Formatting Tips: Images in Microsoft Word

Formatting Tips from Dog-ear Book Design

In this series, we explore common techniques for formatting manuscripts in Microsoft Word for print and e-book conversion.

When using Microsoft Word to format for e-book conversion, working with images in Microsoft Word is not difficult, but there’s some things you need to know.

How to properly place images in Microsoft Word
Images in Microsoft Word need to be placed ‘in-line’ with the text, meaning that the image stays with the text when it reflows. If the image is not placed in-line with the text then the converter software may move the image to the end of the text, typically at the end of a chapter.

The best way to ensure that your image is placed inline with the text is to use Insert > Photo > Picture from File

Cutting and pasting from the clipboard may or may not place the image in-line. You can check by attempting to move the image by clicking on it and dragging while the mouse button is depressed. If the image moves, it is not placed in-line and needs to be fixed before uploading your MS Word file for conversion.

Apply center justification to the image or apply a style with a style that has center justification.

Editing images in Microsoft Word
If you crop, resize or otherwise edit images in Microsoft Word, keep in mind that you may need to redo these edits in an image editing program and re-insert the images before uploading the file for conversion. Not all conversion software will recognize edits made to images within MS Word.

If you are working with newer versions of MS Word (I use Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac), you can right-click on the edited image, and save the edits to a new file using the Save As Picture function. Then re-insert the new image. A great shortcut.

Creating images in Microsoft Word
If you use Smart Art in MS Word to create charts, etc. for your e-book, use the Save As Picture function to save your art as a JPG or PNG file and replace in your file using the steps above.

Tip: Using Word Art to create stylized text is not recommended. In MS Word 2011 for Mac, there is no way to have the software save this as a JPG or PNG file. If you are comfortable, you can try taking a screen shot of the artwork created, using a graphics program to crop the image and convert it to JPG or PNG format.

If you are working with newer versions of MS Word (I use Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac), you can right-click on the edited image, and save the edits to a new file using the Save As Picture function. Then re-insert the new image. A great shortcut.

File types and file naming
Microsoft Word is more versatile with image formats than most conversion programs. Best to stick with JPG for images and PNG for text. Make sure that the files you insert are JPG or PNG files to begin with. If you have other formats, open them in an image editor and resave them to JPG or PNG format before you insert them.

Because the converter is going to turn your MS Word file into XHTML code, it’s a good idea to make sure none of your file names have spaces, including the file names of your images. Remove spaces altogether or use underscore characters instead. This is not necessary for all converter programs, but it’s good habit to get into.

Tip: In the past I have noticed issues with PNG files not displaying after conversion. It’s always a good idea to check your converted file. If you find your PNG files are not displaying, convert them to JPG and reinsert the images.

Some other things to keep in mind
Converters (and current reflowable ebook formats for that matter) do not like text appearing over top of images. Converters also do not like text boxes. If text appearing over top of an image is crucial to your ebook design, then add the text in the image file with an image editing program. Just keep in mind that the text added is no longer considered text, so the text now added to your image will not scale with the rest of your text.

I hope you found this helps you in prepping your manuscript for e-book conversion.

Have a question or a tip? Have another formatting question you would like to see covered here? Don’t be shy. Leave a comment below, ’cause I love comments!

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Formatting Tips: Building a Table of Contents in Microsoft Word

Formatting Tips from Dog-ear Book Design
In this series, we explore common techniques for formatting manuscripts in Microsoft Word for print and e-book conversion. I used Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac, and describe how to do things based on that version. Your version may be a little different. If you have difficulty finding your way around the version you use, Microsoft offers great help files.

TOC…NCX…what’s the difference?
Every e-book has at least one Table of Contents (or TOC). You may not be able to see it in the text, but you will see it in the menu of your e-reader device or app. It’s called an “NCX” file, or Navigational Table of Contents, and it’s the code that helps the menu in the device or the app work properly, jumping from one point in your book to another. The NCX file is a mandatory part of an e-book. I talk about it in a little more depth in this blog post.

Many books have a text-based TOC as well, near the front of the book, with links to different parts or chapters.

