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Top Formatting Hacks Scrivener: Our Most-Used Tricks

Scrivener Formatting Hacks

Scrivener is a wonderful program many writers use to set up and manage their books, screenplays, and research projects. Nearly every aspect of the program can be customizable, from the drafting settings to the export format. But with so many options, many authors find themselves overwhelmed. To that end, we’re posting a blog series on our favorite features. While we could post fifteen blogs on the formatting features, today, we’ll just cover our top formatting hacks in Scrivener.

Note: The screenshots are for Scrivener 2.0. for Mac. We hear from our friends at Literature and Latte that version 3.0 is coming soon, and when we get access to it, we’ll update this post.

Hack #1: Scene Labels and Images

Scrivener formatting hacks: adjust compile group to show different documentsFor our Madion War Trilogy series, we had the challenge of multiple POVs. We wanted to label each POV with the character’s name and a unique icon. To accomplish this, we added a Custom Metadata field to our project and called it POV. Then, in the Compile settings, we added the following to the Section Layout under Prefix:


In the Compile setting, you’ll see that the POV is listed there under Level 2+ (we’ll go into levels a bit later).

Scrivener Formatting Hacks

When we compile the draft, we get the POV name along with the image.

Hack #2: Preserve Formatting

Sometimes within the text, we want to preserve formatting. That is, the rest of the book is Garamond 12, single-spaced, left aligned, and maybe this one section is a letter, and we want it centered and Times New Roman 13. In this case, we have two options: We can create a separate scene and select “Compile As-Is,” or, the better option, we can highlight the text and use the “Preserve Formatting option.” You can find it under the Format menu, under the Formatting sub-menu.

Scrivener Formatting Hacks: Preserve Formatting

Here you can also find the Copy and Paste Formatting options, which allow you to take the formatting settings from one scene to another. Generally, though, you shouldn’t do too much in-line formatting in your final manuscript. And make sure if you’re using Preserve Formatting that you’ve got your formatting exactly as you want it.

Hack #3: Compile a Section

If you’ve taken our advice and kept all the books in a series in one Scrivener file, then you’ll need to know how to Compile just a section. Luckily, this is pretty easy:

Scrivener Drafting Tips: Compile Settings

In the Contents section of Compile, use the drop-down menu to select the grouping you’d like to export. Under Compile Group Options, you can select to either include the container (generally you don’t want to do this), and treat selected group as entire draft (generally you do want this).

You can also use a Filter based on a particular label. So, for example, if you were compiling a preview of an ebook, you could tag specific chapters with “Preview” and compile only those.

Hack #4: Compile Levels

Scrivener formatting hack: Scrivener 3.0 uses formatting categories instead of levelsA lot of folks are confused by the idea of Compile Levels. We’re happy to announce that in Scrivener 3.0, they’ve changed Compile Levels to a much more user-friendly version. As it stands now in 2.0, your Compile levels work like this:

  • Part (Folder) -> Level 1
    • Chapter (Folder) -> Level 2
      • Scene -> Level 3
        • Subscene -> Level 4

Each level can have its own formatting. So your Part would be different from your Chapter, and so on. In Scrivener 3.0, they’ve gone back to the drawing board. Instead of assigning formatting by level, you can now assign formatting by type. So if you’d like your Part and Chapter to share formatting, you can. And if you have a certain set of scenes with particular formatting (like a dream sequence, for example), you can set individual scenes.

As formatters, we’re looking forward to this new feature!

Hack #5: Getting a Clean Manuscript

Our last hack has to do with getting so-called “clean” manuscripts from Scrivener to editable formats like Word. If you’ve drafted your book in Scrivener, then you’re probably already mostly there. In the Compile Format feature, you can add additional so-called “presets,” or settings that you can re-use. This is especially helpful when you’ve got several books in a single manuscript, or if you need to export to hardcover, paperback, Kindle, and more. For exporting a “clean” manuscript, create a project preset using the formatting standards your editor requires. Usually, that’s 12pt, double-spaced letter-sized pages.

