How To Format A Perfect Novel: Part 7 (Compilation Part 1)

We’re finally here.

We’ve done it.

We’re so ready.


Well, this part will start to make your brain melt. To keep that from happening, maybe it’s time for another quick break:

All right, now that we’ve gotten our jollies, let’s compile this bitch.


We’ll start with ebooks because they’re easier. MUCH easier. In fact, paperbacks are so complex that you may well be crying at the end and clawing at your hair. That’s normal. Why do you think professional book formatters get paid so much money? There’s a science to it. But we’ll get through it together. Don’t you worry!

And for now, ebooks will be a nice lead-in.

Click “Compile.”

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You’ll get a window that looks something like this:

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Make sure you click the “Contents” bar on the left of the compile window first. Our first step will be picking WHAT files we’re compiling into our .mobi ebook.

First thing: down at the bottom, you’ll see two checkboxes. They say “Filter” and “Add front matter,” respectively. Now aren’t you glad we built those collections?

Check both the check boxes. For the “Filter” line, select “Include,” “Documents in collection,” and then “[TITLE] KINDLE.”

For the “Add front matter” checkbox, select “Front Matter>Amazon, Nook, Kobo.”

If you’ve done all steps correctly up to this point, this will mean that the ONLY items in the “Content” window are those that you want in your final Kindle file. On the left side of the “Contents” pane, you’ll see a checkbox column labeled “Include.” Since we’re only showing documents we want, make sure that ALL of those checkboxes are checked.

Next is the “Pg Break Before” column. Again, make sure that all of these are checked. This means that every chapter, every part of your book, will start on a new page. You want this. New chapters shouldn’t start in the middle of a page.

The final column is tricker: the “As-is” column. “As-is” means the file will come out formatted EXACTLY how you’ve formatted it in Scrivener. We don’t want this for most of our book, because without additional formatting, your chapters will not have the sexy formatting we’ve spent so much painstaking time on by establishing our meta-tags.

Here’s what SHOULD be checked:

  • Your copyright page
  • Your author’s note
  • Your “Other Books By” page
  • Your “About the Author” page

The bulk content of your book, the chapters and your call to action, should NOT be checked.

All right, so we’ve done the “Contents” pane. Let’s move down to the “Separators” pane.


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Pretty simple. These should all say “Empty line.” Next!


We come to the “Cover” pane.

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You should already have your cover image imported in your Scrivener file. If it isn’t, simply click “File>Import…>Files,” or hit Shift+Command+I. You can also drag the cover directly into your binder. Once your cover is imported, it will show up in the pull-down menu at the top of the Cover pane. Click that pulldown menu, select the correct image, and we’re done.

Cover design is its own art form, one I couldn’t possibly cover in detail in what is already such a long article. But the general guidelines I use right now are:

  • .jpg images
  • 1400 pixels wide
  • Either a 6×9 or a 6×8 aspect ratio (6 inches wide and 9 or 8 inches tall, for example). I prefer 6×9
  • File size less than 2mb. The cover IS in your final .mobi file, so you don’t want it to be gigantic and falsely pump up the size of your book file.

Proper dimensions and specifications for cover images are always changing, so do your own research on how big your cover image should be.


The Formatting pane is where we’re going to start getting pretty technical up in this biatch. You might be surprised to hear this, but the Formatting pane is where you do the bulk of your book’s…you know…FORMATTING. Go figure.

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One of the awesome things about Scrivener is that you can set different formatting for different document elements. Text files can have their own formatting rules. Text files WITHIN text files have their own formatting rules. Folders have their own formatting rules. This is an incredibly powerful tool when formatting your novel.

NOW. You’ve already assigned meta-data tags for your document. These are going to be INCREDIBLY valuable in setting up the formatting for your novel. We’re going to be formatting our folders first—for me, folders are the parts, or “Episodes” of my novel. When I format my folders correctly, they form my “Episode” pages, which again look like this in Kindle:


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Pretty sweet. And that’s the formatting I’ve established for my folders. It ALL happens in the formatting pane. So let’s take a closer look at that pane, with the Folder level selected.

