How To Format A Perfect Novel: Part 1 (File Organization)


Okay, that headline is a mouthful. But then again, this post is a mindful. See what I did there? Mindful? Like it will fill your mind?

Oh, you.

Formatting your novel is incredibly important. Too many indie authors and publishers put out books that look just like everyone else’s.

There’s no argument that the most important part of your book is its words. Content is everything in the long run. But content isn’t the most important part of SELLING your book. The most important components of selling your book are probably, in this order:

  1. A kick-ass title
  2. A kick-ass cover
  3. A kick-ass book description

After that, readers MIGHT click on the cover in order to view the inside, or download a sample copy of the ebook from Amazon (or Kobo or Nook or what have you).

What happens at that point?

Do they open an ebook with gorgeous, impeccable formatting that’s a work of art in itself, putting the painstakingly-crafted words you’ve slaved over on the best possible display?

Or do they open an ebook that looks like every other ebook?

Most of our reaction to books is subliminal. If it wasn’t, cover designers and book formatters wouldn’t make a killing out in the world of traditional publishing (blech). If the final book doesn’t look right, we write it off. (Rather than READ it off—get it?)

But how can you format your novel so that it stands up against the big boys—not only successful indie publishers, but the traditionally published titles as well?

I have, over the course of months, determined what I believe to be an optimum formatting method for exporting your novel to all platforms—not only all ebook platforms, but also print-on-demand such as Createspace and Lightning Source.

FIRST SELF-PLUG: This tutorial gets quite complex. If you love the final result, but don’t have the time, patience or skill to learn how to do it, guess what?! I offer formatting services! How convenient, right?! Check out my prices at the bottom of my editing services page.

DISCLAIMER: Sorry if you read all the way through that long introduction before reading this, but: THIS TUTORIAL IS MAC-ONLY. I love Scrivener dearly. But their Windows version sucks major donkey balls. So many functionalities that I take for granted in Mac are just completely missing in Windows.


Also take note: for ebook formatting, Scrivener for Mac is all you need. However, for formatting novels for paperback, my final step includes going into Microsoft Word to finish off your formatting. This is an OPTIONAL step. Word simply takes care of one annoying thing that Scrivener can’t, which is orphans. So you can format your book for paperback using Scrivener, but you might have orphans, or you can go into Word and handle them. The choice is yours.


In all seriousness, this post would not have been even mildly possible without the help of many who educated me throughout the last…God, eight months now? Has it been that long? My Lord.

The Self Publishing Podcast: Co-hosts Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt and David W. Wright were the ones who turned me on to Scrivener in the first place. You should buy all of their books because they’re awesome and sexy. They’re also the ones who had a podcast interview with the author of Scrivener for Dummies…

Gwen Hernandez: Gwen runs the fantastic blog The Edited Life, where she always has Scrivener tips and tricks. She’s also active on Twitter, and has a GODDAMN ENCYCLOPEDIC KNOWLEDGE of Scrivener. Several of the most detail-oriented points of this post were finally solved (after hours of screaming and wanting to chuck my brand new iMac through a window) after sending Gwen a tweet or an email and getting a response (usually within minutes) saying, “Oh, you don’t know how to do that? Here…”. Always incredibly polite about it, but that didn’t make me feel like less of an idiot.

Ed Ditto: Ed runs, where he covers all kinds of good and useful writing and formatting stuff. The very first basis of my success with formatting for print using Scrivener comes from Ed, and he was also a guest on my podcast once. Awesomeness Trifecta. Awesfecta.

And now, without further ado…





I’m assuming that your novel is complete. Don’t try to start formatting your book until it’s written. It’s out-sequence and will cause you unbearable headaches. Also, I’m assuming you have Scrivener for Mac.


First of all, let’s take a look at how we want to organize the files within our Scrivener project. Then, let’s look at the FINAL PRODUCT—in other words, establish a goal that we know we’re working toward.

I’m going to be using my own upcoming novel (SHAMELESS PLUG!) Midrealm for this example. If you aren’t aware of that novel (ANOTHER ONE!) go pre-order a paperback copy for $17.99 over at You’ll get the ebooks for free and a bonus short story. Awesome, right?

Midrealm is a serialized novel broken up into seven parts: six “episodes” and a “season finale,” which is about three times as long as a regular episode. Each episode has five chapters, except for the season finale, which has fifteen.

Another important point about Midrealm is that (stay with me here) each of the six episodes is told from the viewpoint of a different protagonist (six in all). The finale, however, flips back and forth between the viewpoints of those same protagonists, chapter to chapter.

Still with me? I’m not just blabbering here. This is important. And hopefully helpful to you. Trust me.

Let’s take a look at how Midrealm is organized in my Scrivener binder.

NOTE: I made the images in this tutorial big, so you can see everything. The placeholders in here are smaller. Click them to expand to a larger size so you can see everything.

Click the image for a larger view

Click for larger image

Alright, now there’s a lot of info here, and we’ll get to it in a minute. For now, I want you to notice a few things in the Binder (the sub-window on the left):

  1. The episodes are in the main folder. The main folder is titled: Midrealm. That’s the name of the WHOLE book.
  2. The episodes are FOLDERS. Seven episodes in the book (including the finale).
  3. The folders contain FILES, which are the CHAPTERS. Five chapters per episode.

