This advice involves a “don’t touch” principle, making it much easier to convert your manuscript to an ebook that looks right (as in consistent formatting) on all kinds of different digital reading devices. Before I explain further, I’ll tell you why I’m sharing this today.
Yesterday I proofread a book, and the author had the first paragraph of every chapter indented the same amount as every other paragraph, half an inch. I corrected that first paragraph to “no indent,” standard for novels. But farther down, whenever I made a new paragraph, it wasn’t indented even though the ones above and below appeared to be half an inch. What gives, I wondered.
I didn’t investigate until I finished the rest of the proofing. Then I turned on the “show formatting” tool in Word, the one that looks like a paragraph mark. Guess what? The author had used a combination of spaces and tabs to indent most of the manuscript’s paragraphs. Why is that bad? Because ereaders might not indent those paragraphs at all. Or they might indent them too far–
or a combination of all the above — Ugh! —
when you wanted this.
Please, when it comes to paragraph indentations, forget you have a tab key. Forget the space bar too. Instead, select a paragraph (or a range of paragraphs), go to the “paragraph” tab in the top menu, click the little arrow in the bottom right corner, and find the “indentation” section. Under the “special” heading, choose the “indent first line” option for every paragraph except your first one in every chapter. For the first paragraph, pictures, chapter headings, and other things you want centered, not centered plus .5 inch, choose “no indent.”
By doing this, you’ve chosen a style that will convert to html (the language of reading devices and the Internet) in a consistent manner. The same principle of using set “styles” applies to all manuscript formatting for books. If you’re ready to convert your book now and need to learn the rest of the formatting styles fast, download the FREE Smashwords Style Guide, read it, and follow the instructions carefully. If you feel like your head is ready to explode, try again another day.
If even this paragraph part of book formatting news set your brain on fire, step back and put on one piece of fireproof material at a time. Knowing my own habits, I also recommend putting tape over that tab key until your hands learn what your brain knows.
Oh, one last bit of motherly advice because I used both farther and further above. In the USA, use farther for distance and time but further for ideas, as in “furthermore.” Some regions haven’t caught up with the majority usage, so whenever in doubt, check Webster’s, still the standard dictionary for US publishers.
That’s all from me. Now please tell me your insecurity or your best advice for writing or formatting — or whatever else is on your mind. Thanks for visiting!