Formatting ebooks is a pain.
Formatting ebooks in Scrivener used to be less of a pain.
To an extent, it still is.
HOWEVER, the formatting process in Scrivener 3 is both more user-friendly and less user-friendly than it was in Scrivener 2.
Some elements are better, others aren’t.
I’ve lost many afternoons and evenings to formatting books in Scrivener.
So that you don’t fall into that trap too, here’s a guide on how to format an ebook in Scrivener 3.
What you’ll need
- Scrivener (obviously)
- Infinite patience
- More time
- This guide
How to format an ebook in Scrivener 3
Know how you want it to look
It helps to have a vague idea of how you want each section to look before you begin. Your book’s structure is important.
Make sure all your volumes, chapters, subchapters, and sections are organised nicely. The structure you see along the left under ‘Manuscript’ is the structure that Scrivener will export.
Upload your cover
Upload your cover by dragging and dropping it somewhere into Scrivener. I usually go for the Front Matter section, since, you know, it is front matter.
Assign each section—it helps to start off with a book that uses a simple structure
Productivity for Writers was a nightmare to format.
If you’re new to formatting books using Scrivener 3 (which I’m going to assume you are since you’re using this guide), I would sincerely advise making the first book that you format using it as simple in structure as possible.
Of course, this isn’t always possible, but if it is a simple structure, Scrivener does most of the legwork for you.
When you’re ready, hit the compile button. It’s time for the fun to begin!
Pick your format (and beware of epub2)
You’ll need to create different templates for each format, so keep a record of what you’ve done for each section because as soon as you switch to a different format, you’ll lose what you’ve done if you didn’t save it.
Also beware of epub2. It sounds shinier and newer, but it has much less flexibility. You can’t change things like font size on it for your chapter titles, meaning everything looks boring.
Check the auto settings—these make it easier but aren’t perfect
Scrivener 3 automatically assigns section types for you, but these aren’t foolproof.
Be sure to double-check the automatically assigned section types for each section, particularly if you have a complex structure.
Also check the settings of sections like your dedication and acknowledgements.
Format each section how you want it
If you don’t want to use Scrivener’s default formatting options, you’ll have to create your own. You can do that by clicking the cog in the bottom left of the compile window.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll be taken to this screen:
There are options to have titles in uppercase, small caps, lowercase, or title case.
You can also pick your font, but these aren’t compatible with most ereaders so don’t bother with this unless you’re using Scrivener to format print books too.
You should, however, ensure that all your text is in the same font and size. If there are any sections that you’ve set to preserve the formatting of (like I do with the text messages and news articles in What Happens in New York), you’ll need to ensure they’re the same font size or things will look off and you won’t know why.
In the formatter you can also control things like separators and page breaks. It’s a bit of a faff and I would have to say this is by far the least user-friendly part of the whole process.
Once you’ve assigned and designed your sections, you need to ensure that the right design links with the right section. It will tell you if a section is missing formatting, but it’s always worth checking anyway.
Select your cover and add meta data
Add in your cover on the right.
Once you’ve done that, add in meta data about your book by clicking the cog on the same row. You and your readers won’t be able to see this, but Amazon et al use this to get more information on your book.
It’s time to see how it looks…
Check it in iBooks
iBooks is a good place to check how your book is formatted. I do a lot of my editing in iBooks too, as I think the app is slicker.
You can also download a Kindle app for your Mac to see how things look.
Fix any errors
There will inevitably be some errors. This is where the time part really comes in. You want your book to be perfect, and, when you just start out, this will require a lot of nitpicking.
Check for things like if all your chapters look the same, if the separators look ok, if the spacing between each section works, if there are page breaks between each chapter, etc. Little things like this are the difference between books that look professional and books that look lazy.
And, while this may sound like a pain, it’s NOTHING compared to the orphans and widows and page breaks you need to factor in when formatting a print book.
Ebooks are versatile and adapt to the reader so you can’t factor in everything, but testing it out on different devices (or on Kindle’s Previewer once you’ve uploaded it to KDP) gives you a good idea of how it will look for most people.
The difficult part is if you have any images involved. If there are, check these on as many devices as you can.
The export/check/fix cycle will likely take you in many, many cycles. But it’s worth it! Nothing beats the feel of holding your finished book in your hands.
This isn’t a catch-all guide.
There are lots of anomalies that it’s difficult to cover because this option leads to that, and that option leads to this, etc.
However, this does show you the basics of how to format your ebook—whether that’s for Kindle, iBooks, Kobo, Nook, or something else.
The more places you upload your book, the more ways you can reach your readers and the more chances there are for you to make money.
If you’re struggling to format your ebook in Scrivener, post in the comments and let me know what’s happening and I’ll do my best to help 🙂