What’s in a Novel Part 2: Is it me or the file, formatting woes

I was really surprised that so many people asked about this. I didn’t realize it was quite as big of a problem as what it is.

Here is how to tell if it’s the file that’s the problem:

  • All text is centered
  • All text is right justified
  • No paragraphs breaks OR no indentions
  • Inconsistent indentions–this happens when more than just the first line of a paragraph is indented, then after a paragraph or two it goes back to normal until a few pages later where it does it again.
  • Merging of two words at various times throughout the document when something, such as an em dash should be used. An example of this would be: His smile broadenedif such a thing were possible. As opposed to: His smile broadened–if such a thing were possible.
  • As mentioned above, the em dash is gone, but instead  of two words being merged there is a box with a ? in it–same thing. This can also happen around words that are in quotation marks.
  • Missing words or random question marks–by random question marks, I mean they’re showing up in the middle of sentences or at places they don’t belong. The missing words *might* be genuine typos, however sometimes they’re not. I had a lady who read one of my books on her Kobo reader and found like 30 missing words! I was aghast. So…since she was kind enough to send me a running list, I checked her typos against my document and found that with the exception of a misspelling, all the “missing words” were words that had been in italics in the original document. For some reason they just didn’t convert.

So if you have a file with one of these issues what do you do?

  • If you’ve had the book longer than a few days or a week, my best suggestion is to delete the book from your eReader and re-download it. Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords (I don’t really know about the others) keep a running library for you that keeps track of your purchases. So if you delete a book–by accident or on purpose–you CAN redownload it. If there is a formatting error (or even if there are typos), I’d recommend doing this first since files can technically be updated every day. Amazon and Smashwords both have very strict rules regarding formatting. Smashwords will not allow a book entrance into their “premium catalog” with wonky formatting–which is a HUGE incentive to get it right. Likewise, Amazon will send a notice and if I’m not mistaken (I’ve only gotten one once and it was like six months ago), they give you 48 hours to get it fixed or they’ll pull the book. So keeping this in mind, we want our books out there so formatting is important to us and I don’t know a single person who’s gotten notice about poor formatting who didn’t do anything about it.

When the problem is with your eReader

  • — and || being used instead of quotation marks (sometimes this is accompanied with no paragraph breaks)

Sadly, that’s the only formatting issue that I know of that is a result of the file not being compatible with the eReader. I’ve only seen it when people try to use a PDF on a Kindle. (Note, I do not have, nor have I messed with, a Kindle Fire, so this might not be a problem with that device, but on a Kindle 1, 2, and 3, I’ve seen it do that.)

So what do you do?

Depending on where you got the file, will depend on what you can do:

If you bought it from Smashwords or another eSeller that sells multiple formats, just go download another format. I personally don’t like the way that the PDF shows up on my iPad, and prefer the ePUB. Likewise, since I bought the book there and have access to multiple formats, I can just get the mobi for Kindle then we’re all happy.

If you got the PDF directly from an author as an ARC or won it as part of some sort of giveaway, email them and just tell them the format doesn’t work with your device and ask for another format.

If you illegally downloaded the file then you have no sympathy from me and I’d advise you either do the right thing and go purchase it or deal with that as the consequences. (Sorry, had to sneak that in there!)


For writers, how do you avoid these issues?

I personally use OpenOffice. Not only is it free to use, but it’s one of the “cleanest” word processor programs I’ve used (and just to clarify, I’ve used several variations of Word, Pages and Word Perfect and I find OO to be the best/easiest).

Nothing too fancy:

12 Pt. Font

Single spacing

Automatic first line indent of .3″

Text is left justified, except for Chapter and *** scene breaks–manually make those centered

No section breaks at the end/beginning of chapters, only page breaks. Formatting for Nook is the hardest with these, but if you hit enter twice after the last line of text, then do your page break, followed by enter twice on the new page before starting to type, you shouldn’t have problems with this running together.

Anchor all pictures/images as characters

Amazon, Smashwords, Apple and Nook all recognize italics, bold, underline and strike through. I’m sure others do, too, but I don’t have a Sony or Kobo reader to verify–nor do I have a way to read books from Diesel. Don’t vary too much from these basic commands, nor try to add color.

