find field enter ^d xe ^? and leave the ‘replace with’
field empty. Then click ‘replace all’. Below is an image of
what the indexing field codes look like.
Making Microsoft Word
Before you upload
your book to Smashwords, follow the steps below to ensure proper
formatting of your book. The first steps focus on making Word
A note about all
the different versions of Word: You can use any version of
Microsoft Word, even the old versions like Word 2000 (my personal
favorite), Word 2003 (I like this one too), Word 2007 (Steep learning
curve, but a great program once you learn it), and the newer ones
such as Word 2010 (nearly identical to Word 2007). Luckily, although
the user interface changes (tell me, Microsoft, why do you make Word
more difficult to use with every version?), the inner guts of Word
have remained remarkably similar across all versions for nearly 20
years. If, for religious reasons you’re hesitant to use Microsoft
Word, please reconsider. If you plan to publish frequently with
Smashwords, it’s a smart investment because you’ll gain better
control over your ebook’s formatting and you’ll save yourself
time. If you 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 you might be creating more work for yourself.
Step 1 - Make a Back
This goes without
saying but I’ll say it anyway. Don’t make the formatting
modifications below on your original document. Instead, open your
final manuscript within Microsoft Word, and create a copy of it by
going to File: Save As: and then enter a new file name,
such as MySmashwordsMasterpiece, and save it as a .doc file
(the default in Word 2003 and earlier). In later versions, go to
Save As: Word 97-2003. By making a backup, if you make
any mistakes as you follow my advice you won’t screw up your
Step 2 - Activate
is of my favorite editing features in Word. It reveals your hidden
formatting. Do this now, BEFORE you start formatting,
otherwise you might as well blindfold your eyes. The show/hide
feature is designated by the “¶”
mark in the toolbar (I’ve always thought of it as the “reverse P
thingy,” but for you typography purists out there, you know it as a
“pilcrow.”), as shown below.
show/hide button helps you view the guts of your formatting
When clicked, it
exposes your paragraph returns, extra spaces, tabs, field codes or
strange formatting. It’s a great tool to help polish your document
for the cleanest possible conversions. If it’s not in your toolbar,
you can usually find it in Tools: Options: View
and then under Formatting Marks click All.
Step 3 - Turn off
Word's AutoCorrect: AutoFormat As You Type and AutoFormat features
I’ve always found
Word’s AutoCorrect and AutoFormat-As-You-Type to be Word’s most
annoying features. If you have them engaged, Word will try to guess
what type of formatting you want based on how you write the
paragraph, how you manually format the paragraph, or by how you
formatted something before it. If you upload a Word file to
Smashwords with paragraphs formatted inconsistently, like some
paragraphs formatted as “Body Text” and others formatted as
“Normal Text,” the book will look horrible as an ebook. To turn
off the features, in Word 2000 & 2003, go to “Tools”:
“AutoCorrect,” then click on the “AutoFormat As You
Type” tab and then uncheck most of the boxes, and then click on
the “AutoFormat” tab and uncheck the four boxes under
The reason we want
to turn off these AutoFormatting options is because later in the
Style Guide, you’re going to try to simplify and normalize your
text to prepare it for conversion. If you don’t turn off
AutoFormatting, Word will cheerfully and automatically mess things up
again as you make the corrections below.
access the same screen in Word 2007, Word 2010 or later, click on the
round Microsoft Office button (upper left) then click Word
Options, then click Proofing, then click the button at
right for AutoCorrect Options. See the screen shot below,
which is similar for most versions of Word.
Step 4 – Turn off
Make sure you’ve
turned off Word’s “Track Changes” feature, also known as
“markup mode.” This is what your book looks like in Markup Mode:
Step 5 – Use the
NUCLEAR METHOD to Purge Hidden Corruption
Your Microsoft Word
document can become corrupted if it has been touched by multiple word
processors, or if it originated in a program such as InDesign or
WordPerfect, or if it originated in PDF and then was converted to
Word, or if it was originally created with poor formatting practices.
Luckily, our Nuclear
Method purges all your formatting and allows you to start with a
fresh Word document, free of hidden formatting or corrupted styling.
