Styles: The Secret for Word to Kindle

Word to Kindle

Microsoft Word’s Styles

There are five simple rules to follow to achieve very good Kindle formatting from Microsoft Word:

  1. Don’t use the tab key for anything.
  2. Don’t use two or more consecutive spaces (not even after a period).
  3. Don’t press the Enter key three or more times in a row.
  4. Use Word’s styles for any and all formatting that can be done through the styles (including indents—yes, it is possible).
  5. Avoid special characters and formatting that may not be supported on all devices.

The first three rules are really easy to follow. If you didn’t, you can use Word’s search and replace feature to easily remove tabs, extra spaces, or extra Enters. (Tab removal: Make a tab, cut it and paste it into the find field and leave the replace field blank. Double-space removal: Type two spaces and replace with one space, then repeat this find until no matches are found. Triple Enter removal: Click More > Special > Paragraph Mark three times to create three Enters in the find field and replace with two enters; repeat as needed.)

Rule 4 is critical toward achieving consistent Kindle formatting from Word. How to do this is the focus of this article.

The last rule just requires a little research. Beware that some fancy features, like dropcaps, are supported on many devices, but don’t format properly on all devices. When in doubt, simple works better.

Using Word’s Styles

The secret to good Kindle formatting is to apply any and all formatting through Microsoft Word’s styles.

Don’t apply formatting directly to highlighted text or paragraphs—not even for first line indents.

Instead, set the formatting in a style and apply the style to the paragraphs (or text).

You can find Microsoft Word’s styles on the right-half of the Home ribbon at the top of the screen. (These instructions are specifically for Microsoft Word 2010, which is similar to 2007 and 2013, for Windows.)

Styles Location

Note: Some styles (e.g. Normal) apply to entire paragraphs, other styles (like Emphasis) apply to text, and yet others can apply to either. The distinction is important because if you highlight just some text and apply a paragraph style, it will modify the entire paragraph rather than just the selected text. You can tell what a style applies to by clicking the little arrow-like icon below where it says Change Styles. Then look next to the style name to see if it has a paragraph symbol, an ‘a,’ or both.

Styles MenuStyles Options

Modify Word’s Styles

Right-click a style on the Home ribbon in order to modify it.

For Kindle e-book formatting, leave the color set to Automatic in the Normal style (because a customer might choose to read in night or sepia mode, for example). You needn’t set a font, as the customer will choose the font from his/her device, though if you do pick a font, using a very common font like Georgia is apt to work best (but, again, the customer gets to control the font from his/her device).

Apply the font style, font size, linespacing, indents, and all other formatting through Word’s styles.

Don’t highlight text or paragraphs and apply formatting directly to the text.

Instead, modify a style to suit your needs and apply that style to selected paragraphs (or, when applicable, highlighted text).


Style Modify


All styles other than Normal allow you to check a box to Automatically Update after right-clicking and choosing Modify. This is convenient to apply changes to that style throughout your document.

How to Indent Paragraphs for Kindle

Not with the tab key!

Not using the spacebar!

Not by going into the paragraph menu and using first line indent. Close, but no cigar!

Instead, right-click the Normal style, then:

  1. Choose Modify > Format > Paragraph.
  2. Change Special to First Line.
  3. Set the value to 0.2″ or so (definitely, not 0.5″ as that’s huge on a small screen).
  4. Apply the style to paragraphs you want formatted this way.

How to not Indent

Not indenting is even trickier.

Kindle automatically indents non-indented paragraphs.

So the trick is to copy the Normal style and give it a different name, like NoSpacing (don’t put a space in the name). This new style will be modified and used for non-indented paragraphs.

To copy a style, click the little arrow-like icon below Change Styles at the right of the Home ribbon to pull up the styles menu. Find the three buttons at the bottom of this menu (this menu pops up at the right side of your screen). Click the left button (of these three buttons) to add a new style. Choose the style you want this based on (pick Normal). Name the style (e.g. NoSpacing). Modify the style as needed.

Modify this new style as follows: Click Format > Paragraph, change Special to First Line and set the indent to 0.01″ (not smaller).