This is the type of TOC that I’m going to explain how to build.

But before I do, here’s an overview of how most converters build an NCX file. First, the converter will look for a linked TOC. If there’s one in the file, the NCX will be built based on that. If there’s no TOC, then some converters will look for styles (like Heading 1) to text or the word “Chapter” in the text. If either of these appear, then most converters are smart enough to build the NCX for this information. If the converter doesn’t find a TOC, styles or other markers, it will build a very basic NCX with ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’, or similar basic reference points. The converter must create some sort of NCX file, as it a mandatory element of an EPUB or MOBI file.

If you are using MS Word to format for conversion to e-book formats and you want control over your NCX file, then best way to control the NCX is to build a custom-linked TOC.

Building a custom linked TOC
To build a custom-linked TOC in MS Word, you have to work backwards. First you identify the destination by bookmarking it. Once you’ve identified the destination, then you can create a hyperlink to it. It’s like planning a trip…first you select your destination, then you figure out how your going to get there.

Use Bookmarks and Hyperlinks to build your TOC
A bookmark (or anchor) is a marker on a specific location in the text, or a destination.
A hyperlink is a link to another location within your document or to an outside source, like a webpage. This is a pathway to the destination.

To create a link to another part of the text, a bookmark must first be created, then a hyperlink can be created, linking to the bookmark.

Step-by-step, here’s how it’s done:

  1. Go to a destination (let’s say the beginning of Chapter One).
  2. Highlight the text (I recommend the text at the top of the page…usually the Chapter title) and go to Insert > Bookmark. Give your bookmark a descriptive name you will recognize later (you’ll have a lot of them when you are done). Bookmark names cannot include spaces. You can remove the space altogether (e.g. ChapterOne) or use an underscore character (e.g. Chapter_One).
  3. Add bookmarks to all the destinations you plan to link to (don’t forgot about back matter and any front matter that appears after the TOC).
  4. Build the text for your TOC (a list of all the destinations). You can type out the text, or if you’ve applied styles to your text, you can use MS Word’s auto TOC generator to create the list for you. A great short cut! When doing this, you don’t want page numbers or tab leaders in this list.
  5. Highlight the text you want as a link and go to Insert > Hyperlink, or right click and select Hyperlink.
  6. In the hyperlink dialogue box, select Document. Type the bookmark name into the Anchor field, or press the ‘Locate’ button and search the list. The bookmarks you created will appear under the ‘Bookmark’ list. Continue adding links until all the items in your TOC are linked.
  7. The last step is to check your bookmark list for ‘hidden’ bookmarks. These are bookmarks automatically generated by MS Word and may cause errors with the TOC once converted. You will know these hidden bookmarks…they start with an underscore character (_). To review all your bookmarks, go to Insert > Bookmark (you don’t need to highlight any text for this), make sure Hidden bookmarks are checked, and then review the list. Highlight any bookmarks starting with an underscore and press the ‘Delete’ button to remove.

Tip: Don’t set up a hyperlink to a bookmark with the exact same characters (e.g. the text in TOC appears as “One” and the bookmark name is also “One”). This may cause MS Word to get confused and add a hidden bookmark.

Before uploading your MS Word file for conversion, check your work by clicking the links you created. Make sure they are taking you to the correct spot in the text. Once you have converted your file, download the final file and check again.

Tip: When reviewing your converted file, if your TOC is working fine and then you hit one that doesn’t work, and neither do any of the others after it, you have a hidden bookmark issue.

I hope you find this helps you in prepping your manuscript for e-book conversion.

Have a question or a tip? Have another formatting question you would like to see covered here? Don’t be shy. Leave a comment below, ’cause I love comments!

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Formatting Tips: Hidden Characters

Formatting Tips from Dog-ear Book Design

In this series, we explore common techniques for formatting manuscripts in Microsoft Word for print and e-book conversion.

Did you know…Microsoft Word and other word processing programs have a dirty little secret that can cause huge headaches when converting your manuscript to EPUB and MOBI files…Hidden Characters!!!
Queue the kitschy mystery reveal music.


