Ebook Design

Smashwords Style Guide for LibreOffice / OpenOffice

Dear Mark Coker,

I love Smashwords. I think you’re great for authors. You give me access to markets like Barnes & Noble and the Apple iBookstore that I cannot access on my own. And you compete like crazy with Amazon. Keep up the good work.

Just one complaint, though, and it’s a doozy. You make authors use Microsoft Word to submit their manuscripts to MeatGrinder.

This sucks.

Forcing people to use proprietary software–especially since it’s completely unnecessary–is bad for freedom, bad for authors, and bad for Smashwords.

The following blog post will explain in precise detail how authors can use LibreOffice to free themselves from the horribleness that is Microsoft Word.

Please consider adding this information to the Smashwords Style Guide. This blog post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (BY-NC-SA)

Before we begin, let’s head on over to Smashwords and download the most recent edition of the Smashwords Style Guide. Keep the Style Guide open side-by-side as you read this blog post.

Getting Started

In this section, ignore the advice to use Microsoft Word. Using LibreOffice, you can easily create well-crafted manuscripts in .doc format that look great after going through the MeatGrinder.

Introduction to MeatGrinder

LibreOffice is more than capable of Saving As a suitable .doc. Do not confuse “Microsoft Word” the program with “Microsoft Word” the file format. A .doc can be opened in any word processor that knows how–not just Microsoft Word.

Your Required Source File

Before you begin, make sure you are not saving as a LibreOffice .odt file. (LibreOffice’s .odt format is an open source XML format far superior to Microsoft Word format. If anything, Smashwords should be requiring people to download and use LibreOffice (free), rather than require millions of authors to pay Microsoft for a Word license. Just sayin’.)

Save as a Word .doc like so:

Save As –> Microsoft Word 97/2000/XP/2003.

(NOTE: you must use this format and no other. Selecting Microsoft Word 2003 or 2007 will not work with MeatGrinder. You have been warned.)saveasdoc

Q: I don’t use Microsoft Word. Can I still publish on Smashwords?

LibreOffice is just as good–if not better–than Microsoft Word when it comes to formatting a .doc file for submission to MeatGrinder.

 Making Microsoft Word LibreOffice Behave

I’m sorry, Mark, but this is really offensive. People who refuse to use Microsoft Word for “religious reasons”? Have you been reading the news? As the Snowden disclosures have made abundantly clear, we are living in an age of digital feudalism. You can be Microsoft’s bitch, or you can choose freedom. Your choice, bucko.

 Step 2 — Activate Word’s LibreOffice’s Show/Hide

What Word calls “Show/Hide” LibreOffice calls “Show Nonprinting Characters.” Go to View –> Nonprinting Characters. Like so:nonprintingchars

Step 3 — Turn off Word’s LibreOffice’s AutoCorrect: AutoFormat As You Type and AutoFormat Features

Not surprisingly, this is just as important in LibreOffice as it is in Microsoft Word. Go toturnoffautocorrect

The only AutoCorrect settings you want to keep are curly quotes:curlyquotes

Step 4 — Turn Off Track Changes

Like Microsoft Word, LibreOffice offers a Track Changes features–in LibreOffice it’s called Record Changes. By default it’s turned off. Make sure your settings look like this:trackchanges

Step 5 – Use the NUCLEAR METHOD to Purge Hidden Corruption

The Nuclear Method is almost always necessary when submitting to MeatGrinder, regardless of which word processor you use. You will get best results with LibreOffice by using the Nuclear Method. Don’t skip this step.

You can use NotePad, as suggested by the Smashwords Style Guide. You can also use any bona fide text editor–gedit, or vim, or emacs, or whatever, as long as it’s pure text.

Better still, to make sure you keep all your curly quotes and non-ASCII characters intact, Save As plain text encoded UTF-8. (See part III of my Linux User’s Guide to Formatting Ebooks for how to do this.)

NOTE: If you format your ebooks by hand, and create your .mobi and .epub files from XHTML source in Calibre, you don’t have to do the Nuclear Method. Simply open the XHTML source file in a web browser, and copy and paste the lot into a new LibreOffice .doc document. This is what I do, as this method retains your italics and other direct formatting, which you’d otherwise have to correct manually after using the Nuclear Method. (For a complete set of instruction on how to do this, check out my five-part series on formatting ebooks in Linux using vim.)