Note: Setting this to zero will backfire!

As always, modify the style and apply the style to the paragraphs. Don’t apply First Line Indent directly to paragraphs.

The first paragraph of the chapter is typically not indented. This is typical of most traditionally published books.

Stand-alone, non-centered lines like subheadings or lines from your table of contents also need to be non-indented. There are typically many such lines throughout the book. Remember, if they appear non-indented in Word, they’ll be automatically indented on Kindle.

Unless you apply the NoSpacing style to those paragraphs.

Indenting isn’t an issue with centered text, e.g. using styles like Heading 1 that center text.

Page Breaks

You can even use Word’s styles to create page breaks.

You should be using Heading 1 to create your chapter headings.

If you want each chapter to automatically start on a new page, and if you only apply Heading 1 where you want to begin a new page, you can remove all of your current page breaks and instead implement them through Word’s styles.

Right-click on Heading 1 to modify it. Choose Format > Paragraph > Line and Page Breaks and check the box for Page Break Before.

Why Do You Need to Use Styles?

When you upload your file to KDP, it gets converted to a .mobi file.

In this conversion, KDP reads your Word file as an HTML file (yes, even if you upload a Word document).

The top of your Word’s HTML (even if you don’t upload an HTML file, this still applies to you) defines all of Word’s styles.

If you highlight selected text or paragraphs and apply formatting directly to them, you introduce formatting contradictions: The styles say one thing, while the specific paragraphs or text says another. This confusion can lead to inconsistent formatting in the all-important Look Inside or on specific devices.

If you only apply formatting through the styles, then you won’t have contradictions, which leads to more consistent formatting.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © Chris McMullen, Author of Kindle Formatting Magic (now available)

Writing for Kindle and Paperback

Writing Kindle Print


The Challenge


Today’s indie author needs to format three different books:

  • one as an e-book, which functions more like a webpage than a physical book
  • one as a paperback, which formats like printed pages and not as a webpage
  • one draft ideally designed for revisions and editing

Visual authors with a good feel for what a printed page should look like tend to format a paperback book first with page headers and page numbers, then later try to remove all the page formatting and implement Word’s Styles to transform the paperback book into an e-book.

Others prefer the more text-oriented design of the e-book, then later try to add features that are relevant for printed pages.

Which method is better?

My answer is neither!


A Suggestion


Type the text and nothing but the text:

  • Don’t use page breaks, section breaks, columns, or any other kinds of breaks.
  • Don’t format the title page, headings, subheadings, or anything else. Just type plain text.
  • Make all the text (headings, body, everything) the same font style and size. For now, pick the font style and size that you want to read, not what you want in your book.
  • Don’t use italics or boldface. (Type something like #i# where you want to remember to add italics later to a word or phrase. Don’t do this where rich formatting will be obvious, like subheadings.)
  • Don’t indent any paragraphs. (Especially, don’t use the spacebar to create indents.) Don’t use the tab key. At this stage, don’t even use First Line indent from the paragraph menu.
  • Add Space After each paragraph from the paragraph menu options. This is just to create block paragraphs (even if you won’t be using block paragraphs) for reading now. Use whatever value helps you see the separation between paragraphs nicely. Remember to go back to the paragraph menu and change the value of Space After once you begin formatting later (using Select All, or modifying the Normal Style, this will be easy).
  • Don’t use any bullets. (You can type something like #dot# where you want to remember to make bullet points later. Just type this once where the list begins, not for each item of the list.)
  • Don’t use any drop caps. Don’t make the first words of the chapter UPPERCASE at this stage.
  • Don’t use the Enter key more than twice consecutively to create blank lines. It’s best at this stage to avoid using the Enter key more than once, and just to end the paragraph.
  • Avoid using special symbols, especially those that may be unsupported as e-books. Instead, just write the name consistently in a unique way, like #infinity# for the infinity symbol. It will be easy to find and replace these later (using the Find tool). It’s handy to use a symbol like # or something else you know you won’t be using otherwise to make little reminders for yourself (simply use the search function to find them all later).
  • Don’t insert any images now. Just make a little note where you wish to insert the image later.

