Excerpt for Smashwords Style Guide by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Smashwords Style Guide

By Mark Coker

rev 9.24.14

Copyright Mark Coker 2008-2014

Smashwords Edition License Notes:

This 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.

Also by Mark Coker, Published at Smashwords:

Smashwords Book Marketing Guide (how to market any book)

The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success (ebook publishing best practices)

The 10-Minute PR Checklist - Earn the Publicity You Deserve (PR strategy for entrepreneurs)

Boob Tube (novel about soap operas)

Table of Contents


Welcome to Smashwords!

Do-it-yourself, or hire help?

Good formatting example

What Smashwords publishes, what we don’t publish

How to distribute books with Smashwords

How ebook formatting is different from print formatting

Introduction to Meatgrinder: How we convert your book into multiple ebook formats

Understanding the different ebook formats

The beauty and utility of simplicity

AutoVetter helps identify common formatting errors

Your required source file




Making Word Behave

Step 1: Make a back up

Step 2: Activate Word’s Show/Hide

Step 3: Turn off Word’s “AutoCorrect” and “AutoFormat” features

Step 4: Turn off Track Changes

Step 5: The Nuclear Method

Step 6: Hug a loved one


Step 7: Managing and modifying paragraph styles, fonts

Step 7a. How to choose the best paragraph separation method (first line indent or block?)

Step 7b: How to implement your chosen paragraph separation method

Step 7b-a: How to define a proper first line indent

Step 7b-b: How to define trailing “after” space for block paragraphs

Step 7b-c: Special tips for poetry, cookbooks and learning materials

Step 7b-d: How to define proper line spacing

Step 7b-e: Managing font color

Step 8: Check your normalized text

Step 9: How to automate the removal of tabs and space bar spaces

Step 10: Managing paragraph returns

Step 11: Managing external hyperlinks

Step 12: Designating chapter breaks, page breaks, section breaks

Step 13: Working with images

Step 14: Text justification

Step 14a: Centering text

Step 15: Managing font sizes

Step 16: Style formatting, symbols and glyphs

Step 17: Headers and footers

Step 18: Margins, page sizes and indents

Step 19: Add the Heading style to your Chapter headers (optional)

Building Navigation

Step 20: Building navigation into the manuscript

Step 20a: Creating the NCX

Step 20b: Creating the linked Table of Contents

Step 20c: Advanced link building (Footnotes, Endnotes)

Step 20d: Troubleshooting and testing

Front Matter

Step 21: Front matter

Step 21a: Blurbs (optional)

Step 21b: Title and copyright page (required!)

Step 21c: Add a Smashwords license statement below copyright page

The End of Your Book

Step 22: The end of your book


Step 23: Preparing your cover image

Step 24: Review requirements for Premium Catalog distribution

Uploading Your Book to Smashwords

Step 25: How to upload your book

Step 26: How AutoVetter works

Step 27: After you publish – check your work

Step 27a: Check for EPUBCHECK compliance (important!)

Distributing Your Book with Smashwords

Step 28: How Smashwords distribution works

How to Market Your Book

Step 29: Read the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide (how to market any book)

Step 30: Read the Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success (best-practices of successful authors)

Step 31: Watch our video workshops on YouTube

Helpful Resources

Send Feedback

About the Author


Keyboard shortcuts

Getting Started

Welcome to Smashwords!

Welcome. If you’re not familiar with Smashwords, a quick introduction is in order.

I founded Smashwords in 2008 to makes it fast, free and easy for every writer to professionally publish and distribute an ebook.

Today, Smashwords is the world’s largest distributor of ebooks for self-published authors and small independent presses. We deliver books to major ebook retailers including Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Scribd, Oyster and Kobo. In 2013, Smashwords authors sold over $30 million worth of books at retail. Every year, our books touch millions of readers thanks to our ever-growing global retail and library distribution network.

We give you the tools to publish with pride and professionalism.

