Microsoft Word has lots of features that make creating ebooks easy. You can use styles to format an ebook or update its formatting to work on a different platform. You can use the References tool to create a table of contents automatically. And you can produce a design template that's ready for repeated use, so you can spend more time creating content and less time futzing with layouts. Once you've mastered these steps, you can create great ebooks effortlessly. I'll show you how.
Understanding Ebook Formats
Before you dive in, be aware that more than 20 common ebook formats exist today. Although some are readable on multiple devices, you'll find no single format that every device can read. On top of that, screen sizes vary, so page sizes, image formats, image sizes, and other elements vary, too.
If you want your ebook to be readable on multiple devices, you'll probably need to publish it in multiple formats. You should plan out which e-readers to target before you start formatting: Your choice of devices will dictate which formats you can use, and from there you'll need to research the exact specifications of each device so that you can design for it.
The most popular ebook file formats--the ones that most devices can read--include plain text, Adobe PDF, ePub, and HTML. Most e-readers can display images as well, although some, such as Amazon's Kindle, have only monochrome screens. If you think people will read your ebook on a monochrome e-reader, make sure that the images look good in black and white.
(When you're done with designing, and you're ready to introduce your ebook to the world, read "How to Publish an Ebook, Step by Step.")
Design Your Ebook in Word
Within Word, you can save your file in .doc, .pdf, and .html formats; afterward, you can use other programs to convert the files into whatever other ebook formats you need.
To start your ebook, create a new Word document. If you plan to make multiple ebooks, design a basic layout and save it as a Word template so that you can use it for each new book. If you are making just one ebook, you can go ahead and place your text in it as you go.
Add the Title Page
Start with the title page, typing the book title, subtitle, and author name, along with any other details that should appear here. Select the title text and format it by clicking the Title style in the Styles gallery on the Home tab of the Ribbon toolbar. Select the subheading text and click the Subtitle style (if this doesn't appear in the Style gallery list, press Ctrl-Shift-S to display the Apply Styles dialog box, type Subtitle into the field, and click Apply.
Select and format all of the other text on the title page, too; for example, you can choose the style Emphasis for the author name and other information.
If a style does not format text the way you want it to look, you can change the style by right-clicking its name in the Style gallery and choosing Modify. Make your desired changes to the font, font size, and any other settings in the Modify Style dialog box, and click OK to apply them. All text formatted with that style will change automatically to match the new settings.
Configure the Table of Contents
As soon as you've finished the title page, you're ready to start a new page. Choose Page Layout, Breaks, Page to begin a new page. If this next page is to be a table of contents for the book, type a title such as Table of Contents and then choose References, Table of Contents, Insert Table of Contents. Set 'Show Levels' to 1 or 2 depending on how many heading levels should display, select a format from the Formats list, and click OK twice. You will see a message stating 'No table of contents entries found', which is to be expected since you haven't created any yet. Later, when your book does have content, you can update the table of contents by clicking that message and pressing F9.
Set Up the Ebook's Chapters
To continue, start a new page by choosing Page Layout, Breaks, Next Page. Now you're now ready to start with Chapter 1 of the book. Type the first chapter heading, and format it using the Heading 1 style. Add second-level headings if you desire, and format them as Heading 2 style. It's important to use Heading 1 style for chapter headings and Heading 2 style for subheadings, because Word automatically configures them to be the first- and second-level headings in the table of contents.
Add some placeholder text for the chapter content, such as Text goes here, and format it using the Normal style.
Add Page Headers and Footers
To make your pages look more professional, add a header displaying the book title, plus a footer with page numbering. To do this, click the Insert tab on the Ribbon toolbar and click Header. From the list choose Edit Header to create your header. Click Header & Footer Tools, Link to Previous (if it isn't grayed out already) to break the link, so that the headers in each section can be different. Now type the book title into the header--or enter some placeholder text indicating what should go there--and format it using a style.
Still on the first chapter page, choose Insert, Footer, Edit Footer, and again choose Header & Footer Tools, Link to Previous (if necessary) to break the link between this section's footer and the footer in the preceding section. Click in the footer area. On the Ribbon toolbar, click Page Number, Bottom of Page, and then select a page number style (such as Page Number 2).
Now, choose Page Number, Format Page Number, and click Start at. Set its value to 1 and click OK. This gives you a footer with the page number in it, starting with the first chapter as page 1. Click Close Header and Footer to return to the document.
Set Up the Next Chapter
To set up the next chapter, choose Page Layout, Breaks, Page and again add the chapter title (or placeholder title text), subheadings, and placeholder text for this chapter. Format these items using the same styles as you used for Chapter 1. Alternatively, you can copy and paste the placeholders from Chapter 1 and update them. Continue in the same way to add more chapters as necessary.
To test the table of contents, return to it, click inside it, and press F9 to update it.
Save the Design as a Reusable Template
To save this design as a reusable template, choose File, Save As, and in the 'Save as type' drop-down list, select Word Template (*.dotx). Click the Templates entry below the 'Microsoft Word' name in the top-left corner of the Save As dialog box so that the file will be saved into the Templates folder. Type a name for the template, and click Save. You can now close the document, as you no longer need it.
To create a new ebook based on this template, choose File, New, My Templates, and then select the ebook template you just created from the Personal Templates list. Click OK, and you'll have a brand-new ebook document with all the prompts and layout in place.
If you are creating only one ebook, and if you don't want to create an ebook template from your file, go ahead and save the file as you would any regular Word file.
Save in Other Formats
Once you have completed your ebook and it's ready for formatting into a special ebook format, you can save it in the required basic format within Word. If you need a file in the .rtf or .html format, choose File, Save As and select either Rich Text Format (*.rtf) or Web Page (*.htm;*.html) from the Save As list. Type a name for your file, and click Save.
If you need a .pdf file, choose File, Save & Send, Create PDF/XPS document, and click the Create PDF/XPS button. Type a name for the ebook, and then select the desired optimizing option and click Publish.
Test as You Go
Creating your ebook as a Word document gives you multiple options for publishing the ebook as a .pdf or converting it using an online or downloadable converter. As with any process that is likely to be somewhat complicated--particularly the first time you do it--you should create a chapter or two of your ebook and test the template design with your preferred publication method to make sure that everything works as expected, before you invest a lot of time and effort in formatting the entire document.
Although no "one size fits all" tool for ebook publishing exists, Word is a customizable and flexible layout tool. Its .doc file format is so widely used that you'll likely find a way to get from there to any ebook format relatively simply.