Hidden Characters…What?!?
You add hidden characters to your manuscript every time you hit the space bar, the tab key or the return key. Hidden characters act just like any other letter or number you type in. In print and in final or output view, you can’t see the hidden character itself but you can see the space it creates.

Hidden characters aren’t liked very much by most conversion-on-upload programs (like Smashwords, Kindle and Kobo offer).

Luckily, you can see hidden characters in your word processor.

In Microsoft Word, it’s called “view non-printing characters” and the button with the funny-looking backwards P (called a pilcrow) will turn hidden characters on and off for you:

View non-printing character button in Microsoft Word's ribbon.

View non-printing character button
in Microsoft Word’s ribbon.
Click on the image to enlarge.
Use the back button to return to this post.

If you don’t see the button in your ribbon or toolbar, the keyboard shortcut is CTRL + SHIFT + * on a PC, CMD + 8 on a Mac.

In Apache Open Office, these are called nonprinting characters, and can be turned on and off in the VIEW dropdown menu (nonprinting characters) or by the button with the pilcrow in the toolbar along the top.

In Apple Pages, these are called Invisible characters and can be turned on and off in the VIEW dropdown menu (Show/Hide Invisibles) for by the keyboard shortcut SHIFT + CDM + I

Some common hidden characters you will see are:
Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 11.15.30 AM
Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 11.15.49 AM
Other breaks will appear similar to the page break above, including column breaks and section breaks.

Ok, I know how to see these hidden characters. Now what?
Most conversion-on-upload software ignore or don’t like these hidden characters. Using hidden characters to affect spacing may cause conversion errors or unexpected formatting.

Here’s some to watch out for:


How they are made: You create these by hitting the ‘tab’ key.
Issue: These cause a lot of grief and most conversion programs completely ignore them. I just don’t use them in ebook formatting.
Instead: Try using the first line indent feature in the paragraph styles.

Multiple spaces in a row

How they are made: You create these by hitting the space bar key multiple times in a row.
Issue: These hidden characters may or may not be ignored, so use at your own risk. I find these problematic due to the reflow of the text based on screen size and font substitution. There’s no standard screen size, so knowing how many spaces to use to get the effect you want is a crap shoot. Each reader has its own built-in fonts, and these will also affect the amount of space these take.
Instead: Try to find a way to get the job done use spacing settings in paragraph styles if you can.

Multiple paragraph breaks

How they are made: You create these by hitting the ‘return’ key multiple times in a row.
Issue: This will cause lots of grief, too. Most converters will ignore these, the cut-off of the amount of lines that will be kept seems to vary.
Instead: It’s so much faster to build in ‘space before’ or ‘space after’ measurements in paragraph styles. If you want space between your paragraphs, it’s easier (and much faster) to format the paragraph style to do it for you.

Line breaks

How they are made: You create these by hitting the ‘return’ key while holding down the ‘shift’ key.
Issue: These may be kept during conversion, but I find they cause issues when the text reflows, and really reeks havoc if you are using full justification.
Instead: Try using a hard paragraph return (using spacing in paragraph styles to balance spacing between lines if needed).

Page, column and section breaks

How they are made: You create these by selecting a break using the ‘Insert’ dropdown menu.
Issue: Happy to report that Smashwords and Kindle both like page breaks. Feel free to use them. Column and section breaks have varied results (Smashwords really doesn’t like them). Best to stay away from breaks other than the Page Break. Column breaks aren’t necessary (multiple columns aren’t supported) and section breaks aren’t relevant for ebooks.
Instead: Try using page break only, or develop another scheme to mark the end of a section/chapter. Just be consistent.

Even if you don’t do your own e-book formatting, following these tips is a good idea. If your e-book formatter needs to do extra work to remove all these hidden characters, then you’re probably paying more for your e-book formatting than you need to.

I hope you found this helps you in prepping your manuscript for e-book conversion.

Have a question or a tip? Have another formatting question you would like to see covered here? Don’t be shy. Leave a comment below, ’cause I love comments!