The Nuclear Method is strongly recommended before you start
formatting. Most formatting professionals on Mark’s List employ
this method with every book because it helps you create a good clean
The Nuclear Method
is also recommended if previous versions of your manuscript failed to
convert, or if you’re struggling with EPUBCHECK errors, text boxes
or tables you can’t find, or if you suspect your book is corrupted.
If you go Nuclear
now, you won’t have to do it later.
Here’s how to
1. Make a
backup of your manuscript (VERY IMPORTANT!) if you haven’t
done so already, and set it aside in case the Nuclear Method fails
2. Copy and
paste your entire manuscript into Windows Notepad (usually found in
Programs: Accessories) or any other text editor. This will strip out
all your formatting.
Microsoft Word. Then reopen Microsoft Word so it’s showing a fresh
4. Return to
Notepad, and type CTRL+A (press the CTRL key, hold it down, then
press the A key at the same time) for “select all” (highlights
all your text in the document) then CTRL+C for “copy,” then open
a new fresh Word document and paste the contents of the Notepad
document by pressing CTRL+V (for paste) or click to the menu and
click Edit: Paste (in Word 2000 and 2003) or Home: Paste (Word 2007,
here, you’re ready to format your book. Let’s get started!
Step 6 – Hug a Loved
Your manuscript just
survived the Nuclear method and surprisingly, it looks cleaner and
crisper than ever. Come to think of it, so you do. You’re looking
pretty dang awesome right now. You’ve got that sexy mysterious
author look that leaves your friends and fans awestruck as they try
to guess what’s going on inside your head.
If this is your
first time formatting, before you progress to Step 7, I want you to
take a quick break and hug a loved one. Whether they’re of the
fleshy, furry or feathered variety isn’t important. What is
important is to tell your loved one you’re about to disappear for
an hour or two, and you’d prefer they not interrupt you unless
Oprah calls, someone’s choking, or the roof is on fire. Also tell
them if they hear grunts or screaming they’re to bring you a glass
of warm milk or chamomile tea pronto, followed by a shoulder massage.
Got that? Tell ‘em Mark said so.
I care about your
mental well-being, and I want this to be fun. You’re about to
publish an ebook!
All set? Okay,
Step 7 - Managing and
Modifying Paragraph Styles, Fonts
Styles are cool.
I’m not referring to clothing. Instead, I’m referring to
paragraph styles in Word. Paragraph styles allow you to globally
control the styling of your ebook. You’ll apply a different style
to different elements of your book, and then to change the styling,
you just change the style once and the change will ripple across your
What are some of the
elements likely to receive custom styling? How about the front
matter, your chapter headings, or the main body of your text?
Start with Normal
Everywhere: Word comes with many pre-defined paragraph styles.
I recommend you start your formatting adventure by unifying
everything around the Normal style, and then add custom styles later.
I’ll show you how in a bit.
Why start with
Normal? Since 95% of your book will be the body, i.e. the words
and paragraphs that comprise your main narrative, we start by setting
the entire book to the Normal paragraph style. This saves you time.
Then later, we’ll highlight (by clicking and dragging the mouse
over a certain text region) certain areas of text (such as front
matter, chapter headings, backmatter, then click to the Change Styles
menu to either define a new style for that text, or to assign it to
an existing style. Next, I’ll give you a sneak peek at how we’ll
How to Control
Styles: To ensure you give Meatgrinder the correct input, follow
you’re using Word 2007 or later, click the Home tab, then
click the little arrow under “Change Style” (see image
then you’ll see multiple styles listed. Click the down arrow
beside Normal, then click Modify…
then the following will appear…
… click Format
(#1) in the lower left, then click Paragraph (#2) to modify the
A screen similar to
this will appear next:
In the Steps that
follow, we’ll look more closely at the items inside the box above.
If you’re using an
older version of Word (pre-Word 2007), click Format: Style,
then on the left click “Normal” if it isn’t already
highlighted. In the center pane of the window, under “character
preview,” Word will show you sample text and tell you the default
font style for “Normal” text. If it’s what you want, then
you’re good. However, if it’s different (as it was in my case
when I uploaded my novel), then click Format: Font: and then
select the font and font size you want. We recommend Times New
Roman. Don’t use exotic fonts because they will not translate
well, and they can even cause your conversions to fail.
