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.
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.
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.
Step #3: If desired, various separators can be chosen between your text and folders.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Permission must be granted by JeriWB to use the images in this post.
I have not used Scrivener to make an ebook yet. I used Calibre. Calibre is free. I do own Scrivener though but have not invested enough time in learning how to use it. Thanks for this cheat sheet!
Cheryl, my only wish is that Scrivener would allow more freedom in where the TOC gets placed. Otherwise, it’s a great investment and I’m glad I don’t have to bother with outside programs to format my eBooks.
I found Scrivener to be garbage. I had many problems trying to use the pc version. One problem was that at one point, when I opened it, I noticed it threw question marks and pound signs all over my 120,000 word manuscript. After hours and hours of removing them, the next time I opened it, it did it again. Tech support at Scrivener is absolutely useless. When I contacted them about one problem, spending time to explain and provide many screenshots, they replied saying Scrivener is not meant for composing a book, but only for pasting from an editor prior to printing. I received no response whatsoever concerning the question marks.
It’s too bad as they have a great idea for writing books. They just simply refused to take the time to refine it so that it works properly and they do not take responsibility for their product.
Jeri, a very informative look at what goes on behind the scenes while creating an eBook. I will take away further evidence of Scriveners utility, as well as important considerations on indentation, line format, file sizes for promo purposes and the need to consider all the devices that readers may use. Very helpful.
Paul, I felt it was important to point out a few formatting issues in addition to the steps for compiling. Too often, writers overlook formatting issues.
Great information! I am just learning Scrivener and have purchased the tutorials, but I found this really useful!
Jacquie, I would love to know what you think of the tutorials once you start to use them. I just dove in and fought my way tooth and nail trough the process. Of all the free tutorials, some are definitely better than others. Once would hope the ones available for purchase treat the differences between the Windows and Mac versions in depth.
I’ve looked at the Scrivener program several times. Yet I hesitate to even download the trial version. I have yWriter, which I use for everything BUT the manuscript/draft itself. I have a free program for creating PDFs, which can be read of most apps anyway.
Nevertheless, this post got me to bookmark the Scrivener site in case I decide to try it.
Glynis, let me just point out that I’ve never liked the way any PDF I have downloaded looks or navigates on my Paperwhite, but PDFs do tend to work well on my iPad.
This is a great review Jeri. I’ve save it in my Read Later account in case I decide to use either the free trial or purchase it. In particular because you covered a couple of Mac specific issues.
For all but my first ebook to Kindle, I used a Fiverr person to do the work. It worked out beautifully, but she isn’t around Fiverr any longer.
Pat, that’s too bad your Fiverr person is no longer available. I’m definitely glad I’m taking the time to learn how to use all that Scrivener offers, but it can be quite the learning curve at first. We’re all so used to Word.
I have never used this product, but it sounds very interesting. I enjoy the detail and description you gave to it. Sometimes you just read how great something is, without the details how to use the product itself, Thanks for sharing.
William, Scrivener really is a product I’ve been having a ball learning how to use. Every week I discover more and more what the software can do. It takes patience, but it’s been worth the switch for so many reasons.
Good tutorial. I’ll share it with the friends who I know use Scrivener.
I tried writing with Scrivener once. Too many options and too shiny. It overwhelmed me. I use yWriter, which I suppose has a similar number of options, but it’s a closer fit to my programming-driven mind. I am of the Sigil and Calibre group, but then, I love diving into HTML and doing those things by hand. Loved it so much, I made it my job. 🙂
Loni, I remember looking briefly at yWriter as well. Once I learned Scrivener could make .epub and .mobi files that sealed the deal. That’s cool though that you have a liking for tinkering with HTML and are good at it 😉 I can and have, but it’s a slooow go for me in that area.
Thank you so much for this tutorial, Jeri. I’m bookmarking this article for when I need it. This will prove helpful when the time comes.
Jagoda, the first couple of tries will be the most frustrating, but like all things, each attempt gets easier and makes more sense.
Great tutoríal, Jeri… Now I have no excusses to write a book…. Maybe lack of time will be the newest one then 🙂
Best wishes, Aquileana 😉
Aquileana, Scrivener would be a great way to put all of your excellent mythology posts into eBook form 🙂
Excellent information on the creation of an ebook through Scrivener. I hadn’t actually heard of this tool before so thanks for the introduction.
Tim, I’m definitely a Scrivener fan, but still a novice even with having done this compile tutorial. When I feel more up-to-speed, I’ll do an overview post about what I most like about the program. Just think, you could use your travel posts for an eBook.
Great tutorial for Scrivener. As you know I value every bit of information I can get my hands on when it comes to eBooks. Thank you for this information. 🙂
Susan, plus you have a Mac which means a few more options and customization will be available to you.
That’s so true., I can’t wait to have enough time to really dive into it. 🙂
Great tips Jeri. I sat through the tutorial and found it informative, but it was the quick tutorial that did not explore all of the features available on Mac. From your comments here, I’ll have to book mark this post, I should have known it seemed too easy. I’ll say this, it makes the whole process of writing seem way easier. I also signed up for the thirty day trial, I’ll check it out while I’m on holiday.
