Quick Reference Guide


Frank Sergeant



copyright © 2013,2014 Frank Sergeant

all rights reserved


formatted by Nepo Press (http://nepotism.net)


The printed and PDF versions of this book are set in the Libertine font (http://linuxlibertine.org/) licensed under the Open Font License (http://scripts.sil.org/OFL).

Table of Contents


The purpose of tags (and other marks) in your manuscript is to tell the formatting program how you want your finished eBook or printed book to look.

You can format your novel with very few tags. Start by reading Getting Started available as HTML or PDF:

It has links to some manuscript templates that you can use or adapt for your own books. That’s all you need to begin with.

Once you are creating Mobi and/or EPUB eBooks from your manuscript, skim through this Quick Reference Guide for a list of additional tags you can use, along with examples.

Two Kinds of Tags

There are two kinds of tags:

A tag is usually thought of as a word in sharp angle brackets such as <contents>, but we will lump in other marks such as asterisks and hyphens and cover them all in this guide.

You can format a novel with very few tags. So, start simply to begin making an eBook from your manuscript, then add tags as needed to improve or customize the appearance.

For more information, see the examples at http://nepotism.net/formatting and the other getting started and quick reference guides at http://nepotism.net/formatting/documentation.html.

Left-margin Tags

As the name suggests, a left-margin tag must start at the left margin in your manuscript. It goes on a line by itself. It must have one or more blank lines before and after it.

Chapter Titles and
Other Headings

Put an asterisk at the start of the line (at the left margin). Follow it with a space and then the title of the chapter.


* My Summer Vacation


* Chapter One


* Chapter Two


Additional notes

For the purpose of formatting, all sorts of front matter and back matter are considered to be chapters, such as title page, acknowledgments, dedication, and author page.


* Stormy Night

Frank Sergeant

* Copyright Page

Copyright 2013 Frank Sergeant

* Dedication

This book is dedicated
to my sweetie.

* Acknowledgments

I would like to thank everybody
in the world.

* Prologue

blah, blah, blah

* Chapter One

blah, blah, blah

* Chapter Two

blah, blah, blah

* About the Author

blah, blah, blah

The End


Chapters and lower-level headings

Use a single asterisk to start a chapter. The chapter will begin on a new page and will be listed in the table of contents (if you choose to have a table of contents). A single asterisk is called a level-one heading.

You may also use two asterisks to start a chapter (a sub-chapter). This too will begin on a new page and will be listed in the table of contents. This is called a level-two heading.

Similarly, you can use 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 asterisks to indicate additional, less important headings. These headings do not cause a page break like the level one and two headings do, nor do they appear in the table of contents.

Be sure to start the asterisks at the left margin (in column one). Be sure to leave one or more spaces between the asterisks and the heading title.

If you don’t want a hierarchy of chapters (chapters containing subchapters), just use level-one headings for all the chapters and don’t use any level-two headings.

Good Examples:

* Part 1

** Chapter One

** Chapter Two

*** A Level Three Heading

* About the Author

The End


Bad Examples:

*Part 1 (missing space)

  ** Chapter One (not in column 1)


In the previous examples, all the headings had a single item, such as

* Chapter One


The single item in the above heading is “Chapter One”. It can also be written within straight quotes like this:

* "Chapter One"


Blank headings (headings with no items)

You can also use a heading with no items at all (a completely blank heading) like this



If it is a level-one heading, as shown above, it starts a new page but will not be listed in the table of contents. This form is handy for the copyright page.

You can have other blank headings, such as level-three or level-four headings. These serve to provide a little vertical spacing. They also turn off drop caps if used before the first paragraph of a chapter. So, here is a common way of starting a copyright page. It will start on a new page but won’t be listed in the table of contents. (The <copy> tag will be discussed later.)



copyright <copy> 2013 Frank Sergeant

all rights reserved


Headings with multiple items

A level-one or level-two heading with one item will show the item in both the body of the book and in the table of contents. If you add a second item, the second item will be used for the table of contents. If you add a second item that is empty, then no entry will appear in the table of contents. If you use more than one item, each item must be enclosed within straight quotes.