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First thing above: make sure the “Override text and notes formatting” box is unchecked. It it’s checked, the Formatting pane will override the formatting you’ve already established for your book. You can do this, but it’s clunky. It’s better to just format your book the way you want it when you’re writing it. If you want to use Adobe Garamond Pro font, use it. If you want font size 12, write that way. Don’t try to fix it all later with the Formatting pane, because you can mess up something.

In the Folder section type, you’ll notice I only have “Text” selected. In case you’re unaware, you can type within a folder just like it’s a text document. If you choose to do so, leaving “Text” selected above will merely ensure that your text shows up the way you wanted it to.

Next: Set your page padding. That’s the amount of blank space between the top of your page and the beginning of your content. You’ll see it in the bottom right of the above image. For folders, I like 6 lines. You can play around with this until you find what you like.

Finally, click the “Section Layout” button (located in the bottom left of the above image). This will produce a new window establishing your parameters for the start of your document:

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That text in that top box probably looks like a bunch of gobbledygook to you. IF YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT HOW IT WORKS, FEEL FREE TO COPY THE ABOVE INTO YOUR OWN DOCUMENT. If you’ve done everything else exactly the way I have, then it will work. However, if you want an explanation of what exactly we’re doing here, read on.

Scrivener has an incredibly powerful feature called “Placeholder Tags.” These are little bits of code you can put ANYWHERE in your document that will be replaced upon compile. The above placeholder tags give us:

  1. Our folder title (In this case, “Episode One”)
  2. Our element image (In this case, the symbol for Earth)

Here’s how they work:

  • <$img: This is the opening of the tag. It tells Scrivener to place an image in the document.
  • <$custom:Title> This tells Scrivener WHAT image to put in. In this case, it’s ANOTHER placeholder tag. It’s telling Scrivener to pull the title of the image from the Folder’s custom meta-data (which we’ve already established). Thus, your folder will receive its title image based on the custom meta-data you’ve already assigned to it. This is powerful because every folder can have different custom meta-data, and in that case they’ll all have different images.
  • ;w=375> This tells Scrivener to make the title image 375 pixels wide. You can experiment with what pixel width you like. I like 375. It looks good on a traditional Kindle, it looks good on a Kindle fire, it looks good on my Kindle desktop app, it looks good on an iPad and it looks good on my iPhone. Those are the only devices I check it on, and frankly they’re all I care about. Stats show that those are the most common devices that Kindle books are read upon.

The second placeholder tag is almost identical, but instead of pulling the Folder’s “Title” image it pulls the “Element” image, and instead of a width of 375 it establishes a width of 125.

Let’s go to the second part of the “Section Layout” window (click the button labeled “Title Appearance” at the top).

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We’re not actually using the three pull-down menus here, but you can set them all to “Normal” if it makes you feel better. Make sure “Insert title run-in head” is unchecked, otherwise your text will be mashed right up against your Folder titles.

Next button! (“First Page”)

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You can make the first words in your Folder uppercase. I don’t have any actual text in my Folders, so this is a moot point for me. And I think that making the first few words in a new section (or chapter or whatever) looks ugly. If you want books just like mine, leave it at “0” and uncheck “Use small caps.” Or experiment around with it if you want. It’s up to you.

We’re done here! Click “OK” and you’ll go back to the Formatting Pane. Now select your Text control level.

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You’ll notice I set my Page padding to 2 lines for text. A smaller gap appeals to me for the Kindle. In print books, a larger gap is appropriate, but for Kindle I use 2 lines. Again, play around and find out what suits you.

Now click on “Section Layout” again.

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Here we’re using basically the same placeholder tags. Again, copy the basic idea and then play around with dimensions and arrangement until you get what you want. The new placeholder tag here is the one containing <$custom:Chapter>, which tells Scrivener to include the title “Chapter One,” “Chapter Two” and what have you.

