Formatting Checklist for Self-publishing on Amazon KDP and Smashwords


There’s lots of information out there on self-publishing from a number of angles. The publishing process, the design, the marketing… How do you know what format is required for each publisher?

I’ve admittedly not spent vast amounts of time looking, but haven’t found a definitive source on how to get all the correct formats for your self-published books – this post is an attempt to do that.

First, some background. I wanted to self-publish a non-fiction Cyber Security book. Some preliminary research suggested I should look at two online stores: Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Print) and Smashwords.

Print, eBooks, Quill…

Surely things were easier when we had paper and pen?

KDP means your book will be published on Amazon, which accounts for the vast majority of eBook sales. You can either:

  • Publish a Kindle eBook on Amazon – this can be downloaded directly to a Kindle reader
  • Publish a physical book on Amazon – this will be printed by Amazon and posted to the customer
  • Publish both – Amazon will link the books to their store and a customer can decide what format they’d like to buy

Smashwords is another online bookstore, they will:

  • Publish your book on their Smashwords store – this can be downloaded in a variety of eBook formats, such as:
    • Kindle – this may seem a little confusing, but Smashwords will make the book available in a Kindle format so a reader can download it and (manually) send it to their Kindle
    • ePub – a common eBook format
    • PDF – a common computer reader format
    • Others, such as text or HTML, e.g. directly on a web page (these don’t tend to look too good)
  • Distribute your book (subject to it being in the right format) to:
    • Apple iBooks
    • Kobo
    • Barnes and Noble
    • Many, many more…

It seems like perfect sense to have both KDP and Smashwords publish your book. There is a gotcha however…

It seems like perfect sense to have both KDP and Smashwords publish your book. There is a gotcha however… Amazon has something called KDP Select – this allows you to run promotions on your book in the Amazon store, but your book must be exclusively available to Amazon, e.g. you can’t send it to Smashwords too. There is lots of information on the Internet about this, so I’ll move on.

In short, I used both Amazon KDP (non-Select) both eBook and Print, and Smashwords (so three in total), and I wanted to publish it for FREE.

Now for the formatting and pricing challenges. By formatting, I mean what type of files should be used to send to both KDP and Smashwords. Everyone’s generally heard of DOCX or PDF, but in the self-publishing world, it’s not that straightforward. Let’s begin:

At a minimum, you will need a manuscript, e.g. the content, and a cover (Amazon will let you pick from some stock images, but using your own looks more professional).

Be careful when selecting your colour space. RGB vs CMYK can make all the difference.

Amazon KDP eBook

The manuscript:

You can use .DOCX, .PDF, ,MOBI (Amazon Kindle format), inc. many more. A list is available here: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200634390

You can also download Kindle Create, which will help you perform all the formatting: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/GHU4YEWXQGNLU94T

The cover:

This MUST be in either JPG or TIFF format and is a single page (this is different from KDP Print which needs a front and back cover). Information on the dimensions on the front cover can be found here: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200645690

I am advised by the excellent people at Windswept Marketing and Design (https://www.windswept.co.nz/) that digital formats are best saved in the RGB colour space – if in doubt, speak to your designer.

The price:

All books on Amazon KDP must be a minimum of £0.99p (other countries vary). If you want to publish your eBook for free, follow this handy blog here.

Amazon KDP Print

The manuscript:

This must be in PDF format. There are also specific formatting rules to follow: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G202145400

The cover:

This must be in PDF and must be front and back pages, if you can imagine how a normal print book would be.

There are specific guidelines to follow for sizing, and also if you want text on the spine of your book. If you want this, your book needs to be 100 pages long so the spine if big enough to fit text on. More information here: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G201834210

The price:

Amazon will print the book for you and will give you options of how you want the print, e.g. matte or glossy cover, page size and colour, etc. All this affects the pricing of the print, then you decide how much you want to earn on top of that. Again, I can’t do this for free as there are minimum print costs, so I make the price as close to the minimum as possible.


The manuscript:

The file must be .DOCX.

Smashwords has a very specific set of formatting rules – far too complex to go into here. More information can be found at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52

The cover:

A single page cover in a JPG or PNG format. It should be in RGB format. More information here: http://blog.smashwords.com/2012/06/new-ebook-cover-image-requirements.html

The price:

Smashwords allows you to publish for free or at a cost you decide.


When you publish, Smashwords will enter your book into their Premium Catalogue which means it will be sent to iBooks, Kobo, etc – you need to ensure all the formatting is spot on, or it will be rejected.

In summary, if you want to print to all KDP, KDP Print and Smashwords you will need:

  1. A manuscript in DOCX and PDF formats
  2. A single cover in JPG format (RGB colour space)
  3. A front and back cover in PDF (CMYK colour space)

It’s also worth thinking about the following in advance too:

  • Author Name
  • Book title
  • Book subtitle (optional)
  • Book series, e.g. if the book is part of a trilogy or non-fiction series, you might want to highlight it.
  • Book short summary
  • Book long summary
  • Book keywords, e.g. words that will help people search for your book (think of around eight), e.g. sci-fi, futuristic, etc
  • Book category – this is generally a chain of categories, e.g. non-fiction, computers, computer security
  • Book pricing

Here’s a summary table:

  KDP eBook KDP Print Smashwords
Manuscript DOCX, PDF, MOBI, etc PDF DOCX
Cover Pages Front Only Front and Back Front Only
Cover format JPG or TIFF PDF JPG or PNG
Cover Colour space RGB CMYK RGB
Pricing Free if price matched Printing costs plus author royalties Possible to sell for free

There’s plenty more to this subject, and I’ll keep the blog updated as I learn more myself.


  1. Mark

    I’m reading this on iPhone using safari private mode and noticed a lot of formatting inconsistencies… smashing play there Mr Perry ! Love it.

    • Andrew Perry

      Hopefully all fixed now. Thanks for pointing them out…!


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