* "Big Sky Skiing"  "Skiing"


The above displays “Big Sky Skiing” in the body (as the title of the chapter) but lists that chapter in the table of contents as merely “Skiing”.

If, for some reason, you don’t want the chapter to be listed in the table of contents, give it an empty second item, like this:

* "Stormy Night"  ""


The above form is handy for the title page.

You can add a third item, but it is ignored when making Mobi and EPUB files. It applies only to PDFs and is discussed in How to Create a Camera-ready PDF (http://nepotism.net/formatting/pdfmanual.html).

Table of Contents

The table of contents will be created for you automatically if you use a <contents> tag. Just put it where you want the table of contents to appear. Start it at the left margin; leave a blank line above and below it. A common place to put it is right after the copyright page. Here is a simplified example.

* Stormy Night

* Copyright Page

copyright (c) 2013 Frank Sergeant

all rights reserved


* Introduction

blah, blah, blah

* Chapter One



Where Should Your Book Start?

You can mark where you want your book to open for the first time (or when the reader selects “go to beginning” from a menu) by using the <start> tag. (Not all eReaders respect this tag.)

To indicate you want the book to open at the Introduction, put a <start> just prior to it:

* Stormy Night

* Copyright Page



* Introduction


Scene Breaks

A scene break gives the reader a hint that the location, or time, or viewpoint character has changed by providing a little extra vertical spacing. It also resets the indentation so that the first line of the next paragraph will not be indented. (In fiction, ordinarily, first paragraphs have no indentation, but following paragraphs do.)

You can use the <scene> tag by itself like this:

end of previous scene


beginning of next


or you can follow it with a character such as an asterisk or tilde. The character will be centered automatically.

end of previous scene

<scene> *

beginning of next



The pound sign (#) at the start of a line marks a comment. The entire line will be ignored and will not appear in the eBook.

This is handy to make permanent notes to yourself right in the manuscript, such as when you started working on it or when you published it, or to make temporary notes. (You don’t have to put blank lines before and after comments.)

# this is a comment

# started on book April 1, 2013
# first published April 2, 2013
# fixed some typos and
#  republished April 4, 2013
* Chapter One

# I haven't decided whether to
# make the protagonist a giant
# or a dwarf.


Left, Right, and Center Alignment

You can use the <align> tag followed by left, right, center, or default, to control how the paragraphs and headings will be justified.

If you do not use any <align> tags, the eReader’s default justification will be used (typically full justification, so lines are aligned at both the left and right margins).

For example, to center the copyright notice, you could put <align> center before the notice and then put <align> default after it, like this:


<align> center

copyright <copy> 2013 Frank Sergeant

all rights reserved

<align> default


Perhaps you want a particular level-four heading to be right justified (lined up with the right margin instead of the left margin):

* Chapter Twelve

<align> right

**** How to Eat Oatmeal

<align> default

First, get a spoon, then ...



You can draw a box (a frame) around a group of one or more paragraphs by using the <box> and </box> tags like this:


This is a paragraph.

This also is a paragraph.



Cover Image

Most eBook sellers require a book cover image. Use the <cover> tag to specify what image file to use for the cover. This tag can go anywhere, but the best place is near the beginning of the manuscript.

Suppose you have a high resolution image named stormy-1500x2000.jpg and a lower resolution image named stormy-600x800.jpg. Use the <cover> tag to specify the lower resolution image like this.

<cover> stormy-600x800.jpg


You would ordinarily have two cover images. One is a higher resolution image, such as 1500x2000 (1500 pixels wide by 2000 pixels high) that you upload directly to the book seller (Amazon, B&N, Apple, etc.) and a lower resolution image (perhaps 600x800) that will appear inside the eBook. Why? It makes for a smaller Mobi or EPUB file.