There are some advantages of just writing plain text now:

  • You can focus solely on writing. Not diverting your attention to formatting allows your writing to flow freely while the ideas are coming.
  • Formatting takes memory. Your computer is far less likely to freeze or slow down while writing plain text. Your original plain text file is less likely to become corrupt. (Nevertheless, save new versions frequently with new file names, like Book1.doc, Book2.doc, etc. Also save your file in two different places, like jump drive and email.)
  • This plain text file will be convenient for editing and revisions. Just remove the Space After paragraphs and make the entire file double-spaced (or whatever you prefer). This will force you to edit your text first and check the formatting later. Trying to check both at once improves the chances of not catching mistakes.
  • You may find it advantageous to format both paperback and e-book editions from a plain text file than it is to change one format to the other.


It’s Magic!


Formatting is just like painting if you use Word’s built-in Styles. You can find these at the top of the Home tab.

It’s easy to modify any of the default Styles: Just right-click it and select Modify.

When you modify a Style, look for the box that you can check that says, “Automatically update.” This is a huge time-saver. If you use the Heading 1 Style to format your chapter headings, for example, and later decide that you’d like to change it, all you have to do is change the Heading 1 Style and all of the chapter headings will change immediately—no need to go one-by-one through your whole document and reformat the chapter headings.

Easy peasy!

It’s also easy to add a new style of your choosing: Click the funny-looking arrow-like icon in the bottom-right corner of the Styles list and the bottom-left button with A’s on it on the new window that comes up lets you create a new Style.

You’ll have one paragraph Style called Normal for your body text. You need to create a new Style similar to Normal, except for not indenting the paragraph. You might call this First Normal instead of Normal, for example. Just place your cursor in the first paragraph of each chapter and press the First Normal Style. You might also apply this style to lines of your copyright page, if you wish to have them left-aligned or justified without indents.

Use the Heading Styles for chapter headings and subheadings. Adopt other styles for other kinds of formatting that your book will need.

So many possibilities:

  • Modify the Heading 1 Style, click the Format button, choose Paragraph, go to the Line and Page Breaks tab, and check Page Break Before. This will automatically insert a page break at the start of every chapter (once you’ve applied the Heading 1 Style to your chapter headings). For your paperback, you may also want to add a Continuous section break from Page Layout (if you wish to have different page headers in each chapter, for example).
  • In the Paragraph menu within a Style, you can also add Space Before or Space After instead of using the Enter key to create blank lines. For example, you can add Space Before to drop the chapter heading down a certain amount instead of starting at the top when beginning a new chapter.
  • When you Modify each Style, select the font style, size, and color. If you change your mind, just Modify the Style and—presto, change-o—everywhere that Style has been applied, the changes will instantly be made (assuming you checked the Automatically Update box).
  • Choose left alignment, centered, right alignment, or justified for each Style.
  • Click the Format button when modifying a Style and select Paragraph. Set the value of the paragraph indents by changing Special to First Line and specifying a value in inches (unless your Word settings are in metric). This is the most reliable way to achieve consistent indenting throughout your document, and it’s the simplest way to change your mind about the value later. (For the e-book, set First Line to 0.01″ for First Normal—or whatever you called the Style for non-indented paragraphs—and set this to None in the paperback.)
  • Warning: For some of the preset Styles, you want to click Format, choose Font, and visit the Advanced tab. Some have values set for Spacing, Position, or Kerning, which may not suit your design tastes.

If you added Space After paragraphs, remember to remove this (e.g. using Select All) before you start formatting. It’s worth selecting your entire document and applying the Normal Style when you’re ready to begin formatting your document. Then go through your document and “paint” the formatting for First Normal, Heading 1, Heading 2, and any other style you need.

Once you begin formatting, if you make any changes to the text, be sure to make the same changes to your plain text file, e-book file, and paperback file. Try to perfect the editing before you format so that these revisions are kept to a minimum.


Publishing Resources


I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.