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Author Central – The Best Tool You Aren’t Using

Author Central - The best tool you aren't using

Author Central is an Amazon service provided to authors that serves two main functions. First, you can create a single “landing page” within the Amazon store with your biography, photos, and, most importantly, a listing of all your published works. Author Central also is a location to provide even more metadata about your book, including editorial reviews and more.

If youve got a central llisting of your products on Author Central, readers may buy another bookWhy is it important to have a single landing page for all your books? When a reader completes a book, they may click on your name on their Kindle or iPad. If you’ve got a central listing of your products, the chances are good they may buy something else. Most importantly, it provides an additional level of professionalism to your profile.

Getting Started

To get an Author Central account, visit and create an account. It may take up to a week to get approved (not surprising for anyone who regularly works with Amazon). You can still add photos and a bio while you’re waiting.

You do not have to use your exact biography in your Amazon author bio. Some recommend adding additional content, like more information about your books to bump up your search engine optimization within Amazon. Keep in mind that your book covers will draw more attention than a block of text, so don’t go overboard here.

Creating Your Book Metadata

Boost preorder potential by adding editorial reviews in Author CentralOnce you have your account, you’ll need to manually add your books. You will have to do this with every subsequent book you publish. You can either use your pen name, book title, or ISBN to search. If different formats of your book are connected on Amazon, they will show up as one record in Author Central.

Once your books are claimed, you can begin adding additional metadata. This is especially important if you’ve got a preorder. Amazon does not allow early reviews of most indie-pubbed novels, but you can add editorial reviews to your book metadata early.

Keep in mind that you will have to add reviews to all versions of your books. While the paperback and hardcover formats allow you to add a separate review per line, the eBook format has one space, as depicted in the screen shots below.


Screen shot of author central
Hardcover format has individual adds for reviews


Screen shot of Author central
Kindle edition has a single block for all text edits


There are other sections that you may utilize to add additional information about your book, from Product Description to From the Back Cover to About the Author. Add more information here at your discretion.

Go International

Many authors have their Author Central page established in the US, but many haven’t taken the extra step to claim their profiles in other countries. Even if the majority of your sales come from the US, it’s still a good idea to give international customers an easy access to all your content. Below is an easy list of links to each of the Author Central options Amazon offers:

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Amazon’s Tricky Algorithm

Amazon's tricky algorithm - how does Amazon rank books and other items in its store

Everyone always talks about The Algorithm, specifically, the one that Amazon uses. So what is it exactly?

In laymen’s terms, it’s a set of rules that Amazon applies to products in its store to determine where that product lands in search results. So if I were to search for “Space Pirates,” Amazon would seek out all items in the store with that term associated with it, and then apply a set of other rules (number of reviews, recent activity, number of times that term exists in the product description) to set the search results order.

Indie Authors need to understand the algorithm if they want their books to be discovered. Indie authors need to understand the algorithm if they want their books to be discoverable amongst all the other books out there. There are some things that we can change about it, such as maximizing the product description by adding your key words. There are also things out of our control.

What Can I Not Control?

The number one way to get your book higher on the algorithm search results is to sell a lot of books. We recognize this is a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario, so we stuck it under things you can’t control.

Next, get a bunch of reviews. Again, there are ways you can fight this battle. At the end of the day, it’s up to your reviewers to post their comments.

The other thing, and this one is debatable on control, is to add your book to KDP Select. There are many authors who swear by KDP-S and say that having their book in Kindle Unlimited brings them plenty of reads and income. There are others, present company included, who have seen little to no page reads on several different kinds of books. This is one of those questions that each author will have to answer for themselves and their books.

What Can I Control?