Step 7 – Managing and Modifying Paragraph Styles, Fonts

Mark, you’re right. Styles are cool! And what Microsoft Word calls “Normal” style, LibreOffice calls “Default Style.” Same diff. (Power users take note: Apply AutoCorrect changes, for example to AutoCorrect curly quotes, will only work on Default Style text. For more see this blog post.)

Before doing anything else, Select All (Ctrl-A) and apply the Default Style, like so: defaultstyle

In fact, when it comes to Styles, this is where LibreOffice really shines. The program was built from the ground up with Styles in mind, whereas Microsoft Word implemented styles much later, and rather poorly. To gain full control over LibreOffice styles, simply go to Format –> Styles and Formatting. Or punch the shortcut key, F11. This will bring up the following dialog box:


From here you can apply styles and even modify styles. You’ll want to define your first-line indents and paragraphs spacing this way, plus specify your font of choice.

Mark, your helpful suggestions in this section for custom styles work equally well in LibreOffice. Why not try it out and see for yourself?

 Step 7b – How to Implement Your Chosen Paragraph Separation Method (First Line Indent or Block)

Punch F11 to open the Styles and Formatting dialog box. Now right-click on Default Style, like so:



and select Modify:


There! Now that wasn’t hard, was it? As easy as Word, if not easier.


If you’re writing non-fiction and want to use the block paragraph method, go to the same screen as above and fiddle with Spacing –> Below paragraph, like so:


NOTE: The US English version of LibreOffice ships with inches (“) enabled as the default unit of measurement. You can change this to points (pts) in the Options menu (to correspond to the Microsoft Word dialog box). Or else fiddle with inches until you’re happy with the results.



Fair bit of scaremongering here about using a program other than Microsoft Word, with little detail or specifics. Let’s take another look at that dialog box. Just how hard is it screw this up?


Now, Mark. You’re quite clear authors should avoid any paragraph formatting with line spacing set to “Exactly” or “At Least.” And lo and behold, we see LibreOffice offers us “At least” and “Fixed”, which sound to me like the same thing.

So why don’t we just avoid those settings, and everyone’s happy, hmm?

Step 8 – Apply Custom Styling Where You Don’t Want Normal

Creating custom styles in LibreOffice is even easier than in Microsoft Word.

Suppose you want to create a new style based on Default. Here’s how you do it. Punch F11, select Default, then:


Step 9 – How to Automate the Removal of Tabs and Space Bar Spaces

Removing unwanted tabs and spaces in LibreOffice is just as easy as in Microsoft Word. Here’s how you do it.

Go to Edit –> Find & Replace (Ctrl-H), and select Other Options, like so:


Make sure “Regular expressions” is checked. (This allows Search and Replace to use special characters like ‘\t’. Otherwise your search would only find text that looked like ‘\t’, instead of the tab character.)

If you want to remove spaces, simply replace ‘\t’ in the Search field with the number of spaces you want to remove. For instance, if you wanted to change two spaces after every period to just one space after every period, tap the space bar twice in the Search field and once in the Replace field, and click Replace All.

Step 11 – Managing External Hyperlinks

Hyperlinks are essential in your front and back matter to link to your author website and other titles for sale. You may also want to link to outside material, especially if you’re writing non-fiction. LibreOffice makes this easy. Here’s how to do it.

Suppose you want to link to your Smashwords author profile. First select the text you want to link from (for instance, “Check out my awesome author profile on Smashwords!”), then click Insert –> Hyperlink (Ctrl-K), like so:


This will bring up the following dialog box. Click the Internet button on the left-hand side, and make your link like so:smashwordslink

Click Apply. You’re done!

Step 12 – Designating Chapter Breaks, Page Breaks and Section Breaks

To define page breaks in your heading styles (since you want a page break before your chapter headings, right?), pop open the Styles dialog box (F11), select the Heading style you want to modify:


Then select the Text Flow tab, and set the page break like so:


Click Apply, and you’re good to go!

Step 13 – Working with Images

Mark, as you note, LibreOffice defaults to floating images, whereas Microsoft Word defaults to anchored images. The clear instructions you’ve provided here for LibreOffice users explain how to anchor images so that MeatGrinder is happy, so I won’t repeat them here.

As you’ve seen from this blog post, using LibreOffice for MeatGrinder is not difficult. ‘Tis a pity there’s not more information–and encouragement–for LibreOffice users in the Style Guide. As I mentioned at the beginning, feel free to borrow this blog post in its entirety, if you think that would be useful.