Once you learn how
to manage your Normal style (or any other style for that matter),
you’ll gain much greater control over the quality of your ebook’s
formatting. You’ll also save a lot of time and headache. For
example, you can define body paragraphs with special first line
indents, or with a certain font or font size, or you can define
spacing around your paragraphs (more on this later in the section
of Styles Useful for Most Ebooks
What are some of the
styles you might want to define? Here are some of my favorites:
Normal – I
use Word’s default Normal style, and then modify it to my purposes.
For fiction, I usually configure it for single spaced lines, .3”
first line indent, Times New Roman, 12pt. For non-fiction, such as
for this Style Guide, I configured Normal for block paragraphs (Step
7a below provides a full discussion to help you decide if first-line
indents or block paragraphs are best for you) with Times New Roman,
12 pt, single spaced lined, and a trailing after space of 10pt.
Kindle trick: The Amazon Kindle and its associated apps
(Kindle for PC, Kindle for Mac) automatically insert a preceding
first line indent if one isn’t defined, even on block paragraphs.
This can create an ugly, unprofessional-looking ebook. To overcome
this problem, I configured my Normal to define a “special” first
line indent of 1/100th of an inch (.01”) to trick Kindle
apps and devices to not automatically indent my paragraphs. The
indent will be imperceptible to most eyes, and it should prevent
Kindle and its apps from inserting the first line indent where you
don’t want it.
I use the “.01”
trick here in the Style Guide so it reads well on Kindles. Here’s
how the setting appears in Word’s Paragraph styling window (the
previous image I showed you above):
I usually create a custom style, creatively labeled “Centered,”
which is simply centered text based on my Normal style, but without
the first line indent. I apply it to centered text such as front
matter, and to centered images. In Step 14a later, I’ll share an
example of how to create a custom style for centered text.
I call it something different for each manuscript I’m formatting.
You can call this or any other custom style whatever you want. For
the Style Guide, I’ve created a style called “MC custom 14pt”
which is the 14pt bold Arial I’m using for section headings. The
style defines a page break before the style, and a trailing 10pt
space after each paragraph break. If this were fiction, I’d
probably use a similar style for my chapter heads, but would add a
before and after space of 30 or 40pt, and I’d center it, so the
chapter head sits attractively below the top of the page, and the
Normal text starts a few lines-distance below it.
For fiction, when you’re doing the first line indent style of
paragraph separation, it’s a nice professional touch to make the
first paragraph of each chapter flush left, without an indent. Most
authors don’t bother, and that’s okay because most readers won’t
notice or care, but I think it’s a nice touch that makes your book
look all that much more professional. The Kindle trick I mentioned
above works here as well. You can set your “special” first line
indent to .01”. Here’s how it might look (I garden and raise
chickens, thus the inspiration behind what follows!):
What You See is
(not always) What You Get. Just because your manuscript on
screen in Microsoft Word looks like it has a font of 12pt Times New
Roman, the book may appear in some of the Smashwords ebook formats as
10 pt Courier or some other font (this happened to me with my own
novel). How does this happen? The answer is in Word’s underlying
paragraph styles. If Word thinks the defined font size for the
“Normal” paragraph style is 11pt Courier, but you bypassed the
underlying style manager and directly highlighted your text on screen
and then selected 12pt Times New Roman (this is called “Direct
formatting”), the book it passes on to Meatgrinder will be 11pt
Courier if the underlying style defines Courier.
Direct Formatting: In the example above, where I mentioned how
some people might highlight text and then select a different font
size, or a different font, this is called “Direct formatting,” or
“Directly applied formatting.” You should try to avoid direct
formatting, especially to select a different font size, a
different font, or to apply different line spacing or
indents. If you apply direct formatting, you may find it sticks
in some Meatgrinder formats but not others. I’ve found that bold
and italics work great as directly applied formatting, but for
font sizes, font styles, centering, indents or line spacing, I always
control those by modifying the underlying style, or by creating a new