This Smashwords Style Guide is one such tool. In the last six years, this guide has helped over 100,000 authors and publishers around the world release over 300,000 high-quality ebooks through Smashwords.

Don’t be 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 how.

Smashwords accepts manuscripts in two forms, either as a Microsoft Word .doc file or as an .epub. Here’s how to choose the best option:

  1. Word .doc - We recommend the Microsoft Word path as the best option for most fiction and narrative non-fiction authors 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. By using Microsoft Word, it’s also easy to modify your book at any time.

  2. 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, Kobo, Flipkart (India’s largest online bookseller), Oyster, Scribd, OverDrive (sells ebooks to over 20,000 public libraries), Baker & Taylor (the e-reading app and the Axis360 platform for public libraries) and new retailers coming soon. Your book will also be available as a multi-format ebook at our own fast-growing Smashwords store at, where customers can pay one price and access your book in multiple formats such as .mobi for Kindle 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 how.

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 distribution.

To learn some simple, time-saving keyboard tricks before you get started, see the Appendix 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 book 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). We offer the list as a public service. We don’t earn a referral fee if you hire these freelancers. If you want a referral, you’ll find the list at Please note: you’re hiring the freelancer, not Smashwords. By hiring them you will not receive 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.

Formatting Example

Formatting template – Here’s a link to a Smashwords template file, for use with fiction and narrative non-fiction ebooks. 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.

What Smashwords Publishes, What We Don’t Publish

Smashwords is a professional publishing and distribution platform for serious writers.

Smashwords publishes 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 this Guide.

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How to Distribute Books with Smashwords:

Smashwords is the world’s largest distributor of ebooks from self-published authors and small independent presses. We’re always working to open up new sales channels for our authors and publishers. The Smashwords distribution network includes major ebook stores and libraries, including Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, FlipKart, Oyster, Scribd, OverDrive and Baker & Taylor Axis 360.

A significant 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.

You’ll centrally 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 no cost.

This centralized control is a major time-saver for our authors. We help you spend more time writing and less time hassling with distribution!

You’ll also gain access to powerful sales, marketing and merchandising tools, many of which are only available to Smashwords authors and publishers. We’re always working and innovating to give our authors and publishers a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

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.

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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 appear.

Ebooks are 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 device.

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.

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Introduction to Meatgrinder: How We Convert Your Book into Multiple Ebook Formats

We affectionately 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.

Meatgrinder creates 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.

Meatgrinder does 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%.

Meatgrinder supports custom styling, which helps you create professional-quality ebooks your readers will enjoy.

Smashwords supports 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 sophisticated features.

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.

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Understanding the 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.

Here’s a 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, Kobo, Oyster, Scribd, 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 Amazon).

Mobipocket (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.

Palm Doc (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 plain text.

PDF - 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.

LRF - This is the old (mothballed) format for the Sony Reader. Sony later 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 Readers.

RTF - 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 - 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.

HTML 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.

More options 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 of Simplicity

The secret to ebook formatting success is “Keep it Simple!” Unnecessarily complex formatting or layout will hinder the readability of your ebook.

Remember that 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 reader.

Simplicity doesn’t 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.

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AutoVetter Helps You Identify Common Formatting Errors:

AutoVetter is your friend.

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.

The AutoVetter 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.

The following errors may prevent your book from gaining inclusion in the Premium Catalog:

- 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.)

- multiple conflicting paragraph styles for your body (for example, don’t mix Normal style with Body Text style)

- automatic 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

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Your Required Source File

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 .doc file.

.Epub files: 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

InDesign Source 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: 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 file.

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.

Final Draft 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 there.

HTML Source 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.

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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 experienced Smashwords authors can complete a book in under one hour. Novels are the easiest to format. If you decide to skip the Style Guide because you already have decades of experience in publishing, then you’ll frustrate yourself and waste time. 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. However, 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: Do you distribute to Amazon?

