WRITER. Trucker. Nomad.

Scrivener - How To Compile With Style


My Formatting Philosophy

  • stay as close to “plain text” as possible (exceptions: curly quotes, em-dashes, ellipses)
  • consider using markdown for italics and bold
  • divide and conquer:
    • each chapter gets its own folder called “CHAPTER”
    • you can also use folders to structure your novel (you can use folders for a plot roadmap—like the Hero’s Journey—and have Scrivener skip these “for author use only” aides when you compile)
    • your lowest level text block should be a scene, not a chapter
    • don’t bother with scene breaks
  • get a simple version to work first, and rely as much as possible on built-in Scrivener functionality
  • use HTML & CSS (if you know it) to take care of special cases “inline” (like super-scripts, special textual formatting, etcetera)

I’ll refer back to these points as we proceed, so don’t worry if you’re scratching your head at this point.

STEP ONE: Write / Import, & Setup Your Manuscript

I won’t cover  importing an existing manuscript in this tutorial, if you need help with that, take a look at this tutorial and then come back: Scrivener Quick Tip: Importing From Word. Once you have your manuscript in Scrivener, however, there are a few additional steps you can take to make the compile process easier and more powerful.

Keep It In Plain Text

Scrivener > Preferences, General Pane

 I recommend going with plain text format + Markdown. So italicized text is surrounded by asterisks like this: *I’m in italics when compiled* = I’m in italics when compiled.

A Closer Look At Chapter Folders & Scene Documents
(Divide & Conquer)

You might notice the “IGNORANCE” and “OPPORTUNITIES” folders, higher up in the Binder hierarchy. These are simply “plot roadmap reminders” for my benefit (not unlike “Acts” in a screenplay, or stages in the “Hero’s Journey”). The beauty of compiling with Scrivener, is that I can leave these here while I’m writing to help me structure the plot, and then when I compile, tell Scrivener to ignore them when outputting to Kindle or PDF or whatever other formats I’m interested in.

STEP TWO:  Setup Front Mater & Back Matter

Project > Meta-Data Settings

Go to Help > Placeholder Tags List… to see all the available tag variables. Use them for Front Matter.

Front Matter: > E-Book:

TIP: create separate E-Book cover matter folders, one per desired format (1) Kindle / Nook / iBook / Kobo / Smashwords / CreateSpace. For Back Matter, just append documents to the end of your manuscript in a new folder.


STEP THREE: Setup Your Cover

I won’t be covering how to design a cover for your book in this tutorial. Unless you’re a graphic artist, with a mastery of typography, in addition to the necessary image editing software skills, I strongly encourage you to contract a professional book cover designer.

Unless you only plan on publishing to Kindle, you’ll need up to 3 different versions of your cover: 1) a cover for Kindle / Nook / iBook / Kobo, 2) a cover with Smashwords, and 3) a cover for CreateSpace and/or Lighting Source. See the further reading section at the end of this tutorial for more information on the requirements for each cover type. For Kindle, you want a height / width ratio = 1.6, which comes out to a dimension of 1563 px WIDE X’s 2500 px TALL, where “px” stands for pixels. For complete information on cover requirements for Kindle, see: https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A2J0TRG6OPX0VM

STEP FOUR: Kindle-Gen Software – Install It, Along With The Kindle Previewer App

This would be a great time to install the Kindle Gen application from Amazon onto your machine, and to tell Scrivener where it’s located. Scrivener will use Kindle Gen to convert your manuscript to a .mobi file you can upload to Amazon. Get the software here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1000765211.

File > Compile. (KingleGen Pane)

And did you know that Amazon also provides a way to preview how your e-book will look on the various Kindle e-book reading devices—even if you don’t own a Kindle? It’s called The Kindle Preview App, and you can download it here. We’ll make use of this to test our .mobi file after conversion, so take a moment and install this software before continuing with the tutorial.

And although you likely won’t need it, Amazon also provides the Kindle Publishing Guidelines as a PDF available here. This can come in handy after you’re comfortable with the basics of compiling your manuscript, and you need to know what’s possible in terms of advanced formatting.

STEP FIVE: Prepare To Compile

File > Compile

  1. Use “All Options” not “Summary”
  2. Include your Front Matter, your CHAPTER folders, and all the Scene documents within each chapter. Tip: You can ‘option + click’ to select a range of checkboxes all at the same time.
  3. Check any documents that require special formatting (faux handwriting for example, or anything you don’t want Scrivener’s Compile to handle automatically).
  4. Make sure “Add Front Matter:” is checked, and to start with, the “E-Book – Kindle” menu item is selected. This will get us 80% of the way there in terms of configuring the compile process, but we’ll tweak a few of the settings in future steps.
  5. For the “Compile For:” setting, select “Kindle eBook (.mobi).”

Save Your Own Custom Compile Format For Re-Use

To bring up the above dialog, click Format As: …Mange Compile Format Presets from the Compile dialog. Then:

  1. Click the ‘+’ button to create your own custom compile preset
  2. Name it something descriptive like “My-Kindle” or similar
  3. Ensure you click ‘Update…’ to save your settings prior to canceling out of the Compile dialogue above—especially when you make a lot of changes to your configuration.
  4. Click ‘OK’ when you’re done here.

STEP SIX: Compile Configuration & Settings


The “Include” column is the one we’re interested in here. Be sure to ‘check’ each Chapter-level folder and document you want to be compiled. To quickly check multiple folders and documents, check the first one, and then scroll down to the last document you’d like included and ‘option-click.’

