E-Book Formatting: I’d Rather Be Fishing

I don’t like fishing. Waking up before sparrow’s fart to plod out on a cold miserable morning does not sound like fun to me. Smelling like salty fish and spending hours waiting for a bite on the line— aww hells no, I could be sitting on the couch eating cinnabons and watching Jessica Jones instead! So know that when I say I’d rather be fishing, I mean I would rather be gutting a fish, touching wriggly bait or stinking like  yesterday’s whale vomit than formatting an eBook.

But you already know this; I can see the bruises left from hitting your head on the wall. Purple really is your colour.



Let’s try this optimism thing I hear so much about. Here’s the good news: it’s do-able, I’d even go so far as to say it’s doable.

I was lucky, my manuscript was straightforward and there weren’t many fancy images or graphs to deal with, so the butthurt was unpleasant but bearable.

Step 1: Find a self-publishing platform

Google is your friend, use it to research platforms like:

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)






Step 2: Create an account

  • Set up your profile, author page and complete bank details.
  • It helps to have a dedicated email address for your book administration.

Step 3: Tax forms

If you’re a non-US self-publisher this bit might feel like a swift kick up the arse.

  • There will be forms (ugh, right?), don’t panic, just read it a few times.
  • You will need your tax identification number from your own country on hand.
  • From my own experience, I found the process most streamlined on KDP, forms are completed online and posting of hard copies is not required.

Step 4: Read the site’s guidelines

You’re looking for the following info:

  • File format: MS Word (doc or docx)
  • Cover dimensions / size
  • Image format supported

There are no pages in eBooks, your book will look different on different e-reader devices because we sacrificed the ‘page’ to give our readers flowing text that can be adjusted by font, size, and spacing to suit their individual needs.

With that in mind:

Step 5: Dunk the junk!

Remove: page numbers, headers and footers, backgrounds, fancy fonts and different colour texts.

Step 6: Page and paragraph breaks

  • Do not use tabs or multiple spaces to delineate the beginning of a paragraph.
  • Use the the automatic paragraph indent feature marked as “¶” on the toolbar.
  • Page breaks are not required in eBooks but if you absolutely must have them: do not use tabs/spaces to move to the next page— separate chapters with a page break (Insert > Break > Page Break).

Step 7: Strip your manuscript

Copy all your text and paste in a simple text-editing program like NotePad (PC) or TextEdit (Mac)—this will remove your previous formatting settings.

Open a blank MS Word document and copy your text from NotePad. This is our start-from-scratch document.

Now select all text and change it to:

  • A standard font, like Times New Roman, Arial or Georgia
  • Normal’ paragraph style (block or first indent style)
  • Left-aligned text, avoid justifying text—it does not convert well
  • 10, 11 or 12pt is fine for main body text (I have seen bigger font in children’s books.)
  • Single line spacing
  • Use the heading styles in Word’s Quick StylesHeading 1 for Chapter titles, Heading 2 for sub-titles or section headings, etc.

At this point you’re probably wondering:

How the heck are those changes supposed to be made?

I know that when I tried, the information did not sink in until I looked at pictures showing me what to click on and how the end product is supposed to look.

Resources that got me through this:

  • Catherine Ryan Howard’s blog post: a step-by-step guide with pictures!



  • Lulu’s Creator Guide:

The rules that apply for formatting to mobi or ePUB are similar; I have used the same manuscript on Lulu (ePub) and KDP (mobi), but I found the guidelines on Lulu easier to follow, simply because they had pictures.

Here are few topics I found useful:


once again harry edited

Image Found: http://www.dvdverdict.com/images/reviewpics/hp601.jpg (Image modified with text)


Step 8: Upload your book

  • Follow your publisher’s instructions and check that the table of contents (created automatically) is correct. I did this ten times before I realised that all my chapters were Heading 1 and not Heading 1 for Chapter 1, Heading 2 for Chapter 2 etc.
  • View your book before finalising: Download an e-reader like Adobe Digital Editions, use iBooks (Mac) or view on the Kindle app or Kindle’s onscreen preview.
  • Download a copy of your draft eBook and view it on different devices, if possible. I recommend this especially if your book has images. What looked great on my Mac, looked sloppy on a Kobo device—which meant adjusting the image layout and size for the umpteenth time!

Step 9: Upload your cover image:

Cover image dimensions/size are not the same across platforms. I used The Book Designer’s guide for a quick check but your publisher’s site should be your main reference.

Step 10: Publish!

Now take a seat, brave one. Your work here is done.


The Lowdown on ISBN

The next time you pick up a book to admire the cover design, take a peek at the back, you will find a set of numbers and/or a barcode known as ISBN (International Standard Book Number).

An ISBN is a unique 13-digit number identifier for books that keeps track of every edition (hard cover, paperback), format (ePUB, mobi) and title you publish.

ISBNs are a key component to making your books discoverable online by readers—remember book titles are not exclusive, book buyers may need more than just the author’s name and book title to identify the specific format or edition they’re searching for. The ISBN barcodes (usually reserved for printed books) are scannable and may have other information embedded in it like the price/currency of the book.