Debra, the tutorial video on the sight as well as a few others I came across on the web come across as, “In just a quick click your book will be perfectly rendered.” Alas, that is never the case when it comes to the first try at anything. It should be more like, “After you have watched and read 10 tutorials and tried to compile your eBook ten times, you will have a perfectly rendered book.”
Like some other readers commented I am also fascinated by all that you did behind the scenes. I did a review of an eBook and never did get back to them on how it is actually done! My computer I.T. days have LONG since passed me by so I enlist help on lots of stuff. Yet, this looks incredibly user friendly! Thank you for sharing it and explaining it so well, Jeri! 🙂
Mike, I’m thankful for the help I get with certain tech issues as well, but learning how to format your own books can definitely come in handy and help save money at the same time.
I agree and that’s awesome reminder and great point, Jeri! There are tons of different ways I could save money in LIFE just by learning few things. Sorry, but your response made me laugh at myself…NOT you 🙂
Hi; this is definitely a thorough post on a subject near and dear to anyone wanting to self publish their own work. but as a blind person I’m wondering if there might be a simpler answer. Or perhaps it may be a case where I would want to hire someone to do the editing and compiling for submission. I have ben working on writing my story. for now I am going to be sharing in posts on my new blog. but at some point i want to at least explore converting it all into a book. thanks for your help and take care, Max
Max, that is a good question. I am not familiar with software of this sort that has been customized for users with vision issues. That’s fantastic that you are going to use your new site to blog your story. When the time comes, I’m sure you’ll be able to find someone who can help with formatting.
you should do this tutorial on YouTube. Many people would watch! As usual, you educate us! Thank you. x
Kim, oh no… Podcasts! That could add another chunk of time to the process 😉
I’m more visual, So I love those youtube thingys!
Thanks to this post, Jeri, I came to know about Scrivener. Though I have not wrote any ebook till date, but I will note down these key points as I am planning to come up with an ebook soon in near future.
Tuhin, I’m glad this post introduced you to Scrivener. Though it may come with a learning curve, I’m really enjoying writing and compiling books with it in a way that traditional word processing programs just can’t deliver.
Thanks Jeri for sharing your experience with the process. It’s in the back of mind to publish a travel guide. It’s at least a year down the road so I’m in the gathering information stage of self publishing vs. finding a publisher. Especially because I would like to do print as well. How would this program be for displaying a lot of photos? I’ve heard CreateSpace is also good.
Christina, I would love to read a travel guide if and when you publish one 🙂 Photos can be placed in a Scrivener document, but it’s important to be mindful of how much memory they take up as they will increase the file size. Amazon charges a delivery fee based on file size. I have yet to explore how Scrivener works with CreateSpace, but from videos I’ve watched, it also works well to that end.
Jeri – I will be referring back to this site to learn about using Scrivener but I am not ready for that step yet. I just realized I am going to have to live another 50 years to have the time to learn everything I want to know and half of that knowledge sits on your site. Thanks.
Lenie, I always feel that away about all the info I’m compelled to digest 🙂
Hi Jeri, this is very helpful, thank-you! I use the software but haven’t gotten to the ‘finish and compile’ stage yet so this is useful for me. Thanks!
Christy, all the cool kids use Scrivener, right? Looking forward to your next project.
I do this all the time when I do edits. I upload the files the skydrive and download them on to my ipad in kindle or an epub reader. This is a great way to get a fresh look at a story.
Jon, isn’t it amazing how simply changing the look of a manuscript can make new issues stand out?
WOW This is a fantastic post Jeri. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with it. I shall have it next to me when I go to compile my ebook. Brilliant!
A.K., just let me know if you need any help when you get to that point.
I admire you for doing all this work and sharing all this information. I used Create Space and they automatically formatted my books for Amazon. Then I paid someone $65 to format one of my books for Smashwords. I believe there are also several folks on Fiverr that do this work. I’ve used Fiverr for many projects and have been happy with the results.
Michele, I’ve heard how CreateSpace will also format text for upload to Amazon, which is fantastic. I’ve yet to write something long enough to warrant a print copy though 😉 Just think for the one-time investment of $40, Scrivener gives you the ability to format print, epub, and mobi files (not to mention all of its other software perks). That’s money well-spent in my book.
I have not used Scrivener yet. Thanks for being very thorough… it certainly made it easy to appreciate the process and the formatting considerations.
Bill, even though it looks like a lot of steps, after the first couple formatting experiences, it all goes pretty quickly.
Good tutorial. Have you made one for PC as well? Personally find the programs for compiling an ebook extremely difficult. Tried Sigil but gave up when not even IT nurds could figure it out:-)
Catarina, this one was for PC as that is what I use, but as noted above, the Mac version does offer a little more capability for formatting the final product. I found it very user-friendly after the first few attempts. You might want to give it a try since the trial lasts for 30-days of actual use. That would be more than enough time to experiment with formatting your eBook.
Jeri – thanks for this excellent tutorial. I’ve played around with the idea of creating an ebook with a compilation of some of my posts (re-edited so the content flows) but it has just seemed too daunting. Then I wonder who would would want to read it?
