eBook Formatting: How to Properly Indent Paragraphs

eBook formatting

Updated June 2017.

Can you guess the common eBook formatting mistake authors make when preparing for ePUB conversion?

Thrilling quiz, I know. But here’s the answer: they use the tab key or space bar to indent paragraphs in a Word document.

You should NOT use the tab key or space bar to indent paragraphs in your eBook manuscript doc.

The results won’t be entirely catastrophic – the world will keep spinning, but your eBook might come out on the other end looking like a mess.

To make your eBook as pretty as can be, AVOID the tab key and space bar for paragraph indents. Instead, use the paragraphs settings in the formatting palette in Word to set indents to the first line of each paragraph. The ePUB conversion process will go smoothly and your readers will be happier, too.

How to automatically switch tab indents to proper eBook manuscript indents

What if you’ve already indented every single paragraph in your 400 page masterpiece by using the tab key? There is a quick solution for SOME folks (it depends on your version of Word). In some versions of Microsoft Word (I’ve heard that 2007 can be buggy in this regard), you can use the Find and Replace functions in the EDIT menu. Simply put “^t” in the Find field and nothing in the Replace field. Click Replace All.

Presto! You’ve erased all the tab indents– unless, as I mentioned above, you’ve got one of the “buggy” versions of Word. (Which is why it’s best to go back through your document and check your work manually).

Then, if you’d like to add proper indentations, go to the Format drop-down menu and click Paragraph. From there you can set the indentation for the first line of each paragraph. Apply that setting to the whole document, and get ready for another Presto! Reminder: you should always go back through your entire manuscript to check formatting before conversion, just to make sure it all looks good.

Thanks to BookBaby author Shawn Bird for pointing out that simple trick.

Let BookBaby help you with all your eBook conversion needs!

BookBaby Editing Services

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Chris Robley is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."


  1. There are no line spaces in my manuscript so if I delete the tabs in my paragraphs, then I end up with one solid block of text. There is no indication where the next paragraph should start so I now cannot format ‘indent’ to appear at the beginning of the paragraphs because there are now no paragraphs, just one big block of text.So ‘splain me Lucy,how do I replace tabs with paragraph indents for over 400 pages of fiction?

  2. I find this to be a very annoying rule (and I only learned it recently). Most of the “indent first lines” don’t create enough of an interruption on the left side to say, “Here’s a new paragraph!” And besides having over 30 years of hit-the-tab habit, I often use–how do I say this–more “primitive” word processors that aren’t capable of first-line-indent. (They open faster than the fancy word processors, and I can just type my ideas out without having to make formatting decisions that I’ll have to change later.)

  3. […] Posts eBooks 101: Standard Vs. Fixed Layout Fixed Or Standard Layout For Your eBook? eBook Formatting: How to Properly Indent Paragraphs How to Insert Page Breaks When Formatting an eBook Your ISBN: Answers To Frequently Asked […]

    • The usual is 1/2 inch or 2 cm, though that can vary with your column width. The old rule for setting the tab was five characters.


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