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Formatting Tips: Styles in Microsoft Word

Formatting Tips from Dog-ear Book Design

In this series, we explore common techniques for formatting manuscripts in Microsoft Word for print and e-book conversion.

Just what are Styles anyway?
Text Styles are a way to save and apply a set of preferences on a snippet of text. There are also styles for tables, objects and other elements in Microsoft Word, but in this formatting tip, we are going to focus on text styles only.

Using text styles, you can save info like font, font size, font attributes like bold, italic, underline, spacing between lines, paragraph indents, etc., applied all at once on a selection of text, instead of setting each individually.

Why should Styles be used?
Say you want to change the font you are using on all your chapter titles in your completed manuscript. You can scroll through and change each one individually, or if you have already have a style applied to all the chapter headings, you can edit that style to the new font you want to use and voila! All the chapter headings automatically change. If you write and edit in MS Word as well as format, applying styles as you write will save you lots of formatting time later.

When formatting for e-book conversion through services like Amazon/Kindle Direct Publishing, Kobo and Smashwords, styles play a very important role. During the conversion process the styles set up get converted to Cascading Style Sheets (or CSS for short) in the e-book files. CSS is the code used to describe the text and paragraph attributes of the e-book. You will have more consistent and predictable results when using styles instead of directly editing text and paragraph attributes.

And, yes, Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords all accept Microsoft Word files for conversion to EPUB or MOBI files!

When formatting for printed books through Createspace, etc., controlling paragraph attributes through styles is also important. You will get more consistent and predictable results controlling indents and spacing by measurements in styles than by using tabs, extra spaces or hard returns on your keyboard. And, everything is editable on the fly. You don’t like the 0.125 inch paragraph indent you set? No problem, just go in and edit the style to increase the indent. All the paragraphs set to that style will change automatically for you.

Finding Styles in Microsoft Word
I’m using screen shots taken from Microsoft Word 2008 for Mac. Your screen may look different. If you have trouble finding a control, check your help files. There’s a link to a primer from Microsoft at the end of this post which uses screenshots from Microsoft Word 2007 for Windows showing the ribbon. You can enlarge my screen shots by clicking on the image.

Styles are located in your formatting palette. Depending on your MS Word version and preferences, styles may also be accessible directly from your ribbon. Not sure? Open a new document. Look for the word “Normal” in a drop down menu or box with styled text above it in your ribbon. Chances are this is your styles. If unsure, under view open your formatting palette.

Microsoft Word styles location in ribbon and formatting palette

Where to find styles in Microsoft Word 2008 for Mac

Applying Styles in Microsoft Word
To apply a text style, highlight the text to which you want to apply a style and select the style you want to use in your ribbon or formatting palette. It’s that easy.

Applying the Heading 1 style to sample text in Microsoft Word

Applying the Heading 1 style to our sample text in Microsoft Word 2008 for Mac

How to edit Styles in Microsoft Word
I find it’s easier to apply a built-in style (like Normal) and then edit the attributes of that style later. To edit an existing style, go to your Format menu and select Style. In the example below, I’ve edited the Heading 1 style applied to our sample text. Make sure the style name you want to edit is highlighted and click on the Modify button. You will see the Modify Style window. In this example, I’ve changed the font to Trebuchet MS, 18 pt, applied bold and italic attributes and changed the color of the text to red.

Editing the Heading 1 style

Editing the Heading 1 style in Microsoft Word 2008 for Mac

That looks good, but I’m not done yet. I also want to add some space between the Heading 1 style and any text that appears after. To do this, we edit the Heading style again. Go back to the Format menu and select Style. Click on the Modify button. In the bottom right corner you see a dropdown menu. In that menu, select Paragraph. This allows you to edit paragraph attributes like spacing and indents. I’ve changed the spacing to 0 points before the text and 24 points after the text.

Editing the spacing after the Heading 1 style

Editing the spacing after the Heading 1 style in Microsoft Word 2008 for Mac

I use styles for the bigger or important sections, like a chapter heading/title and the indented paragraphs in the book. For small attributes that are not consistent, like using italics in the text, I leave these as direct edits, which has worked well for me up to this point with Smashwords and Kindle for e-book formatting. Depending on your situation, you may get a different result.