You can't expect to have a best-selling book that's riddled with typos and has a cover made in MS Paint.The number one way to maximize your Amazon ranking is to have a well-written, professionally-presented book (hey, we didn’t say it was going to be easy). Reach outside your circle of friends to get feedback. Hire a cover designer that helps your book stand out. Utilize editing services (which, obtw, we offer). You can’t expect to have a best-selling book that’s riddled with typos and has a cover made in MS Paint.

The second thing is to check out Amazon’s handy keyword guide. Ever wonder how someone’s book falls into the obscure categories? Authors can add granularity beyond the BISAC codes which are standard for all books and align it to Amazon’s unique product categories. You get seven keywords per book.

You can also add those same keywords to your product descriptions, but be careful. Amazon does not rank keyword density (that is, the number of times a keyword appears) like Google. If a keyword is added too many times, it can lower your search ranking. As well, if you add the keyword to your book title (“Double Life (Space Pirates Space Opera Bounty Hunter), Razia #1”), it can come across hokey and desperate. Readers may find your book, but they won’t buy it.

In Summary

The most important thing you can do is to utilize tools outside of Amazon to bring in sales. Relying solely on the algorithm to sell your books means you’re at the whim of the tweaks and adjustments that they make. Data Guy, from Author Earnings Report, said in October 2016:

Amazon tweaks and optimizes their retail website, merchandising algorithms, and nightly recommendation emails on a continuous basis. Perhaps they’ve recently adjusted one or more of those in a direction that gives higher visibility to paid-for publisher featuring of traditionally-published ebooks?

Such changes to retailer merchandising prioritization of books would not be unprecedented (*2). And they would be largely invisible; at Author Earnings, we would only be able to observe their downstream effect on sales and market share. For example, if Amazon’s nightly email recommendations to ebook consumers had recently been tweaked to given more emphasis to paid-for publisher featured books, that could very well drive this type of shift. But we have no real way of knowing.

Momma always said not to put all your eggs in one basket. When it comes to eBook marketing, that still rings true.

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All About KDP

All about KDP: Using keywords and metadata to boost visibility

If you’re going to self-publish, familiarizing yourself with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is probably pretty high on your priority list (right behind getting the manuscript written and edited). When you first arrive, Amazon tells you that your book will be in front of millions of people. The truth is, it will be, but along with the millions of other books Amazon has in its catalogue. So how do you get yours to stand out?

That’s a loaded question!

Let’s talk a little bit about what KDP does for you, what they don’t, and how you can maximize your book’s visibility.

What KDP Does For You

Publishing your book on Kindle Direct Publishing will make it available for sale within 12-24 hours. In a few select cases, such as when the print version is available before the Kindle version, that timeline might take a bit longer.

KDP will also display your author name (you have the option to make changes to this page via Author Central, which we’ll talk about in an follow-on post), the description of the book, the information such as ASIN (Amazon’s unique identifier, different from an ISBN) and more. Amazon will also allow users to add reviews of your book–whether or not they’ve read it.

What KDP Does Not Do For You

Amazon will not edit nor format your book (although you can hire them as part of a separate service). Amazon will not promote your book, unless you meet a specific set of criteria within their search algorithms (the automated process that determine what meets your search and what doesn’t). You’re also on your own for cover design, pricing, description, keywords, etc. Basically, KDP is a platform, not a service.

How To Maximize Your Visibility

Relying solely on Amazon to promote your book is not recommended. Although Amazon owns 80% of the eBook Market, owning so much of a market means small changes have big impacts to large sections of the market. A simple tweak to their search calculations could move thousands of books from the front pages of search results. As with most things in life, it’s better to have a varied approach to your advertising to absorb the shock from changes in the marketplace.

Within Amazon, the number one way to maximize your visibility is to utilize the keyword field. This field is how your books are categorized outside of the BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications, the official, standard genre descriptions) and into Amazon’s unique lists, such as Coming of Age or Norse Mythology. Use keywords in your book description as well, especially if the genre is saturated.

Should you enroll in KDP Select?

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