For our purposes, you can usually ignore the “As-Is” column. But for Front Matter, you might want to check the boxes in this column to tell Scrivener to obey whatever text formatting you’ve applied, instead of (by default) letting the Compile process handle it automatically. Even then, I often prefer to do my formatting “inline” (more on that later).


If you want “fancy” graphical scene separators, here is the place to do it. We’ll just leave them blank for now, which is the standard practice anyway. If you’re curious, how to use a graphic though, I’ll give you a hint: use the placeholder: <$img:ImageName> Where “ImageName” is the name of the image you import into your project as it appears in the binder.


Your cover should already be set up and ready to go, but if you have different covers for different output formats (Nook for example), then here is where you can tell Scrivener to use a different cover for this Compile.


The “Formatting” pane is where things get interesting… To start with, notice the Add Hierarchy button (it looks like a plus-sign next to two offset lines in the diagram above—or see #2 in the diagram below). When you click this button, it tells Scrivener to add another, deeper “Level” of hierarchy below the currently selected Level (highlighted in yellow above). This works for documents, too. The next diagram will clarify how “Levels” correspond to the folders and documents in your manuscript, but for now, the thing to keep in mind is that you need enough levels to cover the number of levels of hierarchy in the “Binder.”

As you get your head around this “Level / Hierarchy” business, a wonderful feature Scrivener offers to help you in this endeavor is that, when you click / select the level on the right (“Level 4+” in the above diagram), the corresponding folders / documents in the Binder are highlighted in yellow.

Let’s start by selecting your Chapter-level folder (mine is Level 3–see below–but I selected Level 1 in this example, as it’s more likely you’ll have a simplified folder hierarchy compared to the one I’m using). Then:

  • Click the “Options…” button. When you do, you’ll be presented with the dialogue below, titled: “Layout Options.”

Most of the defaults are fine in this dialogue, but you want to make sure that “Preserve alignment” and “Centered text only” are checked underneath “Text Formatting Override Options.” This will tell Scrivener to keep Chapter headings and Chapter subtitles and the like centered—no matter what other overrides you have set up for Compile.

  1. The above diagram is similar to what you’ll see when you click the “Section Layout” button, and the “Title Prefix and Suffix” pane (#3, two diagrams above). For this step, make sure you’ve got your Chapter-level folder highlighted (as shown at #1 above).
  2. The “<$t:part>” placeholder tag will tell Scrivener to automatically number your Chapters for you during compile. Now you know why we didn’t include the number ourselves when we named the folder! So reorder to heart’s delight, and everything “just works.” Steve Jobs would be proud.
  3. Don’t hit “OK” just yet…

With the same dialogue still open, select the “Title Appearance” pane, as show in the above diagram. Here you can tell Scrivener to do some fancy formatting on your behalf on Chapter titles: Small Caps, Faked Small Caps, etcetera. This should be fairly self explanatory.

Now click on the “First Page” pane. Here you can tell Scrivener to treat the first page in new Chapters differently, and to capitalize the first few words of the first sentences.

Now you can click “OK.”

Title Adjustments

Now click the “Title Adjustments” pane. The defaults provided by Scrivener should suffice. Moving right along…


Click the “Layout” pane. If you’d like to include a table of contents (and why not?), you can tell Scrivener to generate one automatically for you here. The “NCX” option is for .epub, so let’s ignore that for now. I check “Generate HTML table of contents,” and “Center body text of HTML table of contents.” I call it “Contents,” but feel free to call it something else if you want.


  1. For Manuscript format, you might want to check a few of the “Plain Text Conversions” boxes. For E-books, however, you want the fancy bits, such as the ellipses character, smart quotes, and proper em-dashes.
  2. On the off chance you use Markdown format, like I do, for italics and bold print, be sure to check the “Convert Markdown to bold and italics” box so Scrivener will take care of that during the Compile.

HTML Settings

Under the “HTML Settings” pane, make sure to check the ‘Treat “Preserve Formatting” blocks as raw HTML’ box. This will allow you to insert HTML inline in your manuscript for special formatting like superscripts and whatnot—without the hieroglyphics lackluster tools like MS Word are notorious for inserting.


Under the “Replacements” pane, you have the option to let Scrivener do a lot of busy work for you during the Compile. Personally, I like to use the double hyphen (“–“) when I’m writing a draft because it’s easier to see and to distinguish from an en-dash. But for an e-book, it needs to be converted to “—”. You could also use this feature to replace abbreviates with the full spelling of complicated names. MS -> Mississippi for example.


We won’t worry about the Statistics pane right now. All it does is tell Scrivener whether or not to include things like Footnotes and Front Matter in any word-count placeholders you use in the compiled version of your e-book. You might make use of this feature in the manuscript version of your book , but probably nowhere else.


We’re focused on genre fiction here, so we won’t worry about Table settings, either.

Footnotes / Comments

Have you ever wanted to make notes to yourself directly on the page? But didn’t, because you realized that those notes wouldn’t be appropriate in the final product? Well Scrivener will let you do just that, and then, here in the Footnotes & Comments pane, you can skip these inline annotations during the Compile. Pretty hand. Just make sure to check the “Remove inline annotations” box.


Your Meta-Data fields should already be set-up correctly based on the Project Settings, but feel free to make adjustments to the Title and other fields as you see fit.


See above for installing the KindleGen software.

Drum roll… And that’s hit. Click “Compile.”

Finally, fire up the Kindle Preview application and take a look at your brand new Kindle e-book.

And do check back here for future tutorials on the finer points of Scrivener. Until then, here is some further reading on the topic:

Further Reading

How to Format Your Novel for Kindle, Nook, the iBookstore, Smashwords, and CreateSpace…in One Afternoon (for Mac) by Ed Ditto.