Since Smashwords is the most strenuous on formatting, I format for them from the beginning. I do NOT like the nuke method because you lose all special formatting such as italics, which is something I use quite frequently. I’ve only done it once when no matter what I did, I couldn’t get it to work. So it does have it’s place, but if you set up your formatting right at the beginning, you shouldn’t have a problem.


All three B&N, Amazon and SW accept .doc uploads. To keep it simple, I use .doc for all of those, just change the “edition” to suit the eSeller. However, OO can convert the file into HTML if you’d rather upload HTML to Amazon. You can also convert HTML to ePUB and upload ePUB at B&N. The only advantage I know of doing this is that with ePUB going to B&N, it changes the spacing between the lines. I once had a complaint that one book was 700+ pages, then the next was only 300 pages. The difference really was only about 1,500 words. But the ePUB format changed the line spacing and made the book appear longer. Because ePUB is a real pain in the hiney if you need to correct a typo (because with a word .doc you can just go in and change it real quick and re-upload, whereas with an ePUB, you have to change it in the word doc, then convert it to HTML, then send it through to convert to ePUB, then reupload–hopefully the correct file since they don’t overwrite), I’ve just left it as .doc and put the word count in the description. It should be obvious by the line spacing as to why one book had so many more pages, but just to ward off complaints, I’ve made sure to add it.

7 thoughts on “What’s in a Novel Part 2: Is it me or the file, formatting woes”

  1. Throwing out another tip for writers who want to do an Epub version: If you have your document with page breaks, italics, etc already saved in Word (I use Word 2003), you can open the Word document in Word Atlantis. Save Special and choose Epub. It will save all the special formatting and page breaks. It’s the cleanest version of an Epub I’ve ever seen when uploading to PubIt.

    Word Atlantis can be found at http://www.atlantiswordprocessor.com/en/. The website isn’t the most user friendly, but the software is.

  2. The problem I come across the most is where words are split in two and not just common compound words but words like Beginning will be beg inning. Most of the time it isn’t a problem for me but sometimes it messes with my brain for a second or two. Another problem is I have “turned” the page and all of a sudden it’s skipped a page or half a page. I can usually fix this by turning my nook sideways so the orientation is different and it picks up the next part of the page.

    I have had a number of books (a couple of yours too) say they were hundreds or sometimes over 1,000 of pages but they weren’t really. If you pay attention to the page number on the bottom when books say they are that long you can see that it will often skip a page number or two when you turn the page, but the story continues smoothly. This is another of those things that doesn’t bother me and I figure is just a part of this technological world we live in now.
    It still frustrates me to see people leave negative comments about the book based on errors like this and not the contents of the book itself. I want to respond to them and tell them to review the book not the formatting issues. I can only imagine what you the writer must think about reviews like that.

    1. The skipping of a page or more is the eReader, not the file.

      The breaking up of words is odd to me though. Two thoughts on this:

      Download Nook for PC and see if it’s still happening. If so it is the file. Either it didn’t convert right or it’s a genuine typo. If this problem is solved on the Nook for PC then either something is wrong with the formatting in general or how your particular device reads it is the problem. Tablets do read things a little different than the originals.

      As for reviews…frankly these types of reviews don’t bother me so much. Do I love them? No. But since I know files can be updated so easily I don’t let it keep me from a book. As for getting this kind of review…eh…it’s better than other kinds. Nobody likes negative reviews BUT I’d rather have one that complains that my italics are bold or that my intents are too far rather than a few other kinds I could get.

      1. I think the split word is a file issue. I have only noticed it on the books I download from the Phoenix digital library. Those are the only books on my Nook that aren’t actually purchased through the Nook site.
        It does get a little annoying because it is numerous words on each page, but it doesn’t stop the enjoyment of the book.
        A review about the typos in a book isn’t going to keep me from reading a book, either. I just think as the writer of the book I would get a little annoyed that they reviewed my book based on that. Some people might not read the reviews and just go by how many stars a book has, so a negative review about typos would bring the rating down. That was my thought anyway. I am with you, though, that it is nicer than what some people could say and have said.

      2. That could be partly because libraries have to put their own DRM on eBooks so they “vanish” from your eReader after 2 weeks (or whatever your “check out” time is).

        I won’t even comment on the reviews about typos. LOL

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