If your book is organized in a similar fashion, beautiful. If you don’t have “episodes” or “parts” to your book, you can do away with the folders and the rest of this tutorial will still work perfectly for you. If your book organization is completely, totally, balls-out different from this, this tutorial may go haywire at any minute. You have been warned.

My idea for the novel is that each episode will have its OWN title page. The chapters, of course, will just have a title at the top of the first page of the chapter.

Here’s what I want my episode title pages to look like for Kindle:

Click for larger image

Click for larger image

And here’s how I want it to look in the print PDF:

Click for larger image

Notice how they look almost the same? That’s kind of the point.

Oh, and before you try to get smart with me, YES, I know that “Episode One” is off-center. I like it that way, damnit. (You’re not alone, though. My co-author does not. But since I have final design say, haha fuck you all).

More importantly, the WHOLE paperback page is off-center. That’s because of the “gutter.” When you read a paperback book, the margin closest to the spine must be bigger than its opposite to allow the reader to see all of the text when the book is held open.

Okay, so let’s analyze our title placement here:

  1. The title comes first
  2. The title has a few lines above it, moving it further down the page
  3. There’s that weird picture there. What the hell is that thing, anyway? Well, it’s a rock. Or a symbol for a rock. And that’s because Episode One is told from the viewpoint of the Keeper of the Earth. (To find out what that is (SHAMELESS PLUG!) go pick up a copy of Midrealm over at

Now, on my chapters, it’s similar but different. Here’s how my chapters should look in Kindle:

Click for larger image

And for the print PDF:

Click for larger image

Again, the reading experience is as identical as possible, whether you’re reading the Kindle or the paperback.

Here’s the important points for my chapter headings:

  1. There’s a few blank lines at the top
  2. The ELEMENTAL symbol comes first
  3. There’s a CHAPTER number (“Chapter One” in this case)
  4. There’s a chapter TITLE (“A Normal Day” in this case)

Another very interesting thing you’ll notice on both the Episode and Chapter titles:

In Kindle, the FONT and the ARRANGEMENT of the text stay exactly the same as they are in the paperback.

For anyone who doesn’t realize why that’s fucking stellar, it’s because Kindle automatically converts all fonts to the same font, and doesn’t allow any alignment other than Left, Right, Center and Justified.

VERY FEW indie authors and even FEWER traditional publishers I’ve ever seen do this. So by formatting your novel to this standard, you’re already taking a huge leap from the pack.

“WHAT IS THIS MAGIC?” I hear you scream, hopping about on all fours and flinging feces at the computer monitor.

Okay, you’re probably not flinging feces. I stand by the jumping-on-all-fours thing, though.

The trick is that the title isn’t actually entered into the document as font. It’s an image file. That means that the title will look the same no matter what e-reader it’s viewed on.

How do we do this?


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


This is a major godsend! Thank you for posting this! I thank you, my son thanks you and my scalp thanks you! Yes, was pulling out my hair! Who needs to throw feces when you have clumps of hairballs? You rock!


Hello. Terrific directions for formatting an ebook. I'm wondering if you have the directions for doing the same with a paperback book yet. Eager to get going on that process. Thanks.


So. I have the Windows version of Scrivener and I've read through all your detailed formatting stuff and it appears the section layout option is missing in the compile section for adding the jpegs like you did for your chapters. I REALLY want to do this. I guess I'm going to have to buy a MAC and the MAC version. THAT is an official whine.

David Dellinger
David Dellinger

Dude, this tutorial is AWESOME! Epic, even! THANK YOU! Once you have the compile-for-print section completed, is there any chance you'll e-publish this tutorial? It would be convenient to have the tutorial open on an e-reader next to the computer while slogging through the process.


I'm still going to read through the series even though I have the Windows version of Scrivener. I'm sure I can get some useful information out of it. Although now I understand why I get so frustrated with Scrivener.

Garrett Robinson
Garrett Robinson

Well, they're a very tiny company with a very small staff. And the founder is kind of like, "I'm doing what I can when I can with this program." I don't know if he really realizes how widely used Scrivener is by independent authors.


That would be awesome. I don't get why there's such a difference in quality, but not a big difference in price.

Garrett Robinson
Garrett Robinson

It's interesting. Literature and latte maintains that Scrivener is a word processing program, NOT a formatting program. In their mind, they see all of their formatting tools as "extras" (even though at this point they're vital parts of the program I couldn't live without). This might explain why they charge the same for the PC version as the Mac. In their mind, all the important features are there. It's just the extra formatting tools that are missing.

Garrett Robinson
Garrett Robinson

Yeah, it's a little bit frustrating. But according to Gwen Hernandez (Scrivener for Dummies author) they're working on bringing Windows further into the fold, including all of the features that are available for Mac.


Thank you for you amazing work, I usually go to different sites for all that details it is awesome to get at single place.

Tarra Thomas writing as T.T.
Tarra Thomas writing as T.T.

Oh had me at 'Okay' and lost me at "that,' so I'll just hire you. No, you're very clear---it's me.


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