Images and Figures

In addition to the cover image, you may have other images, figures, diagrams, and such in your book. For example, you might have an author photo in an About the Author chapter at the end of the book.

* About the Author

<image> frank.jpg

Frank doesn't really look
like that!


Automatic Drop Caps

By default, the first letter in a chapter will be set as a drop cap. This is not necessarily a true drop cap, just an extra large character. If the first character of the chapter is not a letter or digit, then no drop cap will be used. If you don’t want any drop caps, turn them off near the beginning of the manuscript with

<dropcaps> off


If you want them off for just certain chapters, you can turn them off before those chapters then turn them on again after those chapters.

<dropcaps> off

* Chapter X

This will not have a drop cap.

<dropcaps> on

* Chapter Y

This will have a drop cap.


You can exercise even more control using the <dc> tag or you might prefer to use small caps with the <sc> tag. These are described in the Drop Caps and Small Caps chapters in the Paragraph Tags section.

Meta Data

In addition to the text of the book, eBooks can contain meta data. This is information that does not appear directly in the body of the eBook but which is available as computer-readable data to the eReader device or app. The title and author are examples of meta data and are included in your eBook automatically (based upon the title and author you used when setting up your book account). This is what allows the eReader to put your book in the right place when it lists all the books alphabetically.

The publisher is another item of meta data that you can include if you wish. It is entirely optional. This book, for example sets the publisher as follows:

<publisher> Nepo Press


If your eBook has an ISBN, you can include it with the <isbn13> tag:

<isbn13> 978-3-16-148410-0


Quote Blocks

Quote blocks work much like boxes. Put a <quote> tag at the start followed by one or more paragraphs followed by a </quote> tag.

This uses wider margins (narrower paragraph bodies) and sets the paragraphs in italics.

Here is the letter he wrote to me:


Hey, there, Betty.

I'm breaking up with you.



See also quotation blocks in the next chapter.

Quotation Blocks

Quotation blocks are exactly like the quote blocks described in the previous chapter except they are set in normal font rather than italics.

Here is the next letter he wrote
to me:


Dearest Betty,

I miss you!



Small Quotes
(Aphorisms, Epigrams)

A penny saved is a penny earned —Franklin

The <smallquote> tag is useful for displaying a small quote or epigram, such as at the beginning of a chapter. It must be followed by one or two items. The items must be enclosed in straight quotes. The first item is the quotation itself. The second (optional) item is the attribution.

The epigram at the beginning this chapter appears like this in the manuscript:

  "A penny saved is a penny earned"


(A short quote like this would ordinarily be written entirely on a single line, but we show it here on 3 lines to make it easier to read on narrow eReaders. If you use multiple lines, they must all be in the same paragraph, and, of course, <smallquote> must begin at the left margin.)

Smart Quotes

When quotation marks (double quotes) are needed in your manuscript, you should use straight quotes. The formatting program automatically turns them into curly quotes.

If you are using a word processor, be sure to turn off its smart quotes. This chapter is talking about the formatting program’s smart quotes.

You can turn smart quotes off and on with the <smartquotes> tag. For example, if you have a section where the formatting program isn’t making them curl in the correct direction, you can turn off smart quotes and mark them manually (as described in the Curly Single and Double Quote Marks chapter in the Paragraph Tags section).

<smartquotes> off


<smartquotes> on



It is possible to put links in an eBook so that when the reader clicks on a link, the eReader jumps to another place in the book. The place that is jumped to is called a target.

You can mark a place in your manuscript to be a target using the <target> tag. The <target> tag always refers to the next heading following it. If there isn’t a heading where you want a target, you can add an empty heading. You must supply a label to the <target> tag.

The following example shows how to set Chapter Two as a target, with the label "ch2".

<target> "ch2"

* Chapter Two


Elsewhere in the manuscript, you can add one or more <link ...> tags that refer to that target.