Let’s look at a practical example: A friend of mine lived in Thailand for a while, when the time came to pack up and return to South Africa, she was concerned about her books being stolen or lost in transit. I’m talking about over 10 huge boxes of books. She discovered that by using the Goodreads app, she could simply scan the ISBN barcodes on her phone and then link them to a shelf on her profile e.g. Bangkok-to-RSA. ISBNs made stocktaking less soul draining for this particular bibliophile.

Another perk of the ISBN is that it gains you entry to the world’s largest catalogue of books called Books In Print.

This catalogue is licensed to all the major search engines, several libraries and bookstores. It’s a simple process, once you have your ISBN, check out BowerLink and fill out the required forms.

When I first heard about ISBNs, a few thoughts popped into my mind:

  • Shit on toast, is this gonna break bank? It depends on the country.
  • Can self-publishers get an ISBN? Hells yeah!
  • Can I get away without an ISBN? If you plan to sell your book then you need an ISBN. If it’s for private use then you’re in the clear son!
  • Barnacles, I hope it doesn’t expire before my book comes out! ISBNs do not expire

I won’t lie, I was befuddled—I saw adverts for American ISBNs that ranged from $99 to $1000 and then I saw that some ISBNs were free. Some folks recommended buying ISBNs in bulk (e.g. blocks of 10) because it worked out cheaper and others blogs advised that new writers should get one ISBN, publish and then move on to buying blocks.

I figured narrowing my search to local hits would be best and was directed to the National Library of South Africa.

I was stoked to find out that the registration of an ISBN was a free service rendered to South African publishers.

For mahala boss!

I simply emailed the contact provided on the website, I received an application form within the day, it required the following info:

  • Title of book
  • Book format
  • Name of author
  • Name of publisher (if not author)
  • Contact details of author

I was advised that:

  • Every eBook format (PDF,ePUB, audiobook, etc) requires a different ISBN.
  • A new ISBN number is not required for reprints (books printed again with no changes or only minor corrections).
  • A new ISBN is required for a revised edition of a book.

I had received my ISBNs within 72 hours—I take my hat off to Ms. Magret Kibido for efficient and friendly service, the process was painless much to my surprise.

Happy days were here! Me first ISBN aarrgh!

My bank account had survived the exercise unscathed and like a diamond on the ring finger, my writing went from “it’s complicated” to official.


Hmm, why are you frowning, dear reader? 

Not a South African? Click on this link to read about ISBNs in other countries.

You got 99 problems and ISBN is one of them? I got your back bruh. Here are answers to 20 Frequently Asked Questions About ISBNs.

Best of luck, new writer!


Oh. So, You’re A Writer Now?


*sips on her first glass of wine*


I remember the first time I was told that I was a good writer. It came from a teacher who had initially accused me of plagiarism because she could not believe the story she read was the original thoughts of a ten-year-old girl. My primary school’s principal would sometimes sit in on my speeches, simply because they amused him. In varsity an aloof, wide-eyed freshman said that my words “painted pictures she could see in her mind”. Each time, I was thrilled. Remember, this was well before Facebook; you had to earn your “likes” back then.

*pours her second glass of wine*
*gets reflective*

thinking 460

For the longest time, I refused to recognise my writing as talent nor did I work on developing it. I regret this. Perhaps, it was my sober middle-class upbringing? Poverty was not romantic or martyrdom; it was the hungry family that lived down the street. Writing was not a real job; it was something rich people did. I believed this because I saw no local evidence to the contrary. So, I graduated with a respectable degree in science, in an act of subconscious flagellation. You see, I committed myself to a field that forced me to choke down my creativity, and punished me for flair. I learned to write just the facts, to be precise and consistent. I whipped the creative itch right out of me until the very idea of writing “for fun” became preposterous. I worked in a laboratory and I earned a good salary- you tell yourself that this is enough but like a smile that never reaches the eyes, it doesn’t feel right.

The truth is I made excuses for not having the balls to be my authentic self and I’m done with that. How did I get here? I hit rock bottom. It came in the form of relocation; my husband earned himself an incredible opportunity to chart his career trajectory upwards. The catch was that he had to start over in a new province. It wasn’t fair to make him give up his career for my job (trust me, there’s a difference). So I quit. Admittedly, it was exciting for a while but after a few months I discovered that: scientific jobs were few and far apart; I was no longer an independent woman and my self worth was attached to a paycheck I no longer earned. More so, I realized that I never had a career worth saving. I was lost in the wind.


Now the great thing about rock bottom is that you learn how resilient you actually are. After all, I had nothing to lose. This was an opportunity to look at the wreckage and “put the pieces back together the way I wanted them to be” (J.K. Rowling).

It starts with a declaration: I am a new writer. I will make mistakes, I may fail spectacularly but I will not give up.

*puts the wine down and pulls up her sleeves*

Are you pumped? Then, let’s do this.