Jeannette, putting a selection of your posts into eBook from would be a great project. I’ve found many of them helpful. The trouble for me (and countless other writers) is then finding the right audience for what we write.
Hi Jeri- I am not a writer but I sent your link to my daughter-in-law who is thinking of writing an ebook. You have to know the basics before you plunge in writing and Scriveners looks like a worthwhile investment.
Arleen, thanks so much for sending the link to this post to your daughter-in-law. Scrivener is a great program for any writer to try.
This was really cool to read and thanks for providing a link for us Mac users. I am having a hard time with my fiction so I’m sticking mainly to blog posts for now. Will keep this in mind when I get the drive again.
Carl, fiction can be a fickle beast, eh? I’m in the same boat right now on that front. Maybe someday you could collect some of your posts and make an eBook out of them 🙂
It gives me something to think about, I guess, and it is, I’m sure, a great resource for those who get a little frustrated with uploading to Amazon and Smashwords using Word. Personally, though, I think I am so familiar with Word, and the requirements of both aforementioned, that uploading to them, for me, has become kind of second nature. I agree with someone who said before, that they are reluctant even to get the trial version as there’s too many bells and whistles here – but I guess that might be because the frustrations I went through in uploading to ePub in the past, have all been worked out, and now I know exactly how to do that, via Word. I will admit though, the option for .mobi, is attractive – if I felt I needed that, which, on occasion I have. 🙂 Congrats on an informative article though. As always.
SP, yeah just when I got the hang of getting Word documents to look good for upload to Amazon, I went and took the Scrivener plunge. I used to make filtered HTML documents out of Word files, which look fine on Amazon. Yet, when I sent the file to reviewers, a good number of them were like where in the heck is the .mobi file? Not enough people realize eReaders can be loaded with numerous file types. I’m glad I can make .mobi files without a lot of fuss. Scrivener does have a lot of bells and whistles, but I learn more about what it can do all the time. It’s made re-arranging my chapters so much easier than if they were in a Word document.
Interesting post, Jeri. As you said … we’re too connected to Word, and so it’s been difficult for me to make the move to Scrivener. But I will, as I’m on Mac, andI can’t update t the newest Mac operating system without losing access to my word files!So I definitely have to make the switch sooner than later. It’s just that technology and me don’t get along too well. Thank goodness for friends and colleagues to help us along!
Jeri, this is awesome! I’m in the early stages of brainstorming an ebook that I want to write, and am thoroughly intimidated by the publishing process. You’ve given me hope, and I’m bookmarking this tutorial, so I can come back to it when I’m ready to start. Thank you for sharing!
Wow, Jeri, I don’t know how you do it all! I’ve heard of Scrivener but didn’t realize how relatively easy it was to use. Your step-by-step instructions are clear and well thought through, and would be my first resource if I ever get to putting together a book. Actually, knowing that you’ve gone out and conquered the medium is great inspiration. Thanks for these!
Krystyna, somehow I guess I am just a glutton for punishment when it comes to learning new things. Scrivener was a great time investment. It’s great software, and I’m sure you would like it if you decide to write a book.
Can you believe I have not used this program yet?
I’ve heard that many authors DO use it, though. I think I might have to give it a shot!
Lorraine, you may as well give Scrivener a try one of these days since the free trial version is so generous.
Thanks for the tutorial on Scrivener. It’s not a program I am familiar with. You made it look so easy by producing this cheat sheet.
Mina, I’m glad the steps make it look easy. I pull on my teacher-side for tutorial posts 😉
This is helpful. I have never finished a book. However, when I do someday I will use this. Good for you for learning how to work it yourself . 🙂
Crystal, if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s perseverance…
A great post for formatting all in one place. My first attempt had left me searching for exactly what you have here. Tweeting this. Have a good night!
JT, glad you found the post helpful. I did my best to be as comprehensive as possible.
As you can see below, I really did enjoy your post. 😉
I have been searching for this post for a week! It came across my Twitter feed and for some reason I didn’t save it when I read it the first time!!
Ebook formatting will be done tomorrow!!!!!
Thank you for such a helpful post!
JT, I’m glad you found this post again. Scrivener really does make the formatting process more bearable after the initial learning curve.
Scrivener on Windows works well for me as an authors tool. When the rough draft manuscript is done I compile it as a Word doc file. Now I proofread and edit until satisfied. Re-paste doc contents back into Scrivener. Next step compile as an ePub file. Final step is using Sigil on the epub file with a customized CSS stylesheet designed for ePub or Kindle. Sigil puts the final polishing touch to an ePub eBook for me. Scrivener’s strengths are its many output file options.
Ronald, thanks for sharing. I’ve not sued Sigil yet to make additional changes to e-books, but I’m sure it’s inevitable that I’ll need to one of these days.
I wish I had had this guide last year! Thanks for the tips and I’m bookmarking this one 🙂
Christy, I’m glad you found my guide. It should come in handy. I’ve been referring back to it from time to time as I format e-books for one of my clients.