All you need to do this is a recent version of Microsoft Word (2007 or higher is recommended) and an eBook format converter like Calibre (which I recommend, it's free and very easy to use). The basic steps are:
1. Text Formatting
2. Title Pages / Table of Contents
3. Convert in Calibre
Each step will be covered in a separate blog post. This tutorial works best when your eBook is just simple text, like a novel. If you're doing something with a lot of pictures or special formatting, this tutorial would help with final conversions, but not with making sure special formatting is done right.
Remember, this is a simple method that works for me. There are obviously different ways to go about this, but hopefully this will help someone.
I use Microsoft Word for all of my word processing. I read about other popular authors shunning Word and basically saying it sucks, but I've never really understood what exactly their problem with the software is, other than those authors being anti-Windows by principle (Piers Anthony, for example). I use it all the time and have no problems with it. What you can't do with built-in functions, you can always automate using VBA (Visual Basic for Applications).
Anyway, formatting text is easy. There are only a few things you really need to pay attention to. Before you do any of the steps below, though, MAKE A BACKUP COPY OF YOUR ORIGINAL FILE. Never go through this process on your only copy.
The font of your text doesn't make a difference, since Kindle or Nook will ignore the font (the reader controls the font he/she wants to see). When formatting, I switch it to something easy to read, like Times New Roman, 12 pt. The important things you need to address are spacing, tabs, font style, special characters, page breaks (for chapters/sections) and chapter headings. We'll go through each below.
Select all the text (excluding title pages and pages that don't have straight text) and change all paragraph spacing to a value of 1.0 and make sure it doesn't add a space before or after each paragraph. I believe this kind of spacing is ultimately ignored, but I like removing it all just in case.
Tabs / Indents
eBooks are generally going to ignore tabs, so if you've got them in your file already, it's best to remove them and replace them with fixed indenting. Even if you don't think you have any tabs in your file, do this anyway just in case. To remove tabs, highlight the entire text, and do a Find & Replace (Ctrl+H). Make sure to click "More" to display more options. A tab character is listed under the "Special" dropdown – select it there for the Find what option, or just type in (^t). Replace with should be blank. Like this:
Select "Replace All" and the tabs go away. Now, you must replace them with indents. As long as you've typed your document like most people do (use word wrap and only line break after each paragraph), this will be easy. Highlight all the text again (excluding title pages, etc, as usual), then just move the "First Line Indent" marker on the ruler (circled in the picture below) over about a half inch (less if you really want, anything larger than 0.5" looks like crap when people read the eBook with large fonts):
Alternatively, you can just go into the Paragraph options in Word and under the Indentation section, make sure Special = "First line" and By = 0.5". Like so:
Font Style (Bold, Italics, etc)
If you type up your document the way you might for a publishing house, where the only font style in the file is underlining (to denote italics in a published book), you should replace it so that what you see in Word is how you want it to display in the eReader. So if you want something italicized, change all instances to italics. A typical novel will only use italics. If you must have something bold (perhaps a chapter header, addressed later), then bold it.
To make these changes, do a simple Find & Replace, as mentioned in the Tab section above. Instead of replacing tab characters, though, you'll be replacing font styles (yes, you can do this in Word... easily). Ctrl+H to get to Find & Replace, select "More" to reveal more options and in the Replace section, use the "Format" dropdown and select "Font" to select the style you need to find or replace.
So in my example, replacing underline with italics: in the Font dialog, the only things you should change are Font style and Underline style.
For Find what, you should have these settings:
Font style = Regular
Underline style = Normal underline style, the thinnest unbroken line
For Replace with, you should have these settings:
Font style = Italic
Underline style = (none)
Select "Replace All" and viola, the formatting in your entire document has been changed. Easy.
Another thing you'll want to look out for are things like double en dashes (--) which should be turned into em dashes (—), or the horizontal ellipsis character (...) that Word likes to replace your normal three periods with if you have it set to AutoCorrect.
For double en dashes, these should appear if you were writing in plain text for potential publishing or manuscript submission. They are easy to fix. Just do another Find and Replace (make sure the formatting criteria is removed from the last step), type -- for the Find what and for Replace with select the em dash special character in the "Special" dropdown.
For horizontal ellipses, if you typed your manuscript in plain text it shouldn't be a problem, but if it was in your AutoCorrect list, do another Find and Replace. Copy the horizontal ellipsis character into Find what and type three periods in Replace with.
It's always a good idea to check the AutoCorrect list in the Word Options, to ensure that it doesn't automatically replace things that could be problematic later. Even better, just turn it off when you're working on your text.
If your text is broken up into chapters, sections or parts that are clearly demarcated, you should put a page break at the beginning of each. This will help for when you later add a Table of Contents and it just looks better in the eReader when you jump to that chapter or section.
Page breaks are easy to add, just page down through your document and at the spot where the break needs to occur, place the cursor and select Insert -> Page Break in the Word menu. You can also use the shortcut key of Ctrl+Return. Do this for every spot where you want the content to start on a new page: chapter, section, part, etc.
How you want to do it is up to you – logically you'd want it for every chapter or section, like you would find in a professionally published book. If you're publishing an eBook I'm going to assume you like to read, so just reference some books of your own.
How you want to do chapter headings (i.e. chapter name) is also up to you, but you should at least format them differently than the main text so that it's obvious that they're chapter headings. There are a couple of different ways you can do them. I suggest you keep it simple – there's no need to go crazy with graphics or any of that, because that just makes for more formatting that could go wrong somewhere along the line.
The simplest way is to do an italicized header, without an indent (my personal preference). If you've set up the fixed indenting throughout your file (as noted in the Tabs / Indents section), then whenever you press Return/Enter (carriage return) the new line will automatically be indented. To remove it, just slide the First Line Indent marker on the ruler back to 0 (opposite of how we created the indents earlier). If you look back at the second picture in this post, you'll see where the chapter header is not indented, but each paragraph is.
Here's an example of a simple chapter header:
6: The Northwest Fires
Or if you have chapters without names, just do something like:
If you want to center it, merely use the Center Text option in Word on your selection (or Ctrl+E). The center formatting will carry through to the final eBook.
If you want your chapter header to be partway down the page, place a few carriage returns before the header and put a space or two on each blank line to ensure that the blank line remains. However – don't put too many blank lines before the header, as it may look goofy in a large font on the eReader. Generally this won't be a problem, because I'd wager most people don't read eBooks with gigantic font - and ultimately there's nothing you can do about that - but it doesn't hurt to keep it in mind.
If you want bigger letters or all caps for the first few words (like you sometimes see in a published novel), format your text accordingly. I personally haven't felt the need to do that yet.
At this point the text of your file should be formatted properly. The next step is to add a Table of Contents, along with a Title Page and any other ancillary pages you might need (section / part breaks, copyright info, etc). Check the link below for the continuation.
Next: Title Pages / Table of Contents
Shameless promotion: If you want to see how this all looks in final eBook form, download a free sample of my book in Kindle or Nook formats. You could also try reading it as well. ;)