That’s the basics of Styles in Microsoft Word. There’s a lot you more you can control with styles. If you are interested, you can find more info at Microsoft.

Find this helpful? Have a tip to share? Have other formatting questions you’d like to see covered? Leave a comment below. I love comments!

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Just what is an e-book anyway? Part three

This is part three of an in-depth look at e-book files. See Part one and Part two.

So, we’ve looked at the functionality of an e-book file and have taken a closer look at the inside of an e-book. Great. But, how does this affect writers? How do we approach e-book design to maximize all these awesome reader-controlled functions?

The cardinal rule of e-book design

The design of an e-book, IMO, should never impede the e-reader’s built-in custom options unless absolutely necessary. A reader’s ability to customize their e-book experience is one of the main benefits of e-books versus printed books.

Think of a reader who has a visual impairment and needs to make the text large in order to be able to read. Or, a reader with partial color blindness who needs to be able to change the text and background colors in order to read. If these custom functions don’t work as expected in your e-book file, then these readers will not be able to read your book.

When I started working on e-books, my biggest paradigm shift was letting go of what the page looked like. As a designer, I want to make each page pristine (controlling the font, the font size, the line and page breaks, etc). It took me a while to let go of control on the page level and begin to focus on the structure of the book. I learned quickly that e-books can look vastly different from e-reader to e-reader depending on screen size, e-reader operating system (OS), file type, the reader’s custom options (like font size, font face, background and text colors, orientation), and if and how an e-reader can interpret custom embedded fonts in your e-book file.

Let’s look at the definition of ‘graphic design’ for a moment. I think this definition from The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario says it best:

“Graphic Design is an interdisciplinary, problem solving activity, which combines visual sensitivity with skill and knowledge in areas of communications, technology, and business. Graphic design practitioners specialize in the structuring and organizing of visual information to aid communication and orientation.”

Let’s look at the three knowledge areas the RGD talk about in their definition as they relate to e-book design.


Really, a graphic designer’s job is not to make pretty pages, but to structure the content in a way that makes the content easier (or more enjoyable) to read and comprehend. Once the core functionality of reading is addressed, then the designer can look at making the content visually pleasing.

Not only do we have to consider dozens of different devices, we also have to accommodate a least two different sets of specifications. There’s been a lot written about EPUB3 and KF8 in the past 18 to 24 months, how great it’s supposed to make the e-book reading experience…and it does, but not on all devices or on all platforms. Some reading platforms have been slow to adapt to EPUB3/KF8 and backwards compatibility has been challenging. Readers are not upgrading their devices as quickly as forecast. This leaves publishers in the difficult position of supporting both specifications in one file.

If you want more info on EPUB3 and KF8, I wrote a blog post about the testing I did with these formats.

Nate Hoffelder writes a realistic blog post on the current status of EPUB3.

What are the business impacts? Not all these impacts are negative, some may be positive, depending on your product, target market and situation.

Say you want to develop an e-book product catering only to EPUB3 and KF8 devices. First, that would limit the number of online reseller partners you can choose from. Second, that decision would narrow your target market. Third, customers purchasing your book, not realizing it’s intended for new devices only, could complain to the reseller that the product doesn’t work. If your product gets too many complaints, your reseller may drop it. And, there’s the possible negative effects on your personal brand from unhappy readers.

OK, then you want the best of both worlds…looks great in EPUB3/KF8 and works on older devices. To my knowledge, there is no easy (automated) way to test e-book files on all e-readers other than looking at that file on that device and testing. There are software programs that will approximate the view of some devices (here’s a good list from PressBooks) but these are not 100% accurate. To accurately test means buying all the major devices, and taking the time to review the file on each device, documenting issues and unexpected results. Then comes the revisions to try to address those issues. Then more testing, then more revisions. And so on, and so on.

