It’s been a while since I updated my series on self-publishing, so this week I’m back to it with the penultimate step before publication: formatting your ebook.

For all the talk of conversion programmes and formatting software and epub and mobi, there are really only two ways of turning your Word document into an ebook: the easy way or the hard way. Let’s tackle the hard way first. The hard way is to do it yourself. Well, this is self-publishing right?

Okay, you don’t have to do it all yourself (see ‘The Easy Way’ below), but if you want ultimate control over your ebook files you will need to tackle this. Let’s fast forward to the day when you have three books published, and book number four is due out. You want – need! – to update the page at the back of your ebook to include the Amazon link to the new book, because readers who loved any one of your previous titles are going to want to know about the new one. If you didn’t do the formatting or conversion yourself, you’re stuffed. You’ll have to pay someone else to make these changes, even though they are simple and take seconds. Another scenario – despite paying over £300 for professional proofreading, it comes to your attention that there are a couple of typos in your book that escaped the net (this has happened to me with each of my books). You want to make those small changes and upload a new version to Amazon et al. And you want to do it for free.

The list of books at the back of all my Kindle editions - updated every time a new book comes out.
The list of books at the back of all my Kindle editions – updated every time a new book comes out.

Options

Ebook formatting in practice falls into two camps: conversion or compiling. Conversion means simply that you take your Word document and run it through a programme that converts it to either mobi (Kindle) or epub (all the others) format. Don’t do this. No, really – don’t do this. Unless you have produced your Word doc in 100% perfect format – including Styles, no tabs anywhere ever, the right size and types of font, the right paragraph settings, and lots more stuff you don’t even want to learn about, the result will be horrible. Messy, inconsistent, horrible. There is one possible exception to this, which I’ll talk about in a minute.

scrivener logo

Jutoh

Compiling is much safer, and there are a number of programmes you can use for this – the two I’m most familiar with are Jutoh and Scrivener. I use Jutoh, mainly because I bought it and now I have it so I use it. I use Scrivener for writing, but I haven’t mastered the compile function, hence sticking with Jutoh. I’m reliably informed that Scrivener does an outstanding job of formatting your manuscript into an ebook, and I know for a fact that Jutoh does too. Choose one, download it, and learn how to use it. (Click on the icons above to find out more.) Jutoh is very easy to master. How it works is like this:

  1. Import your file (your Word doc saved as ODT)
  2. Tell it how to section the book into chapters. You will have used page breaks in Word, or a heading style for new chapters, so simply tick the right box.
  3. Upload the cover file.
  4. View your book chapter by chapter in the easy to understand viewing panes.
  5. Make any necessary changes to paragraphs, spacing, fonts etc.
  6. Add your front matter and back matter if you don’t already have them.
  7. Tell the book where you want it to open when the reader clicks ‘beginning’ (email me if you have trouble with this, it’s easy).
  8. Choose either epub or mobi, and click Compile.
Jutoh CW
Inside Jutoh compiling the Kindle version of Cupid’s Way – it works just like a text editor.

And that’s it. You can now send the file to your own ereader and check it out. Anything you don’t like, simply go back to the original Jutoh project and change it. The software cost me about £25, and every time I use it I find something new to love. When I read a badly formatted ebook I literally stare at the ceiling and scream, “WHY?” There is no need for it when software like this exists to make it so easy.

Here are some ebook formatting Dos and Don’ts:

  • Don’t indent the first line of a new section or chapter.
  • Don’t put spaces between paragraphs, just indent the first line.
  • Don’t try and use fancy fonts. Kindles and most other ereaders only pick up a version of TNR and Arial, and some will render Courier New style fonts, but no more. Don’t bother complicating things.
  • Don’t make your font size too big or too small. Yes, I know I can adjust it on my Kindle, but if I ever have to it annoys me. Readers like things simple, so keep it to 12 point as standard.
  • Do add some space above and below the Chapter Headings – it looks nicer than everything being rammed to the top.
  • Do add in some kind of call to action at the end of your book. You should include a link to sign up to your mailing list, and links to buy other books. You could also ask for a review – some authors think this is a good idea.
  • Do include a table of contents – yes, even for fiction. Some ereaders need them to render the book properly. But …
  • Don’t obsess about whether it should go at the front or the back. If you’ve set up your start tag properly it won’t matter anyway.
  • Do read the entire book again (yes, again!) on your own ereader. You will find another mistake, I guarantee it.
It's a good idea to include links to your website and mailing list, and also make it easy for readers to leave a review.
It’s a good idea to include links to your website and mailing list, and also make it easy for readers to leave a review.

The Easy Way

Well, obviously the easy way is to find a really good ebook formatter and pay her or him to do it for you. You should be looking at somewhere in the region of around £50 for this service (correct at the time of writing). If it’s a lot, lot cheaper then bear in mind the ‘formatter’ will probably just run your Word doc through a conversion programme, which you could have done yourself for nothing. If it’s a lot, lot more then look around for someone else or ask the formatter what extras they are offering. Maybe you get unlimited changes to your file, or five free updates. If you do decide to pay for formatting, here are your must-dos:

  1. Only send them the absolutely finished, proofread, perfect in every way file. If you find a mistake in the final version and it’s your mistake you’ll have to pay them to format the whole thing again. Annoying.
  2. Be very clear upfront what you want. If you have images to be inserted it may cost more; if you have any special elements like poetry or diary entries or lists that need to be set out a certain way, say so. Formatters can’t read your mind.
  3. Check the files, both epub and mobi. Read them on your ereader, or use the Kindle app and Digital Editions to check them over. If there are mistakes that are the formatter’s they should be happy to correct these for free.

Smashwords

This wouldn’t be complete without mention of the Meatgrinder. Mark Coker’s brilliant but much maligned programme will take your Word doc and convert it into all the main ebook formats, including mobi, for free when you upload your title to their site. And, it does a pretty good job of it too. Sounds too good to be true? It isn’t, but there are caveats. First, you have to have formatted your Word doc PERFECTLY for the Meatgrinder to work. If you haven’t followed the guidelines (available on the Smashwords site) it will reject you and tell you to resubmit. Second, even though it converts to mobi, in my opinion it’s a bit low to then download this file and upload it to Amazon. Smashwords don’t have distribution to Amazon at the moment, so this is a bit of a grey area. Look into it yourself, and make up your own mind. Also be aware that if you have listed your book with Smashwords you can’t use Amazon’s KDP Select as you will be in violation of their terms.

Phew! Enough, already! So, now you are an expert in ebook formatting and can go off and get your book ready for uploading. But hold on – what have I missed? Oh, yes. The all important cover. My next installment will tell you all you need to know about your cover files for your ebook and paperback.

Over to you – do you do your own formatting, or fancy having a go? Let me know in the comments box below.

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