My Smashwords Adventure!

Distressed Woman FreeDigital Photos Dot NetNote the familiar lady pulling her hair out.

No really, it wasn’t that bad.

I went to the Smashwords site and downloaded Mark Coker’s Smashword Style Guide and read it through once completely and several chapters twice and three times. I won’t repeat everything in the guide. It is very complete and informative, yet still I had a couple of unanswered questions. I did further research and thought I’d share what I learned and what worked and what didn’t.

They strongly suggest you use something called The Nuclear Method. This method insists that you will save yourself a whole lot of trouble if you copy your entire manuscript into a text editor. At which point, you do the opposite, copy your text document back into Word. Removes all formatting! Yippee, we can start with a completely virgin document.

I so did not want to do this.

I use italics to denote emphasis, (which maybe I should not be doing quite so much of but that is a subject for another day) and all my italics were going to be wiped out if I did it. Gone Italics.

I needed to figure out a way around this and discovered something interesting. In Word’s Find functionality, not only can you search on a text string, but you can search on formatting! I didn’t know that before. Here’s how it’s done:


Click More

Then click Format, then font, and you’ll see the familiar font screen come up where you can select the format you are looking for. Note the search for “Font: Italic” in the red circle. Now I could use the Find Next functionality for each occurrence of italics in my document! Unfortunately I could not replace the italicized text with anything, but this was better than the alternative. For each instance found, I put the text string “qqq” behind it.


There were 145 instances of italics in my manuscript and I knew where they were when the original document was back in Word because I searched on “qqq”.

I copied the document to Wordpad (my choice but you can use any text editor), opened a brand new Word document and pasted that sucker in. I turned off all Autocorrect and Autoformat options. This is spelled out in the Style Guide.

Next I created eight styles. I only used seven of them and Normal.  Here is a very good article about how to create styles in Word. No need to repeat that here.


I didn’t end up using SWTitle. I had wanted 16pt bolded text, but for some reason the bold didn’t take. It did, however, work for SWTitle, defined as 14pt bolded so I used that instead. This is an example of stuff that can happen, for which you can find no explanation.

I could have fooled around trying to get Smashwords to recognize it the way I intended but decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. Ebook formatting is evolving and maybe the Smashwords “Meatgrinder” just needs to be tweaked a little more. It will get better and better with time. It didn’t seem something for which I should tear out any more hair. I have precious little left at this point.

Depressed 3D Man FreeDigital Photos Dot Net

Modify the Normal style however you want it and use it for all your internal chapter text. Don’t use it for the front matter, the table of contents, and chapter headings. Use specific styles for all that.

This is my Normal. I used Times New Roman for everything. It is good practice not to use too many fonts, one is ideal, maybe two at most.

Format then Font


Format then Paragraph

Normal2I defined other styles as I needed them, all based on Normal except SWChapter which was based on Heading 1.

I couldn’t figure out from the Style Guide how page breaks worked. I don’t care how the front matter looks, even if it all flows together, just so there is some space between the sections, I am good with that. It is an ebook and everyone formats their reader a different way. It isn’t important to me that any of that starts on a separate page.

But I wanted the chapters to all start on a separate page. I don’t like it when I see new chapters directly following the previous one on the same page. I researched and found that the page break before is the way to go. The style SWChapter has a page break incorporated into it, which you set up when you define that style. And it works! I recommend it.

Everything in my manuscript is a style. I never once used the little Word buttons in the menu to change the font, or bold, or italics or alignment. Maybe you can do this and it will work but I didn’t.

My next novel will be written with this in mind. That’s if there is a next novel.

I went through my manuscript, applied the appropriate styles, and added “*****” between sections. I did this (reluctantly) because I could not discern enough space between the sections and I wanted to make sure they were noted by the reader.

Last step. I searched for “qqq”, applied the italics, and of course removed the “qqq”. Tedious.

One hair-tearing experience I will note. I spent way too much time on it but it seemed worth looking into, and then I got stubborn about it.

I had lines of mixed styles. I used SWNoIndent followed by a partial line where I applied SWItalics. This was followed by a line return, followed by a Normal paragraph. This sequence occurred in three places.  In two places I got no line return between the multi-styled line and the normal paragraph, which was wrong, yet in one instance it was correct.

