How to Format Your eBook Using Scrivener

How to Compile a kindle ebook in scrivenerOne of the best reasons for using Scrivener to write, edit and complete your book is the functionality it has to compile your work into whichever format you require. As self-published authors we have a few advantages over the big boys and one of those is speed to market. We can finish our novels and over the weekend we can publish them across the world. This would take months, even years, with traditional publishers.

However, with great power comes great responsibility. Publishing is now easy, fast and you’re in complete control, but this is where perceived quality kicks in. If your book looks cheap and nasty, formatted like a car crash and smelly then you’ve just wasted all that writing time. Formatting is the key to a book looking like all other books or looking like a school project. Let me tell you how I format using Scrivener.

So many options

Scrivener is great for its flexibility. You can pretty much have your book looking anyway you want but herein lies a potential pitfall. If you don’t know what it should look like then you have a massive opportunity to ruin it.

Most books look the same on the inside. Don’t over complicate, or make it cluttered with creative ideas that will set it apart. Setting apart may not always be a good thing.

Ebooks and Printed Books

These are different. You need to concentrate on formatting a printed book so much more than an ebook. I’ll post a specific article on ‘how to format for a printed book’ separately because you need to be aware of so much more. The font in ebooks is manipulated by the reader, so as a writer all you can do is give them the words as simply as possible.

Front Matter and Back Matter

This is the stuff that comes before and after your story. It’s very simple and can be copied from nearly any other book. Here’s my headings for my new novel.

  1. Title Page
  2. Copyright
  3. Dedication
  4. Message to reader
  5. STORY
  6. Acknowledgments
  7. About the author
  8. Title Page

It’s not rocket science and you can just hold a separate text file for each in the Scrivener binder tree down the left hand side.

Best Format

This comes down to personal preference, genre expectations etc. However, I’m going to tell you what I’ve used and I believe this to be relatively standard for most people.

  1. Font: Times New Roman 12pt
  2. Chapter Headings: Times New Roman 18pt
  3. Page Padding: 2 lines
  4. First line indent: 1 indent

For ebooks you can ignore margins.

How to make these adjustments in Scrivener

  1. When you are in the manuscript itself make sure that you have set the first line indent for the entire document by highlighting it all and then going Format/Text/IncreaseDecrease Indents/Increase or Decrease First Line Indent
  2. Then you need to open the Compile for Export or Print option at the top of the screen.
  3. The first step is to use a Preset Format in the Format As box at the top. Select ‘Times 12pt with Bold Folder Titles’.
  4. A couple more changes then need to be made on the Formatting option on the left hand side. 
  5. Screen Shot 2013-04-15 at 12.03.07Put your cursor next to the Title in the bottom half of the box and then click on the capital A on the toolbar directly above. This is where you can change your title to 18pts.
  6. Also, on this screen you can increase your page padding to 2 lines, halfway up on the right hand side.
  7. Then you’re done.

Using Format Presets

Once you have carried out these few changes once, I recommend that you then save these settings as your own Format Preset.

Screen Shot 2013-04-15 at 12.09.19

Click into Format As again. Then choose Manage Compile Format Presets… at the bottom. Click on to Project Presets tab. Then the + button. Name it something like ‘ebooks format’ or ‘Kindle’ and then save.

I then Update it by using the button at the bottom, but not sure if this is needed.

Making sure you can use this preset for all future books

The best thing about writing lots of books is that you should be able to reduce the learning curve, or at least the time consuming parts of publishing. By saving these presets as Global Presets you will be able to use them time and time again. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Select your preset format under Project Presets tab and then click on Export.
  2. Save it somewhere.
  3. Go into the Global Presets tab and then click on Import.
  4. Choose the file you’ve just saved.
  5. Now you have your format in the Global Presets.
  6. It also appears in the initial drop down under a section called My Formats

This will save you so much time in the future that it’s definitely worth doing.

I know how much time I’ve wasted in compiling files on a trial and error basis just to see what they look like in various formats. These options work and will hopefully save you some of your time.

Paperback formatting for CreateSpace is a whole different ball game though and I will post a separate article on that subject later.


35 responses to “How to Format Your eBook Using Scrivener

  1. I’m in awe! And there’s me, not even on speaking terms with my printer today…………it just wants to print ??????????? or **************! I’ve switched it off now and have threatened to send it to YOU if it doesn’t behave!
    Is there an ETA for Corporate Escape yet? I’m between books you see. WELL DONE AND GOOD LUCK!

  2. Thank you for posting this! I was fiddling with this for hours the other day trying to get my ebook to come out in the format I wanted. I’ve bookmarked this for when I go back to it.

  3. John Christensen

    Is this text-only formatting, Michael? I’m likely to use photos in my book, which is non-fiction narrative. Also, I’m considering publishing through Smashwords which distributes to just about everyone but Amazon. If I understand it correctly they do the formatting to suit the retailer (Barnes & Noble, Sony, Apple, etc.) using a protocol of their own that converts Word documents to the various formats.

    In any event, I’m grateful for your ongoing generosity in rendering the more technical aspects of Scrivener more approachable.


