Blogging for Passive Income Idea – Formatting Digital Books

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Learn to Format Digital Books for Smashwords

Smashwords publishing partners.

Overview and How to Get Started as a Freelance Digital Ebook Formatter

The market for digital ebooks has exploded over the last five years. That means support services for authors to help them format and bring their books to publication, have also exploded. Like graphic designers, there is a great need for people that are skilled enough to change a book manuscript into a form that converts well for the various ebook readers like Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Sony eReaders, Kobo, etc.

Let’s say an author creates a book in Microsoft’s Word application. There is formatting in the Word document that does not work well when converted to .mobi format, which is the file the Amazon Kindle Readers use to display the book. Ereaders have very limited functionality at the moment, and that isn’t changing very quickly. There is a need for someone to manually go through each ebook and format it with new guidelines so the conversion to .mobi, .epub, goes smoothly. I mean really smoothly, as in perfectly. This will be necessary for years until someone works out the perfect conversion application. I’m not betting on that happening for a few years at least.

Smashwords is a company that provides a really great service. They don’t do it for free, but they take a commission off each book sold. They convert digital books into many different formats so they can be read on the most popular ereaders. There are some pretty strict guidelines for perfect conversions, so much so that the owner of the company, Mark Coker, published a free ebook that teaches you exactly how to format Word Docs so they convert well.

In addition to this, Smashwords does a couple more things:

1. They sell authors’ books on their website. They have a decent amount of traffic there, and I’ve sold a few books there – maybe around 100.

2. They give authors an ISBN number – paid or free – the author’s choice.

3. They distribute ebooks to Apple, Sony, Barnes & Noble, and other sales channels (see the graphic above) after they convert the book.

To get started you should learn how to format ebooks for authors, so they convert perfectly in Smashwords’ “Meatgrinder” application on the first try. Review Mark Coker’s ebook in the resources section here (PDF).


1. Though it seems like a bewildering process at the moment, it will only take you 1-3 days to figure this out.

2. You can charge authors immediately, and likely finish one 80,000 word book in a day – complete with conversion to the various formats ereaders require.

3. Cash business you can do from anywhere with an internet connection.

4. No real technical knowledge required. Know how to use MS Word and some computer basics.

5. Combine this with Idea #51 Editing and Proofreading, and offer package deals.


1. Tedious work. Formatting books is detailed work that will take a high level of concentration.

2. Errors in your work will be noticed by authors, and talked about. Word will spread quickly if you don’t know what you’re doing. However, if you do know what you’re doing, you’ll be able to build your business quickly and have a lot of work from customer word-of-mouth.

RESOURCES – join first. Create a simple ebook in Microsoft Word format and upload it as a new title. Get familiar with the process.

Smashwords free formatting guide – Click here.


This is something that could be combined with graphics design for authors, or done separately. I like this idea a lot. When I first had to figure out the process for cleaning up my Word Docs before converting them at Smashwords, I had numerous occasions where I almost threw in the towel and said, “Forget this!” But, I persevered and in the end, I’m glad I did.

It’s rather difficult if the author has already gone through and edited the book alone, without the help of an editor, to also go through and format the book according to a very strict, bare-bones style so it can convert to the ebook formats. I did this. It was not fun, but I stuck it out because I didn’t want to pay someone. Most authors probably do not want to deal with the frustration of converting their own books – and will pay you $50 or maybe $100 for it. Maybe more. If you can also edit books you might offer a package including editing a book and formatting it for Smashwords and Amazon Kindle for just the price of editing the book ($1,000 – 2,000).

What Are Some First Steps Toward Setting Up Your Business Blog?

1. Go to SmashWords, Amazon’s KDP site, Barnes & Noble’s and every other digital publishing website and read up on what it takes to change regular Word formatting to something that works for them.

2. Grab a BlueHost blog hosting account here. With it you get a free domain and a very easy WordPress setup (see instructions here.)

3. Offer for Free, or for very low cost, to do the conversions for books authors have just finished. After you do one or two, you’ll have an idea what is involved. After you do ten or twenty, you’ll have a good idea how long each conversion may take and how much to charge based on the condition the manuscript is in when the author gives it to you.

4. You should market your services where ebook authors are likely to be hanging out online. Any authors really, because nearly everyone is considering digital publishing now. Places like author blogs,, Twitter, and Facebook are great places to start with. Sign up to Mark’s List – a list of people offering conversion services for Smashwords ebooks.


This is something almost any of you reading could get started in today if you had the interest. There are so many new authors that struggle with the conversion process necessary to convert their books perfectly to the required formats for these various online book stores. I think once you got the process down you could do a handful of books each day. Say a price-point of around $50 per book, that could be decent full-time money, or, great extra money to supplement other things you’re doing online.