I figured if one was okay, it could be done. I turned on View Formatting Marks and juggled it around, experimented with the SWNoIndent and SWItalics styles at the ends of the formatted line and the line return, until I managed to eliminate one of the no-spacers. So now two are right, and one is wrong, yet they are formatted exactly the same way. One error remains. I give up. Smashwords has beat me. Much as I hate to say it, sometimes there just ain’t no explainin’ it.

It just is.

I would recommend simplicity and I would think twice before doing the multi-format-on-a-single-line-thing again. Less is better when it comes to ebooks. No need to get fancy.

My book went through the Meatgrinder, though, with no errors, first time.

Here are two great articles I read while preparing this post.

Smashwords Formatting Tutorial

Smashwords Formatting for the Lazy

Update: Forgot to mention, if anyone would like a sample of my file to use for reference, just contact me and include your email address and I’ll sent it out!

Frustrated Woman and 3D Man photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.

19 thoughts on “My Smashwords Adventure!

  1. I can’t imagine doing this myself. I suspect you’ve just made life a lot easier for those who go it alone. But now I understand why when I received the final galley copy review of my manuscript from my editor, two paragraphs of italics disappeared and had to be added (it was two paragraphs where a news announcer on TV was speaking). I told the editor, who then put the italics back in, but then an additional paragraph got italicized. It was quite the ridiculous run around. Now I understand why. 🙂

    • If I had to pay someone to do this for me, it would become a really expensive hobby. It is a learning curve, there is no doubt, but being in IT helped. I like having all the control, and not having to count on other people to fix things. When I first used Create Space (which was back then called something else) you uploaded your book then had to fill out a form for every single correction you wanted to make. Sometimes they did it right, sometimes not. Very, uh, challenging. It’s so much better now.

  2. You totally lost me Lynn. I am at thge bottom of any class when it comes to technology. Good Luck! I’m currently paying someone to format my sequel. BUT. not the $700 I paid for ebook alone on Goodbye Junie Moon. I can no longer afford that either. That price included ISBN (negligible) and cover.

  3. Formatting this post alone must have been tedious in itself. What a generous thing for you to do — sharing all of this with others who can learn from it. I’m not e-publishing anything, but I don’t think I knew you could search Word by format. Thanks!

    • These How To posts are the hardest of all to try and make easy to understand. I find myself spending more time on them than others because I’m constantly worrying that I am assuming too much and am not making anything clear. There is an art to helpful articles and I’m not sure I’ve mastered it.

  4. Thanks for all the info, Lynn. Reminds me I was prudent to hire someone to format my last book, and will do so for the next. I’m afraid I grew glassy-eyed at your words, ‘I so did not want to do this’. I admire your skill and even more your perseverence. I know if I followed your instructions point by point I could probably, eventually, figure it all out. But at what cost to my sanity? But I appreciate your efforts and am sure there are others with some IT experience who will be most grateful for the time you took to post this.
    There is a lot of talk out there in Indieland about an alternative to Smashwords:, however it is still in beta form and there is little definitive empirical evidence to suggest it will be any easier to use.

  5. Hi, Lynn, I’m a little late to this party, but here is something you might find useful the next time you format. In Word, you can tag ALL your italics in one step, then restore them in one step after you’ve finished with the text editor. I tag my special formatting with a simple code; for italics it is -STARTI-italicized text-END-.

    Open up the search box, leave the Find box empty, but tell Word to search for italics. In the Replace box type -STARTI-^&-END-. Do a Replace All and all your italics will be wrapped in those tags. When you are finished cleaning your document in a text editor and have copy/pasted it back into Word, you restore the italics.

    Toggle on ‘wild cards.’ In the Find box type -STARTI-*-END-. Leave the Replace box empty, but click on Italics. Do a Replace All and all the italics are restored. Then use Replace All to delete the tags. Try it. It takes longer to explain than it does to actually do.

    • Wow, is this good information! Thank you! I did not know this was possible, and will incorporate this into my instructions. This is wonderful, a great time saver. Really appreciate it.

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