Step 14a – Centering Text

If you want to create a new style to center text, simply create a new style based on Default (or whatever style you’re currently using), and then modify it as appropriate.

First, create the new style:


Let’s call the new style “centered”:


Now in the F11 Style dialog box, right-click on your new style (e.g. “centered”), and select Modify. Then select the Alignment tab and click the “Center” radio button:


Click Apply when you’re finished. Later, to apply the new centered style to paragraphs you want to center, simply highlight the paragraph(s) in question, open Styles (F11), and select your new “centered” style.

 Step 16 – Style Formatting, Symbols and Glyphs

If you decide to use glyphs as suggested in this section, remember the advice from Step 13 about anchoring your images properly in LibreOffice. Floating images give MeatGrinder indigestion.

Step 18 – Margins, Page Sizes and Indents


The horizontal ruler in LibreOffice operates the same as it does in Microsoft Word. For better results, however, it’s best to set your page margins at the Page level. Go to Format –> Page, like so:


Then make sure your settings look like this (depending, of course, on whether you’re using A4 or US Letter):margins

Step 19 – Add the Heading Style to Your Chapter Headings (Optional)

Good advice here to use heading styles for your chapter titles. Implementing and applying custom styles has already been covered above in Step 7 and Step 12.


Creating a working Table of Contents in LibreOffice is just as easy–if not easier–than in Microsoft Word. Here’s the lowdown.

Step 20b – Creating a Hyperlinked Table of Contents

Remember Step 11, when we created External Hyperlinks to your author website and fabulous Smashwords author profile? We’re going to do the same thing here, with one extra step. First, we’re going to create Bookmarks for every entry in your TOC. Then we’re going to create an internal Hyperlink to that Bookmark. Here’s how you do it.

Type out your Table of Contents as Mark suggests. Now let’s add some Bookmarks.


Suppose your TOC looks something like this:

Table of Contents

Chapter One: How I Met Captain Kirk
Chapter Two: Fun with Furballs
Chapter Three: Spock, You’re Glowing!

Now scroll down from your Table of Contents to the start of your first chapter. Now highlight the chapter title and select Insert –> Bookmark. Like so:


Give the Bookmark a meaningful name, so you’ll know what it refers to later on:


Click OK.

Now repeat this step for every other chapter heading you want to reference from your TOC.

LINKING TO BOOKMARKS (AKA “Targeting your bookmarks)

Go back to your TOC.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: How I Met Captain Kirk
Chapter Two: Fun with Furballs
Chapter Three: Spock, You’re Glowing!

Highlight the text “Chapter One: How I Met Captain Kirk.” Now go to Insert –> Hyperlink (Ctrl-K), like so:


Select Document from the left-hand menu:


See that round circle with the dot in it, that looks like a target? Click that button. It’ll bring up the following dialog box:


Select the Bookmark you wish to target and click OK. Your Hyerlink dialog box should now look like this:


Click Apply.

Now repeat the above process for your entire Table of Contents.


You can use the above process for creating internal hyperlinks to send readers back to your TOC if you wish. Using “ref_TOC” for the TOC Bookmark tells MeatGrinder not to put these “back links” into the NCX.

Step 20c – Advanced Bookmarking: Footnotes, Endnotes and other Intra-book links

Be sure to add the “ref_” prefix to Bookmark names as Mark suggests. This will prevent unwanted entries in your NCX.

Step 20d – Testing and Troubleshooting Linked ToCs and links

Here’s a cool trick to test your Hyperlinks and Bookmarks quickly in LibreOffice. Go to View -> Navigator (or punch F5):


This brings up the Navigator window. Didn’t know that was there, didja?


From here you can cycle through your Bookmarks and Hyperlinks, double-checking that they are all configured correctly.


Guess what? Unlike Microsoft Word, LibreOffice doesn’t insert these little nasties. So you can skip this step. Huzzah!

You’re Done — But Not Quite

Remember, this blog post is a companion piece to the Smashwords Style Guide. It’s not meant to replace it. You still have to comply with all the other Smashwords rules about getting your book into the Premium Catalog, and so forth.

And Mark? Please consider putting this information into the next edition of the Style Guide. Indie authoring is about independent thinking, and the freedom to publish. But how can we be free if we use software that is not free (as in freedom)?

Supporting authors who use LibreOffice is the right thing to do.

Written by: J.M. Porup

Novelist J.M. Porup is An American Dissident in Exile. Read More


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