The other two windows in the “Section Layout” window should be set exactly the same as they were when we formatted your Folder level.

Formatting it this way, your Kindle book will have chapters that look like this:


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And with that, we’re done with the Formatting pane! Onward!


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Uncheck everything.



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The Layout pane is fairly simple. Everything should be unchecked but the “Generate HTML table of contents” checkbox. This checkbox ensures that you have clickable links to all of your chapters, your Author’s Note, etc. You want this. Trust me. It’s the cornerstone of all ebook navigation.

You can center the Table of Contents if you wish. I think it looks ugly, but some authors do it. The checkbox is right there.

There’s one other checkbox in this pane worth mentioning. It’s the “Book begins after front matter” in the top section. Some people like to check this. It means that when people open your book for the first time, it opens on your “Page One.” That might be what you want. Me, I usually want people to start on my cover. That’s a personal decision that you’ll have to make.


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Every checkbox in this pane is self-explanatory, and in my opinion you want ALL of them unchecked.


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This one’s easy. Two checkboxes. Check’em both and move on!


No settings in these panes matter as far as I’ve ever seen. Don’t touch’em.


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This one’s important. If you use inline annotations, inspector comments and regular comments, you’ll want to remove them. No one wants to hear what you’ve noted for yourself as you’ve been writing the book—if it’s something the reader needs to know, put it in your actual text.


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You can fill this out as completely or incompletely as you want. The truth is, the data you enter in the KDP dashboard when you publish your book will COMPLETELY OVERRIDE this meta-data. However, if you’re going to produce a .mobi that’s going to go direct to the consumer (without going to Amazon first) you may want to ensure all of your ducks are in a row in this pane. Me, I generally put author(s), title and publisher and leave it at that.

The KindleGen panel is where you select the KindleGen file that allows you to create .mobis. I won’t get into this here. If you haven’t already set up your KindleGen, go check out this very simple video explaining how to do it.


Yes. Seriously. You can click Compile now. Your mobi file will be ready in seconds. Your ebook is done!

Holy shit, right?

Check the formatting. Go over your book a few times. If anything’s not quite to your liking, tweak the settings we’ve done here in the Compile step. If something’s majorly fucked up, go back through this tutorial and see if you did something wrong. (Or just hire a professional formatter to do it for you).

You probably want to spit out epubs as well. They work the exact same way as .mobi files. At the bottom of the Compile window, you’ll simply need to select “ePub eBook (.epub)” instead of a .mobi file. ALSO MAKE SURE that you select the correct collection and front matter for the platform you’re exporting to—you don’t want to send a book to Kobo with links to your books on Amazon! You just might piss off your customers that way.


Well, we’re going to talk about formatting paperbacks next. But I’m certain that for a large, large portion of you, you’ve already gotten all you need out of this tutorial. And now you’ll go back to your happy little life as a self-publisher, spitting out beautiful ebooks for all the world to enjoy.

Before you go, don’t forget to check out the fantasy novel you’ve seen me formatting all this time. It’s just as awesome as I am—at least as awesome as this tutorial is. You can go pick up a copy over at

For those of you wanting to go on and format your paperback, the link will be coming soon. Enjoy your beautiful new ebook, and check back here in a day or two.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your time here. Again, a big thanks to those who helped me learn how to do this in the first place. Now get out there and start making the online book market a more beautiful place.

Garrett Robinson

Over 100,000 readers have read and loved Garrett's books, like the fantasy hits Nightblade and Midrealm. He's also a film festival favorite with movies like Unsaid, and a tech guru who posts lots of helpful how-tos for writers and filmmakers over at


Hi Garrett, I am having this same problem.

