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Using a Style Guide

Aaron Pogue, Lead WriterFor many writers, the worst part of self-publishing is the technical aspect of (re)formatting their manuscripts. We all have slightly different habits (and slightly different inherited settings on our word processors), so it can be a challenge to “clean up” a document enough that an e-book retailer will even accept it (let alone make it look good).

Digital publishing platforms address this problem with long, often tedious instructions for preparing books that will work in their systems. These manuals are called style guides, and when it comes right down to it, automated conversion systems basically require them.

The Smashwords Style Guide

The most infamous style guide in indie publishing is the one required for Smashwords. In order to safely process a Word document through the Smashwords “Meatgrinder” conversion process, you not only need to learn how to apply styles, but also generate a linked Table of Contents and (eventually) track down any of your own advanced formatting that’s causing problems in the converter.

If that gets too complicated, you can always strip all the formatting from your document and put it back in one piece at a time. The style guide contains step-by-step instructions for this “nuclear option,” as well as a list of the “safe” formatting to include when you rebuild it.

You also need to include some strictly-formatted information in the frontmatter, including the order and placement of your title, copyright assertion, and a special “Smashwords Edition” tag.

The complete style guide (PDF) is available as a free download from Smashwords, and also in e-book format pretty much everywhere.

It weighs in around 103 pages, or about 25,000 words. It’s important to understand all the concepts in the book, because Smashwords customer support will often direct authors to review a certain page or section in the style guide in order to fix a publishing problem.

Kindle Publishing Guide

That might seem like I’m throwing stones at Smashwords, but the sad reality is that their hefty style guide is pretty close to industry standard. It’s really a desperate attempt to teach writers the nuances of word processor software.

Even though they’re widely seen as the most convenient option in indie publishing, Amazon’s KDP publishing guide (PDF) is almost as bad as the one from Smashwords. This one is 79 pages long (approximately 20,000 words), but its saving grace is the quality of its material. It covers every nuance of publishing through the KDP platform, including chapters dedicated to things like fixed-format illustrated children’s books.

They also have an abbreviated version that’s barely two pages long.


As long as I’m talking about style guides, I really should plug Draft2Digital’s. The guys at Draft2Digital like to claim they don’t have a style guide. They say, “Give us whatever you’ve got, just use your style guide, and we’ll teach our system to work with it.” That’s a pretty generous attitude (and they’re surprisingly good at coming through), but for writers who don’t want to wait for the system to learn, the developers have prepared an (unofficial) style guide for their system, too.

Brace yourself, because things are about to get technical. Sorry, that’s just the nature of the game. If you want to get the best possible results out of Draft2Digital’s conversion process, you should really do all of the following things:

  1. Make your chapter titles bold.
  2. Use a larger font for them than you use for the body text.

That’s…that’s basically it. You can make block quotes by setting narrower left and right margins. You can save yourself a lot of time (and get a much cleaner document) by leaving off the title page, copyright page, and other endmatter and just letting Draft2Digital build those for you. You can….

Nope. I don’t really have any more tips. The Draft2Digital conversion process is surprisingly good. Try it out and see for yourself.

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