Formatting a Document for Conversion [in OpenOffice]

I’m going to assume you are here because you have used OpenOffice to write your manuscript, only to hit a wall when you discovered that all the tutorials on formatting a document properly just assumed you had Microsoft Word.

It’s okay–it’s going to be okay! I will show you exactly what I did to format my book, entirely in OpenOffice, step by step.

First, assemble your programs! You’ll need the following installed on your computer:

[That was easy, right?]

If you want to set up your document before you start writing, you can skip to Step 3! For those of you who were more concerned with getting your mind excretions out in the open, without knowing what the hell you were doing, you should start at Step 1. [Like me. I totally started at step 1.]

Ready? Let’s begin!

Step 1- Save a Copy of Your Manuscript

You absolutely, 100% want a backup. If you screw something up, you don’t want to lose all your work. No one wants to see hours of blood, sweat, and brain stuff thrown away. Back it up! Save it as “your_manuscript_title_formatted.odt” or something like that.

Step 2- Open the Renamed Copy in OpenOffice Writer

Look at that thing. Probably using tabs everywhere. I see you, and your tabbing ways. Click on the icon that looks like this. [it’s most likely on the upper right of your toolbar somewhere]

This is called a Pilcrow, and it is your friend. It will show you what a mess your document is. In fact, your document will now look like this:

Click to enlarge

See these? → These are where you hit the tab key. See those symbols? Those are soft returns. They appear when you hit shift+enter, or when the program inserts them to indicate a line wrap.

“But Mel,” you shout, “You’re supposed to indent the first line, and all dialog! Also, I don’t know how those weird bent arrows got there! Aliens!”

Tabs and Alien Arrows are not the way!  Soft Returns and Tabs are the enemy. We hate them. We want them gone. Now, we could spend hours painstakingly removing them from our document, or we could make the system do it for us! We’ll come back to that in a minute, because first…

Step 3- Creating and Assigning Styles

  • In your open document, go to Edit on your menu bar and then to Select All. [or hold down ctrl and press A]
  • Go to Format, then Character. Select your font [Times New Roman, Arial, Verdana, Garamond, and Calibri are great standards] and set it to 12pt size, and regular. Press Ok to apply, then close that window.
  • Now go to Format, then to Styles and Formatting. [or press F11]
  • Click the button that looks like a piece of paper with a green +

  • Select Create New Style From Selection, and name it “Ebook body”. This is the style you will use for the bulk of your book. [The body, if you will.]
  • Then go to your menu bar again, and back to Format, then select Paragraph.
  • Set the following parameters:


Before Text- 0.00

After Text- 0.00

First line- 0.30

Automatic- check this box


Above Paragraph- 0.00

Below Paragraph- 0.00

Line Spacing- Single


Options- Left

Text Flow

Hyphenation- Set to Automatically, and set 2 characters for both line end and line begin

Options- Both Orphan Control and Widow Control should be selected and set to 2.

  • Press Ok, then close this window. Things should jump around and look more like this:
Click to enlarge
  • Go back to Formatting and select “Ebook Body”. Click the green plus again and select update style. Congratulations! You now have created a style. Styles make your e-book not look bad! But we’re not done yet!

Step 4- Removing Manual Formatting

As you can see, we’re back, to this, and we still have those pesky tabs and soft returns, even though they just kind of edged over to the left a bit. I did this in a certain order to save you the time. You’re welcome. Now, onto the automation!

  • Go back to your menu bar, and go to Edit, then Find and Replace [or Ctrl+F]
  • On the box that pops up, go to the bottom and press the More Options button. Check the box labeled Regular Expressions.
  • In the Search for field, type “\t” [Yes, that is a backslash. If it doesn’t work, you’re using a forward slash. Drop the quotation marks.]
  • Leave the Replace with field blank, and hit Replace All. You should get a message that the search key was replaced eleventy billion times. Click ok, and close the Find and Replace window.
  • Repeat these steps, except replace “\t” with “\n”, and in the Replace with field, also type “\n”. Then press the Replace All button. After it tells you it removed a bunch of these things, close that window.
  • Read through your work. If you do not see → or , then congrats, you did it! You defeated the tabs and alien arrows, and it should look like this:
Step 4
Click to enlarge

Step 5- Go back to Step 3?!

Yes. Because you need to format your Chapter headers, silly! Your body looks great, but you need more styles!

  • Select one of the titles to one of your chapters, then repeat all of step 3, except set it so that there is no first line indent, and set the font to be 14pt, bold. You can set the alignment to be left, or you can center it. Completely up to you.
  • Your chapter title should stand out now! Save this new style and name it “Ebook chapter header”.
  • Go through and change all your headers to this style by highlighting them and double clicking on the name of it in the Styles and Formatting window.

Finally, save your work! You now have a wonderfully formatted manuscript, done in OpenOffice.

Click to enlarge

You can now add your front matter, back matter, [remember to set styles for those pages! Front matter is typically centered except for the Table of Contents–those are typically left aligned] save it, and plunk it in your favorite epub conversion tool.

Pat yourself on the back. You did it!

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