Formatting eBooks: Final Touches

So we’ve talked about the basics of formatting eBooks, and why it’s important to do it well. Today we’ll look at a couple tips for going that extra mile.

I should say that I got most of these ideas from others, and you can find the relevant links on my Writers Resources page under formatting. Special thanks to Cameron, Guido and Piotr.


The main things you want to look for when you’re formatting is that your line spacing is correct (Word can really mess with this), and that you’ve got a working Table of Contents. We’ll start with the TOC–Sigil makes it really easy for you.

The bold text is your Heading and will show in the TOC.

The picture above shows a heading–the bolded text. At the beginning of each section, you’ll want to highlight the chapter title (in this case, the story title, as it’s a collection of stories), then click the H1 button on the top left of the program. This gives it the <h1></h1> tags, which tells the final file that it’s a heading. Do that for all your sections. When you’re done, go to Tools and click on TOC Editor; this will allow you to select which Headings will appear in your TOC. Deselect things like the copyright page and other front matter if you like, and there you go. On the right side of the picture above is the complete TOC. When you run the finished ePub file through Calibre, you’ll be able to further codify the TOC, which will then appear in the final book.

In professionally published books, you’ll often see the first words or letter of a new chapter highlighted somehow. Sometimes the first few words will be in bold text, sometimes the first letter is an image file of an ornate letter, with the rest of the text wrapped around it. This is something you can accomplish in Sigil.


Note the first few words are capitalized. Neat!


Here, I’ve highlighted the first few words and used another feature of Sigil: the All Caps button. You find this in Word as well, of course, but if you carry it over to Sigil from there, it’ll mess up the formatting. You want to do this in HTML, so don’t do it in Word, let Sigil do it for you. Highlight the text you want, click the button (it’s the one I’ve circled in Red) and there you go. This nicely sets the first few words apart, a simple way to give a nice polish to the book.

I’m not sure I like it for my book–my second story, Room With a Corpse, looks a bit silly when I do this–but it’s an option. You could also just bold the text. If you want to add the ornate letter I mentioned (you can see a nice example on the Sigil page), just delete the first letter, then right click in that spot and click “Add Image.” You’ll need to find an image of the letter or make one yourself, but that’s all there is too it.

Which brings us to the next example. Because you’re effectively editing in HTML, you can’t use different fonts without going into the “back end” and editing font tags. Even if you do that, there’s no guarantee that your fonts will display on all readers, so it’s not advised. But there is a way around it.

Open up an image editor–I use–and make a small canvas that’s 500 by 375 pixels. This is a good size for most e-readers. Then click on the Text tool and type the title of your book in whatever font you like.

Title Block

Here’s the Title Block for my book–nice font!

You can use some of the main fonts you’ll find installed on your computer–but they’re pretty boring, and people will recognize them. (Remember when Stephen Spielberg used the Papyrus font in Avatar?) Look for other fonts online–they’re easy to install and use–but be careful, because many of them are licensed, and you’ll need to buy them. Don’t go stealing fonts! Instead, go to Font Squirrel, where you can download fonts for free. In the picture above, I’ve used League Gothic, a popular font that “pops” nicely.

So make your image (make the background transparent) and save it as a jpg file. Then create a new section wherever you want your title block to appear. Instead of adding text, just right click and Add Image, throw in your new title block, and ta-da! A nice attractive font to act as your title page without screwing up the user-end e-reader.

Finally, you’ll want to do the same thing with your cover by adding a new section at the very beginning and adding the cover as an image. This will display it on readers not only as a thumbnail when the user is looking through their library, but when they first open the book. I don’t have an example, but check out the link by Cameron above for a nice one.

So there you have it. A few quick tricks that will give your finished book just that much more polish. It’s true what they say: the devil’s in the details. It may seem like a lot of work to add things people probably won’t notice much, but as I said in my last post, people will notice if they’re not there.

And now a quick plug. You might have guessed that because I’m in the final stages, I’m ready to release my book soon–and you’d be right! Watch for The Astrologers and Other Stories to be available on Amazon and Kobo stores by October 23.

And, if you’d like a free copy, why not join my mailing list? Anyone who signs up before October 23 will receive a copy as soon as it’s ready for distribution.

Who doesn’t like free books?

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