    • John,

      This is text only formatting (I keep forgetting to mention that fact). You can upload an .epub file into Smashwords as well but not sure how it handles images because I’ve never done it.

      thanks for the compliment even though I don’t believe I’ve helped you at all,



    • Smashwords is great, although the formatting to a word doc can take some time (Scrivener can compile to a word doc 🙂 but you will still need to do a fair amount of formatting afterwards). Their style guide gives a steer on how to include images (I’m sure you’ve found it, but as I had it to hand… it’s here: Not tried the epub upload direct as its in beta and I’ve not had anything to upload for a while. But when I do I’ll be trying it out. Should make formatting much easier.

      For info there is a google+ circle called ‘Scrivener Users’ which I’ve found really helpful with advice. Its a public group so easy to join.

  4. Helpful and nicely described, Michael. Showed me a few new things about Scrivener. Thanks!

  5. Pingback: How to Format Your eBook Using Scrivener | Everything Scrivener

  6. Pingback: How To Get Your ePub File Into Smashwords from Scrivener | Michael J Holley - Writer

  7. Thanks Michael. I’d not thought of using the presets in the compile stage, instead continuously formatting it in the writing window (pain when using apps on other devices that lose the formatting when snyching). Great shortcut!
    Also, congrats on the book being launched. Have downloaded and will be reading soon (have a bit of a backlog at the moment). Hope it’s a success.

  8. Thank you for making this information available. I wanted to thank you properly so I went to Amazon and bought your books. I’ll be reading them this summer. I have a related question. I am ready to send my book for editing. The editor I’m considering requires that I electronically send it double spaced and in Microsoft Word. My manuscript is in Scrivener and it is single spaced. Can you tell me how to convert the manuscript then, once done, convert back to Scrivener to upload to KDP? Perhaps it might be easier to find a good editor that uses Scrivener?

    • Thanks for buying the books, I hope you enjoy them.

      I would tackle your situation by first downloading the manuscript into Word from Scrivener in the straight-forward way. Changing the line spacing in word to double-lined, this should be easy. When you get it back, I would then use the ‘Track Changes’ feature in Word to identify the edits and then make those changes again directly into your manuscript in Scrivener. Although this sounds long-winded it means that you can assess each and every edit to make sure that you agree with them.

      Hope this helps.

      • @writerboyz, I’m with Michael – personally I wouldn’t import back into scrivener once you compiled a version for someone else. If you need to make changes based on what the editor said then I would make them direct into the scrivener version. Gives me the chance to review them myself. That said I appreciate there may be a few and if its a long book it may be easier to bulk update, so I’d just switch the edited word version back to single line spacing and import after that (can always revert to earlier version if needed).
        Also, KDP allows you to import .mobi files now which can be compiled direct from scrivener. They are much better than a word doc as you can get the formatting dead on for kindles (using kindle previewer). I’ll fish out the link for getting .mobi files sorted for kindle from scrivener. Takes 5 mins to set up but after that its easy peasy.

  9. Pingback: How To Format Your Book In Scrivener For CreateSpace | Michael J Holley - Writer

  10. Thanks man, I find your post most informative.

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  12. Awesome info! I just finished the Scrivener tutorial and about to read Scrivener for dummies, I’m so confused. I’m about to download my just finished book that was handwritten, for first revisions as I enter into Scrivener, this learning is holding me up. I will bookmark this and try again tomorrow!

    • Good luck, if you have any questions, give me a try…

      • Thanks so much, lol, still trying to sort it out, very confusing and I must start putting my book in tomorrow. I’ll be sure to have a question soon, 🙂

    • Michael’s guide is very helpful and, when time permits, I want to duplicate his examples in the Windows version of Scrivener so we have that base covered, too.
      Also, you should visit the Scrivener user forum (if you haven’t already). You will find great information there. As you transcribe your hand-written work into Scrivener and start thinking about future revisions and rewrites, you may want to read the forum response I got to my question about the “best” way to do it:
      Good luck!

      • Thanks you so much! I will need all the help I can get! Certainly writing my book was easier 🙂 lol. I am checking out that link pronto!

  13. Johan Tesiderio

    Yeah… yeah…yeah… Scrivener is the best since sliced bread… sure…. UNLESS you happen to be a Windows, (more or less like the rest of the Universe) and not a Mac person. If that’s the case, then move on… there is nothing to see here… move on… Scrivener (windows version) is useless. Its version is 1.5.7 while the Mac version is 2.4…. hummm… do you think there may be any differences??? OF COURSE! Same price, less functionality… far far less… and more bugs… more more bugs…

  14. Sorry, Johan, but if you are talking about where the Windows version lags behind the Mac version, those are few, far between, and quickly being corrected. In several months of working with Scrivener on screenplays, short stories, and a novel, I have encountered one (count ’em) ONE bug that caused me any woe. And a comment I made about it on the user forum almost immediately generated a response stating that the developers planned to correct it in a next release. It’s too bad it didn’t work out for you, but I would no more discard Scrivener than I would go back to using my old Smith/Corona portable typewriter.

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  17. Pingback: Why Scrivener Is My New Favorite Writing Tool | The Path of Least Revision

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