Yes, but only for a limited subset of our authors. If your book earns over $2,000 in sales at Smashwords and our retailers, you can request distribution to Amazon by contacting our support team via the “support” link you’ll find at the bottom of any Smashwords page. Learn more at

Q: Some retailers allow direct author uploads. Why should I use Smashwords?

Great question! The simplest, shortest answer is that we save you time. We help you spend more time writing and less time fussing with the management of multiple upload platforms. If you want to update your price or cover image or fix a typo, you do it once at Smashwords and we distribute the update to all the retailers. We make it easier to manage multiple books. We provide consolidated sales and tax reporting. All big time-savers. Your writing is what makes you unique. It’s your unique contribution to the world. We think the more time writers spend writing, more the successful they’ll be. We’re always working to give Smashwords authors a competitive advantage in the marketplace with exclusive tools, and we’re always sharing cutting-edge best practices knowledge that will help you publish more professionally and successfully. We think over the long term, authors who partner with Smashwords will be more successful than those who don’t.

Q: Can you share time-saving tips?

Yes! You’ve 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 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 corruption 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 read The 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, our small retail operation, will be reported instantly to you. Our Daily Sales feature will give you same-day sales results from Barnes & Noble and next-day reports from Apple iBooks, Kobo and OverDrive . Learn more about how Smashwords royalties are calculated and paid by reading our Royalty FAQ.

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 sample.

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 work.

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?

If you’re 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 versions.

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?

Extremely important! 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.

Q: Will 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 conversion system.

Q: Does 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.

Q: I’ve already formatted my book perfectly into separate versions for PDF, EPUB, Mobi and others. Can I just upload my books and bypass the Meatgrinder?

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 manuscript?

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 results.

Q: I don’t use Microsoft Word. Can I still publish on Smashwords?

Yes, though 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 upload it?

Smashwords authors 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 Word.

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 at or Picasa by Google at 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 flush left, or, if it’s meant to be centered, centered by defining the centering in your paragraph style (See Step 7 for how to manage styles or to create custom styles). 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 flush left. For additional poetry tips, see our special poetry tips section (Step 7b-c) in this Style Guide.

Q. Does Smashwords support preorders?

Yes! In July 2013, we announced preorder distribution to Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. Preorders allow readers to reserve a book before it’s available for sale. On the day the book goes onsale, the customer’s credit card is charged. At Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, orders accumulated during the preorder period credit all at once on the day the book goes onsale, causing your book to spike in the bestseller lists. A preorder also allows you to market your book in advance of its availability, which helps you capture orders at the moment you have the reader’s attention and interest. Multiple Smashwords authors have used preorders to hit the top 10 bestseller lists, and even to hit the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. But you don’t need to achieve bestsellerdom to benefit from preorders. Preorders give your book an incremental advantage in the marketplace, and are proven to help authors sell more books than they would have otherwise sold without the preorder. Visit 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 marketing.

Q. [Advanced] 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.

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Making Microsoft Word Behave

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 behave.

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 Up

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 original.

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Step 2 - Activate Word’s Show/Hide

Word’s “Show/Hide” 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.

The 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.

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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 “Apply.”

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.

To 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.

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Step 4 – Turn off Track Changes

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:

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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 multi-format conversion.

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 go Nuclear:

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 you.

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.

3. Close Microsoft Word. Then reopen Microsoft Word so it’s showing a fresh empty document.

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, 2010).

5. From here, you’re ready to format your book. Let’s get started!


Step 6 – Hug a Loved One

Your manuscript just survived the Nuclear method and surprisingly, it looks cleaner and crisper than ever. Come to think of it, so do you. You’re looking pretty dang awesome right now. You’ve got that 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, let’s go.

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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 book.

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 do that.

How to Control Styles: To ensure you give Meatgrinder the correct input, follow these instructions:

If you’re using Word 2007 or later, click the Home tab, then click the little arrow under “Change Style” (see image below)

… 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 paragraph style.

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 that follows).

Common Categories 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.

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