Hey, HiDee and Lynn. Thanks so much for asking me to guest blog. Always happy to talk formatting and self-pubbing.
Why don’t I start with a bit of background on me because, well, you asked me to. I seem to need to change professions about every 5 years or so. After I pared down my Archaeology career (I have an MA in Anthropology/Archaeology and spent many years as an archaeological illustrator), I decided to open a bookstore. Makes sense? So I dove right in, took a course offered by the American Booksellers Association... yes, there’s a week-long course in How To Open A Bookstore. And if you’re thinking about doing that then you must take the course or you’re headed for a mighty fall. Anyway, I took it, exhausting but fun too as it was on Amelia Island!
Then after a few years, the financial crash and eBooks took me down, and I closed the bookstore. I got tired of customers coming into the shop, drinking my wine (yes, we were also a wine bar), and browsing the bookshelves, only to be told when they walked out the door, “Thanks, I found the one I wanted to buy on Amazon. Great wine though!”
Anyway, I languished for a year or so, then in early 2011 an author friend called me and said, “You know Microsoft Word, don’t you? Do you think you could format this book I have and turn it into an eBook?”
Well, having no clue, I said, “Sure, of course, piece of cake.” Then spent a solid month researching on-line how to actually format an eBook.
Since then, I’ve gotten better at it, the technology has changed and I’m more or less up-to-date. I’ve also added to my services formatting for print-on-demand, which I love because it’s so much more creative, so many fewer rules. And the company now offers a virtual assistant’s program. Many of my clients have been writing for years, have a ton of backlist books, but don’t want to learn the new technology of uploading an eBook to various platforms. They also hate social media, and promotions had always been left to their publishing house. Well, they are their publishing house now. So they use us to upload, promo, form social media groups, schedule events, all those things their publishers used to do.
This is what I do almost full time from my office in a 200 years old house on the far eastern coast of Maine. But in 2012 I decided... hey, it’s not enough... I bet I could be an author too. This time though I didn’t take classes, more’s the pity. I should have been as diligent in this career as in the archaeology one, the bookselling one, and the formatting one. But I have my debut novel up at Amazon, Stone Bay by Min Edwards (pen name), and have some nice reviews. Several other novels are in the hands of Developmental Editors and my critique partner, so hopefully in a few months I’ll be a multi-published author.
Now how about some formatting tips for today’s eReading devices, and there are lots of them. Most devices accept only ePub files, which is nice because the ePub format is very forgiving. If you can format a Word ‘doc’ then you can format an ePub. It’s nice if you know InDesign, an Adobe product that accepts a Word file and turns it into an ePub. But you can also use Word, then save your file into Webpage-filtered (an HTML file). With a few tweaks with Notebook or another text editor, you’ll have something you can take to Calibre, a free ePub formatting program. Well, it’s not really for that. It’s actually a library management system, something you can organize your books with. But most formatters use it to upload an HTML file and then output an ePub file. The drawback is it makes the final output a bit complicated... and it’s not in fact the final output. You have to tweak it more.
Using another free editor called Sigil, you tweak the epub, tagging sections with Semantic tags such as Title page, Table of Contents, Beginning of the text. If you don’t do this then the last step, converting to a Kindle file, won’t be able to find some of its parts.
Amazon has finally gotten on the bandwagon with ePubs and now allows you to (also a free app) open up Kindle Previewer, drop in your ePub that you tweaked in Sigil, and have Amazon convert it to a mobi/kindle file.
That’s how you do it, kind of. There is lots of tweaking and learning going on every day, though. And if you’re serious about being a formatter you must join MobileReads forum http://www.mobileread.com/. It’s filled with formatters solving each others’ problems. I know they’ve solved quite a few of mine.
One thing I would say is very important, is to learn HTML code. Even though you start off with Word or InDesign, HTML is still the basis of an eBook. Don’t be intimidated by it. If I can learn it, anyone can. You don’t need to know it well enough to program, but you will need to be able to recognize when something is wrong with your HTML file. Does every paragraph start off with a <p> and end with a </p> or a <h1></h1> etc... Can you tell when your Table of Contents is wonky...?
<p class=MsoNormal<a href=”#Start_Reading”>Chapter 1</a></p> This is what your TOC should say when reading in HTML mode, Chapter 1, the place where you want the reader to start their reading experience. Of course there are many variations on this, but it’s a start.
Word Styles are things on your Word Home Screen that you probably never look at. You use a default tab to insert the indent on each paragraph, don’t you? Don’t do it! EBooks hate tabs. Use your Normal Style to set indents please... or your Page Layout feature. Stay away from tabs! Also, and you probably never noticed this before, but when you look at Normal, Modify, Paragraph, Line, and Page Breaks, you’ll probably see a little box checked that says Widow and Orphan control. Please uncheck that! Another thing that eBooks abhore! Well, they don’t actually have set pages, so what good is corralling those widows and orphans?
Here’s where Styles become critical. If you don’t use them then you’ll want to put a gun to your head at the end of the day. These styles (Center, Normal, Scenechange, Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, Title, and anything else you want to use) control your content... transfer into your HTML document as Style Descriptions and tell the document exactly how this ‘book’ is supposed to appear on a reader’s device. You’ll want to stay away from blank lines (Enter)... Kindle (at least the older Kindles) deletes those blank lines which will really wreck your eBook. Epub lets you keep them, but because I don’t want to be formatting 100 different versions of one book... I always format for Kindle; ePub reads it just fine.
Sorry, I’m getting more in-depth than I think anyone wants. My clients stop me all the time with “TMI... I’m lost... You could be talking ancient Sumerian for all I know!”
Remember, though, that formatting is the last step in your self-pubbing process: First you have to polish that initial Draft manuscript, then send it off for some ‘Big Picture’ editing, then revisions, then off to your critique partner (who’s been reading your work all along, but now needs to read the final entire book), then have the book line-edited and/or proofed, then send out some ARCs for review, then back for the final proofing (not by you though... you’ve read it too many times already). Now you can format, put all those pretty flourishes in, set off those quotes nicely, think about the screen sizes on Smart Phones. You need to have in the back of your head at all times what this book will look like to someone reading it standing at a bus stop with a Smart Phone, sitting at the doctor’s office with a tablet, lying in bed at night with a Kindle.
The gist of this blogpost is: To have a beautiful eBook you can’t just bang away on your keyboard. There was a design department at your publisher, wasn’t there? Well, they designed and you must, too. You have to study the process, and of course it changes all the time, but if you’re diligent, at the end of the day when you upload that file to KDP/Amazon (that’s Amazon’s publishing platform) then your readers will be happy. And if they’re not, they’ll let you know! This is the instant digital world.
Now on my own blog at http://athirstyblog.com I just give out tips or explain changes in technology. Sometimes I rant and rave about something, usually related to Amazon. I haven't started blogging yet in my Author persona.
About the author: Pam Headrick writes as Min Edwards.
http://bit.ly/1gXiJlK - Goodreads
http://www.pinterest.com/minedwards - Pinterest
Stone Bay Romance
Stone Bay - amzn.to/1eL74Fq
High Tide Suspense - coming soon
Stone Bay Romantic Suspense
Talon, Inc. Suspense - coming soon
Romantic Suspense with an Archaeology theme