The <target> tag is a left-margin tag. The <link ...> tag is a paragraph tag.

See the Links chapter for more information.

Style Sheets

The <style> tag lets you specify a custom style sheet.

A style sheet controls many aspects of the appearance of your eBook, as a Mobi, EPUB, or HTML file. It has no effect on the PDF.

If you want all your level 4 headings to be green and/or right-justified, you can do that by customizing the style sheet.

The default style sheet is named style.css and can be found in the list of files in your book account, once you have clicked on either the Mobi or the EPUB button. We may change this file from time to time as we refine the formatting.

If you would like to override the default style sheet, here is how to do it:

In other words, you cannot change the file named style.css but you can copy it to another name, customize it under the new name, upload your custom style sheet file, and indicate in your manuscript that your custom file should be used instead of the default.

If you name your custom style sheet custom.css, then put a <style> tag near the beginning of your manuscript like this:

<style> custom.css


Paragraph Tags

Unlike left-margin tags, paragraph tags can be used within a paragraph.

Italics and Bold

Use a pair of asterisks to italicize a word or phrase. The asterisks must butt up against the word or phrase with no white space immediately after the first asterisk and no white immediately before the ending asterisk.

I'm *really* serious.
Do you *love me*
or do you *really*
love me?


The above will look like this:

I’m really serious. Do you love me or do you really love me?

Novels rarely need any more than italics for emphasis. If you need it, though, you can use pairs of two asterisks to indicate bold. Note, not all eReaders render these the same. You might be better off sticking to italics. Here is the same example except with italics and bold:

Do you *love me*
or do you **really**
love me?


which would look like this (at least, it would look like this on the device you are looking at it on, which might vary from one eReader to another):

Do you love me or do you really love me?


As Groucho Marks might say, sometimes a hyphen is just a hyphen.

However, when hyphens get together in groups of two, three, or four, they produce en dashes (–), em dashes (—), and horizontal rules.

See pages 99--103.  The mark
between the numbers is an *en dash*.


"Nobody---well, almost
nobody---knows the trouble
I've seen."  The two long dashes
are *em dashes*.

The first two paragraphs are
separated by a horizontal rule.


The above markup would look like this:

See pages 99–103. The mark between the numbers is an en dash.

“Nobody—well, almost nobody—knows the trouble I’ve seen.” The two long dashes are em dashes.

The first two paragraphs are separated by a horizontal rule.

Generally speaking, you should not surround an en dash or an em dash with spaces.

Ellipsis Marks

Three periods (three dots) like this ... will be turned into an ellipsis mark like this …

Generally speaking, unlike an em dash, the ellipsis mark should be surrounded by spaces (but not between the ellipsis mark and punctuation).

"Where are you going ..." he started
to say, then thought better of it.

"I ... well, I meant to say I hope
you have a good time."


Why not just use three periods like ... or like this . . .? The main problem is that an eReader might split the line between the first and second or the second and third dots. Using the single-character ellipsis mark eliminates this possibility.

Curly Single and Double Quote Marks

Use straight double quotes (") in your manuscript. They will be turned into curly double quotes automatically if smart quotes are on (see the Smart Quotes chapter for how to turn smart quotes on and off).

For single quotes, use a back tick (`) for the opening quote and use an apostrophe ('), for the closing quote. The back tick is usually on the same key as the tilde (~).

Here is an example with nested single quotes within double quotes.

"I said to him, `Sammy, where have you been?'"


The formatting program will turn it into this:

“I said to him, ‘Sammy, where have you been?’ 

Smart quotes might need some help if the quote marks aren’t balanced in pairs. For example, if you leave off an opening double quote at the start of a chapter (so the first letter will be set as a drop cap), the closing quote mark will be the first quote mark in the chapter and thus will look to the formatting program like an opening quote mark. For example, this would look funny because what should be the closing quote mark will curl in the wrong direction.

