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Scrivener is a content-generation tool that caters to the needs of all kinds of writers. Regular word processing programs simply cannot compare with this software’s capabilities for drafting and organizing long documents.  Scrivener also makes it relatively painless to format both .mobi and .epub eBook files for digital upload. Notice I said “relatively painless.” The steps outlined here on how to compile an eBook in Scrivener provide the basics to get your book ready for upload. These guidelines don’t tackle the intricacies of footnotes, tables, or placement of multiple images within the text.

Scrivener is worth much more than its $40 price tag. For those who are a bit wary, a trial version is available for 30 days of actual use. While free programs like Calibre and Sigil can be used for eBook formatting, I much prefer the streamlined ability to accomplish the end product by using the same piece of software.

If you are a Mac user, I would recommend this step by step tutorial. The Scrivener version for Mac offers a few more features than the Windows version. Insofar as I can tell, the Windows version doesn’t offer the capability to utilize folders for front and back matter. Also, the table of contents will be automatically generated for the Windows version and placed at the front of your eBook, whereas the Mac version allows for a more customized table.

The biggest favor you can do yourself is to make sure the text is as cleanly formatted as possible. Keep the following in mind:

  • Organize and title the folders and text documents of your Scrivener Project just as you would want them to appear in your final book. My preference is to put the traditional front matter at the end of the eBook so more of main text will be shown in the online sample.
  • Use one font for the entire document. Increase the font size for titles and headers by using the pre-formatted styles available. Center text using Scrivener’s center feature if it’s been imported from Word. This will help avoid issues with upload to Smashwords.
  • The default paragraph indent of 0.5″ tends to look too big on eReader screens. Consider setting the indent to 0.25″ or 0.3″ instead.
  • Extra spaces can be added between paragraphs, but doing can give works of fiction an amateurish look. The block-style of not indenting paragraphs is better served for informational texts.
  • Use the ruler at the top of the screen to remove the paragraph indent so each new chapter and section begins flush-left with the margin.


Image of Scrivener Project


Tutorial Truth: I recently formatted my three eBooks for upload to Amazon. As much as I wish I could promise your first attempt at eBook formatting will be a quick process, that would make me a liar. Likely, your first attempts will be a bit frustrating. The guidelines here can help alleviate some (but not all) of that initial frustration that comes with the learning curve.

Step #1: Select File>Compile. Set to “Format As: Custom” and then select “Compile For: Kindle eBook (.mobi)”. At this point KindleGen will need to be downloaded in order for Scrivener to properly convert the text to .mobi format. Even though labeled for use with Windows 7, I used it successfully with Windows 8.1. While you’re at it, take the time to download Kindle Previewer. You will only need to point Scrivener to the proper location once. Watch this video tutorial if issues arise.


Image of Scrivener PC KindleGen


Step #2: Now work your way through the options shown in the left pane. Check the box for which contents you wish to appear in the eBook. In order for the table of contents to be generated properly, be sure to check the box to add a page break before each section.


Image of Scrivener eBook Compile


Step #3: If desired, various separators can be chosen between your text and folders.


Image of Scrivener eBook Compile


Step #4: Skip this step for the .mobi file you will upload to Kindle since the high-quality version of your cover will be added separately. However, a lower-quality (and smaller file size) cover should be added to copies you will send to readers for promotional purposes. The cover image you select for this step must be one saved in Scrivener’s Research folder for your current project.


Image of Scrivener eBook Compile Cover


Step #5: Remove the check next to “Override text and notes formatting.” This is where things can get tricky, and I wish I could explain how each choice will impact the final product. For now, just trust me. If your selections mimic what I have here, your eBook should look okay. I set the page padding at 10 lines. This also appears to be an area where the Mac version offers more options than the Windows version. Clicking on the area to the side of Level 1+ in the Type area will provide a preview below.

If you select the wrong combination, the chapter titles will appear twice in your compiled eBook. Another option is to leave chapter titles out of your document and rely on the titles given to the chapters as they are saved in Scrivener’s project binder, but I think it’s more user-friendly to keep titles within the document itself. Scrivener will also automatically label chapters. To turn that feature off, select the middle Level 1+ box and then click on “Section Layout.” From there, backspace to delete all of the text in the “Title Prefix” box and then click okay.


Image of Scrivener eBook Compile Screen


Step 6: The next three options (Transformations, Replacements, and Footnotes) are worth exploring if the structure of your book warrants doing so. Now add the appropriate meta-data for your eBook. If you do not have an ISBN, leave the box for the unique identifier blank. Scrivener will supply one for you.


Image of Scrivener  eBook compile screen


Step 7: Select the “Compile” button and give your eBook a name. Use the Kindle Previewer to determine if your .mobi file looks as expected. If not, it will be necessary to try again (and again) in order to arrive at the desired look. Once satisfied with your output, consider doing a “Save Preset” to avoid the guesswork next time around.

Step 8: Repeat these steps to make the .epub file which can then be previewed using Adobe Digital Editions. You can also use an EPUB Validator to check for any issues present before uploading.


Additional Video Help: If you want to know more about the difference between the Mac and Windows version of Scrivener, follow this link to another informative video.

If you’ve published an eBook, what method do you prefer for formatting and why? In general, what formatting issues have you noted in eBooks you’ve downloaded?



If you have missed reading any of my eBooks, now would be a great time to get caught up!

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