Amazon has an interesting solution to this problem, which also adds to their bottom line. In most of their plug-ins (like the export to Kindle plug-in for InDesign) the software writes two separate files, one for older kindles, and one for KF8 compatible kindles and compresses them together in one MOBI file. This creates larger file sizes. Most authors I work with prefer the 70% royalty option, where delivery fees are charged based on the file size. The larger the file size, the more profit for Amazon.

The next option would be to create a fixed format e-book, so we can control each page. This means removing all the e-books ability to reflow text, disabling many of the customizable features of the e-book for the reader. Fixed format e-books are great for books that rely heavily on large photos/illustrations like comic books, children’s books, cookbooks and some non-fiction books, but come with trade-offs that your audience may or may not appreciate.

For now, I advise the authors I work with to focus on the functionality of the file for all readers. This means removing design elements that could be interfere with the e-reader customizable options, or could be misinterpreted by the device. These elements include embedded fonts, some images, drop caps, first line treatments and very large or small font sizes.

I hope you enjoyed this closer look at e-book files. Agree? Disagree? Comment below. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Is there a topic you have been meaning to research and just haven’t got the time? Comment below or send me an email…let me know what you want to know. I’ll do the research for you and write about it in a future blog post.

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Just what is an e-book anyway? Part two

Check out Part one of Just what is an e-book anyway?

Now that we have looked at how an e-book functions, let’s look at what’s under the hood of a typical e-book file.

There are many different types of e-book file formats. Here are some:

  • EPUB, EPUB3 – the open source de facto file format and it’s newer sibling.
  • MOBI, AZW, KF8, PRC – proprietary formats owned by Amazon, similar to EPUB.
  • IBA – proprietary format owned by Apple, similar to EPUB.
  • BBeB – proprietary format owned by Sony and Canon, similar to EPUB. BBeB files can have LRS and LRF or LRX file extensions.
  • PDF, TXT, RTF and others – static file formats that can be read on various e-book readers and computers.

At the highest level, an e-book file is an archive file format, much like a ZIP file. An archive file format is a kind of file that can take large and/or multiple files and compress them in size to save space. Like a ZIP file, e-book file formats like EPUB and MOBI compress multiple files together to create one file.

Let’s break one apart and look at what’s inside. In this example, I’m using a test EPUB file that I created specifically for this blog post. Here’s what we get:

File directory of an expanded EPUB file

The file directory of an expanded EPUB file, showing the component files.

What’s all this? Remember an EPUB file (as well as MOBI, AZW, PRC and others) are like mini web sites, and are written in XHTML and CSS.

XHTML (or Extensible HyperText Markup Language) is a variation of HTML (or HyperText Markup Language), the main programming language for creating webpages. Each section of the book is kind of like it’s own web page.

CSS (or Cascading Style Sheets) is the code that describes and controls the look and formatting of the web page and its elements (like how the fonts look).

You also notice some other important files for the EPUB format:

  • content.opf – this file contains all the e-book’s metadata, the file manifest and the linear reading order. In other words, the file contains all the descriptive data for the book, lists all the parts of the book and directs the order of the parts.
  • toc.ncx – this file describes and controls the hierarchical or navigational table of contents…the table of contents that runs the navigation on the device. For example, the list of chapters that appears in the left hand side in Adobe Digital Editions:
  • NCX view in ADE of EPUB test file

    The NCX view in Adobe Digital Editions…see the table of contents on the left?

  • container.xml – this file helps define the contents of the book.
  • mimetype – this file, which needs to be uncompressed and unencrypted for the e-book to work, basically tells other programs and devices that this is an EPUB file.

So, those are the parts of an EPUB file. MOBI and other proprietary formats have similar structures and use XHTML and CSS as well.

For those who are curious, I created the test EPUB file by creating a book file (and all supporting chapter files) in Indesign CS4 (Mac) and exporting the book to Adobe Digital Editions. To break apart the EPUB file, I used EPUB Unzip 1.0, a free application for Mac. For more info on how to break apart your own EPUB files, see this great article from Anne-Marie Concepcion at Indesign Secrets.

In the final installment, we’ll explore how all this affects your approach to designing an e-book.

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