When I made the decision to publish my manuscript as an ebook I started to find out as much about the process as I could. I would certainly suggest downloading the Smashwords style guide, as it goes into a lot of detail on how to format your manuscript to successfully turn it into an ebook.
How difficult the process is depends mainly on two things. The (formatting) state of your manuscript, and your skill level in Word. Personally I don't think you need extreme Word skill levels to get your manuscript ready to upload to Smashwords or Kindle.
At most it took me about two hours on my Smashwords version, and some of that time was spent messing around creating the additional material needed, such as copyright notice, author bio, and actually creating the account.
I would recommend creating your accounts in both Smashwords and Amazon before you actually want to format or upload your manuscript.
In the Smashwords style guide there is a 'nuclear' method and if you're worried about the formatting you may already have in your manuscript, then use this method.
Before doing anything else make a backup copy of your manuscript.
Hopefully you're already in the habit of making regular copies of your manuscript. I do a 'Save As' on my manuscript most days when I begin work using the current date as the last part of the file name, so if my laptop decides to have a hissy fit and close down I haven't lost everything.
One part of my work as a technical writer is making things look good and having them print ready, so I found formatting for the e-book painful. Not difficult, painful. There is no point in making it look pretty. In this case plain and simple is definitely best. It doesn't really matter what font the author uses as the reader can choose the font type and size they want.
You may be wondering why I keep referring to Smashwords rather than Kindle. It's for the simple reason that the Smashwords style guide is very detailed, and ultimately most of what you do is the same for Kindle.
Okay here we go - MAKE A BACKUP.
It helps to have a passing knowledge of Styles. Word Styles as opposed to what's in fashion at the moment. You don't need a huge amount of knowledge, but it helps to know how to apply a style to text, and how to modify a style. If you're not sure about this there are plenty of helpful websites, here is a link to the Wordtips site, but you can find others by searching on 'Word Styles'.
There are just a few big no-no's in this formatting lark for ebooks, and one is tabs, as in don't use them. Phew one thing I didn't have to worry about. If you're now saying, 'What! No tabs! How does she start her paragraphs?' The answer to that is first line indents. If you're not sure about those you can find out using the link above to the Wordtips site.
My manuscript was relatively clean. By this I mean I used first line indents rather than tabs, and Styles rather than direct formatting. Direct formatting is selecting text and changing it by using the tools on the toolbar such as bold, italic, colour, font size and type etc. But I had used a lot of styles while I was editing to colour different parts of the manuscript, and so I decided the quickest way was to use the nuclear method.
Basically (after making a backup copy of your file - have I mentioned this before!) you copy all your text and paste it into Windows Notepad. This strips out all of your formatting.
Close and reopen Word so you have a fresh document. Then copy the Notepad content and paste it back into Word. I'll warn you now it doesn't look pretty. The intention is not to make it look pretty, but to get it ready to upload.
Your entire manuscript should now be in Normal style.
The Smashwords style guide says to choose either a block paragraph style for your ebook, or a first line indent for all your paragraphs. If you look in a print novel you'll see that the first paragraph of a section is a block style and subsequent paragraphs are first line indents.
The majority of books on my Kindle have first line indents on all their paragraphs, but there is one book that has the print layout using both paragraph types. I tried, oh how I tried, but I couldn't figure out how they managed it. So I gave up and used first line indents on all paragraphs.
Now we've formatted our paragraphs we can turn to headings. A non-fiction book will usually have several levels of headings, but for a novel we can keep it fairly simple.
Lives Interrupted is split into sections. I call them that rather than chapters as most are relatively short. Each section has a heading, which happens to be the name of the POV character for that section. So I had normal style for the paragraphs, and then created a section heading style. They were the only two styles I used for the book content.
It's fairly pointless spending a lot of time selecting a font, as the reader can change it to whatever they like. The Smashwords style guide recommends something like Times New Roman. What is important is not to go too wild on the font sizes, or to be more specific the variance between the font size of your paragraphs and headings. I used 12pt for my content and 14pt for the book title and headings.
The only other thing I did at this point was to go through my Smashwords and Kindle version files and apply italics to about five or six pieces of text that had previously been italicised and which had been stripped out during the nuclear method.
Yeeha the manuscript was done, but the book not quite finished. Now it was time for the front and back content.