Hello, Betty.  You're looking
more rested today!"


You can fix that sort of problem by using the <ldquo> tag or the <rdquo> tag. “ldquo” stands for left double quote, i.e., an opening quote mark. “rdquo” stands for right double quote, i.e., a closing quote mark.

Hello, Betty.  You're looking
more rested today!<rdquo>


Paragraphs of continued dialog, where the closing quote mark is omitted at the end of a paragraph, do not cause a problem because the matching begins again with each paragraph.

What about single quotes? You never run into this problem with single quotes because two different characters are used: back tick for the opening single quote and apostrophe for the closing single quote.

Forcing Line Breaks

Most of the time, the eReader takes care of line breaks. This is ideal because it allows the (human) reader to choose the most comfortable font size, line spacing, etc.

Occasionally, though, the author needs to intervene and force a line break. Use the <break> tag for this.

A common use is in a heading that might otherwise break funny on a narrow eReader:

* This Is
a Rather Long and
Cumbersome Chapter


The above example shows a single heading. It is split over 4 lines in the manuscript, but they form a single paragraph. Where the lines break in the manuscript has nothing to do with where the lines will break on the eReader.

You could make it break in one or more places like this:

* This Is
a Rather <break> Long and
Cumbersome <break> Chapter


There is a related tag <brk> that is ignored when producing Mobi, EPUB, and HTML files. The <brk> tag can be useful when producing PDFs for publishing through CreateSpace. Its use is covered in How to Create a Camera-ready PDF (available at http://nepotism.net/formatting/pdfmanual.html and http://nepotism.net/formatting/pdfmanual.pdf.)

Copyright Mark

Most word processors and text editors allow you to insert an actual copyright symbol directly into your manuscript. For convenience, the <copy> tag will do the same thing.

copyright <copy> 2013


The above example would be turned into the following:

copyright © 2013

Mono-spaced Fonts and Literals

The <ex> tag and its closing tag set a word or phrase in a mono-spaced font. Those tags also turn off various formatting. For example, they allow this guide to show a tag name literally, such as <dc>, without actually setting a drop cap.

Here are two examples.

I opened the file
named <ex>firstDraft.txt</ex>
and was shocked at how
good it was.


To set three characters as
drop caps, use the <ex><dc></ex>
and <ex></dc></ex> tags like
this <ex><dc>ABC</dc></ex>.


Drop Caps

Whereas the <dropcaps> tag (which is a left-margin tag) controls whether drop caps are applied automatically, the <dc> and </dc> tags (which are paragraph tags) let you manually set one or more characters as drop caps.

See the second example in the previous chapter.

Small Caps

The <sc> and </sc> tags are used just like the <dc> and </dc> tags described in the previous chapter, except they set one or more characters as small caps.

Some authors, instead of using drop caps, prefer to set the first three or four words of a chapter as small caps.

* Chapter Four

<sc>it was a</sc> dark and stormy ...



The Targets chapter, showed how to set up a target. That example created a target pointing to Chapter Two and giving the target a label of "ch2".

This chapter shows how to create a link that can jump to Chapter Two.

For more information, please
see <link "Chapter Two" "ch2">.


Within the <link ...> tag are two items. The first is the text you want to appear in the book and the second is the label that must match the label of a <target> tag. Each of the items must be enclosed in straight quotes.

More than one link can point to the same target.

See the Targets chapter for more information.


Remember, you can format a novel using very few tags. The bare minimum is an asterisk to mark a single chapter. See Getting Started available at http://nepotism.net/formatting/ for an example.

Of course, you will want to use a few more tags. Here is a realistic minimum for a work of fiction:

That’s all you really need. With just that markup, you can produce a great looking eBook (Mobi or EPUB file) that will have

Then, with very little additional markup, you can turn that same manuscript into a printed book to publish through CreateSpace—for your own use or to sell through CreateSpace and Amazon.


Happy Publishing!

The End