Katrina Archer Oct 9, 2013

Hi Garrett, thank you so much for this highly useful tutorial. I'm looking forward to the final instalment on print formatting. I may have missed something, however. My chapter headings are in folders (similar to your episode headings). When I compile, I've replaced Scrivener's default title prefix for titles (Chapter ) with your image tags in the formatting pane before compilation, so that I get a consistent image of the chapter title on the opening page of each chapter. However, now the chapter title text does not show up in the TOC. I'm wondering how you got around this (so that chapter title text shows up in the TOC but not on the opening page of the chapter where the image is used instead). Thanks.

My chapters are in folders and when I change the prefix to an image, my chapters don't show up in my TOC at all. My front matter shows up and my back matter shows up but none of my chapters. BTW this is when I'm compiling to ePub.


So I did everything and it all turned out really well, EXCEPT for one thing....  My chapters are way too far down the page and when I change the padding it doesn't make a difference.  I can't figure it out!!!!!


I've read this LOOOOOOONG post and still can't figure out why my formatting (body of text) keeps getting lost when I compile for kindle. I"m about tho throw my laptop out of the window. Okay, maybe not. But, I've thought about it. 


Thank you very much for that very helpful and funny Tutorial! Best instruction so far, excellent job.

Now I have to buy your book, right? Okay, done! Realm Keepers I made it.


Wonderful, clear, funny and pretty detailed for my first book through Kindle.  But, where's that link to the paperback book--I'm dying to have it!!!!  Books to be sent to printers tomorrow.....So if you have the link, could you send that forward ----thanks.  You do a great job teaching  ---  leading the novice.    


Garrett, thanks for the tutorial. MUCH appreciated. 

Now, a problem. My TOC is all jacked up. I'm building a short story collection and am not using images like you are. I am using the folder name to create a title page for each short (like you did to seperate parts/episodes). They show up like they should in the TOC (huzzah!) but the name of the text file ALSO shows up and I don't want that. 






Like that. Any idea at ALL on how to get rid of that?

Thanks, man!

Katrina Archer
Katrina Archer

Hi Garrett, thank you so much for this highly useful tutorial. I'm looking forward to the final instalment on print formatting. I may have missed something, however. My chapter headings are in folders (similar to your episode headings). When I compile, I've replaced Scrivener's default title prefix for titles (Chapter ) with your image tags in the formatting pane before compilation, so that I get a consistent image of the chapter title on the opening page of each chapter. However, now the chapter title text does not show up in the TOC. I'm wondering how you got around this (so that chapter title text shows up in the TOC but not on the opening page of the chapter where the image is used instead). Thanks.

Garrett Robinson
Garrett Robinson

Thanks, Katrina! Make sure in your "formatting" window, the "title" box is unchecked so that the title doesn't show up as text when you compile.

Franklin Kendrick
Franklin Kendrick

Thanks so much for this tutorial, Garrett. I was looking for weeks for instructions on how to do fancy fonts for book/chapter headings, and came up with nothing. I'm new to Scrivener, but loving everything about it and trying to hit the ground running with as much info as I can cram into my head. Again, thanks so much - and I look forward to Midrealm in September!


Hi where is the link formatting paperbacks?


@Garrett Robinson 

Thanks for this tutorial. Where is the link? Thanks!

Carl Sinclair
Carl Sinclair

Damn Garrett, who knew you could stay on topic that long? Really excellent job on this tutorial man. Proud of you!


Hey Garrett, loved the post. I listen to your podcast and am currently reading Hit Girls. I'm psyched about reading your fantasy books as well. I'm a huge Forgotten Realms fan so I'm always looking for more might and magic so to speak.

Garrett Robinson
Garrett Robinson

Thank you very much! I certainly hope you enjoy it, and thanks for reading Hit Girls! Although the two projects COULD NOT be more different. :-)


You're quite welcome sir! As for the projects being different that's a good thing right? I love Star Wars but couldn't imagine just writing one type of book for the rest of my life. I think it's awesome you're willing to branch out and try different things.

Garrett Robinson
Garrett Robinson

Oh man you don't even know how happy this comment will make some friends of mine. Or maybe you do.

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