Monday, April 29, 2013

Using Google Docs to Prepare a document for Kindle Upload Part 1

A couple of months ago, I bought a Samsung 11 inch Chromebook. I was a bit unsure how much use I would get out of it at the time. It has since become my primary computer. I discussed in a previous post about it's strengths and limitations for writers.

It has turned out to be one of my best $250 purchases. While I can't do heavy
duty photo editing or publication design work, with Google docs and access to WiFi, I can do just about everything else. 

One thing I was sure I couldn't do was to prepare my files for upload to Kindle. I generally used InDesign or MS-Word so I could meet the standards of Amazon for convertible files, and to be able to create a clickable table of contents. 

Turns out I can do all that using Google Docs. That's right, online, free software being able to do as good of a job as the full MS-Word program in creating a file for Kindle upload. 

Now, this is in no way Microsoft Bashing. Word is a great program and can do tons of things no online program can do including those at And complicated print oriented documents you really do need something like Word or InDesign to create a wide variety of Headers and formatting styles. 

However, simplicity is the key to formatting an ebook. Fancy borders, page numbers, footers and headers are actually bad for ebook formatting and have to be removed. So, in this case, a simpler format is better. 

So, how can you use Google Docs to format your ebook? 

I'm going to assume you have no knowledge of ebook formatting throughout this article. So, if you are a pro, just bear with the step by step approach. 

Create the Workspace

Start by setting up your workspace on the screen. I like to create a document that will look similar to the format of an ereader.

To do this, I click on File and then on Page Settings. When I do I get a dialog box like this:

I start by setting the paper size to "Statement" size 5.5 x 8.5 inches. That is close to the dimensions of a 7 inch diagonal reader. I leave the default to portrait (that's a vertical layout) and then I set all the margins to zero.

Why do I zero out the margins? Each ereader has a setting where the reader can set their preferred margins, so any margins you set could be added to any that they set. It goes back to the basics of "less is more" when formatting an ebook.

Paragraph and Line Settings

Next you want to set your paragraph and line settings. The first thing to decide is if you want each paragraph to be indented, to mark off paragraphs with spaces between them or to do both. There are partisans for each approach. I'm stylistically neutral on that question. Whatever style you think will make your book easier to read is the one to choose. But here's what you need to know about Google docs.

Line Spacing 

To set line spacing, just click on Format and you get this dialog box.

Click on Line spacing. Choose either 1 or 1.15. Nothing larger than that. I find that 1.15 works a little better for me, but try both and see what looks best with your font.

You will also have the option to select to put a space after each paragraph. I generally don't do that for fiction, but I'm a bit more open with nonfiction. Again, try it both ways and see what you think.

Setting the Indentation

By default, Google Docs has an automatic first line indent of .5 inches. With a five and a half inch screen that is almost 1/10 of the line. You might want to reduce this. This is simple to do.

There is a ruler at the top of the screen. You will see a small square where the first indent tab is set.

Just click and drag that blue bar to whatever point you want. I keep mine at about .25 inches.  If you want that to be your default on Google Docs, just click on the Styles menu (that's a box that probably has the word "Normal" in it), scroll to the bottom and click options and then click "Save as my Default Styles." If you want no automatic indent, just push the tab all the way to the left end and set that as you default style.

BTW, you can easily set your default styles by simply setting up everything the way you want it to be and then click options and "Save as my Default Styles."

In our next post we will talk about setting fonts, styles, headings and creating a table of contents.


  1. This has to be the most clear and concise post that I have ever encountered for writing/formatting an ebook - thanks so much!

  2. This is really helpful. I am creating an eBook from blog posts and am looking for guidelines for the images--specifically if they should be watermarked and also if I can use linked images? Thanks!

  3. Thank you!

    Your help is very much appreciated.......