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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Secret of Successful E-book Formatting


Today's post is by UK author and e-book self-publisher David Robinson, and it concerns a subject more and more writers want to know about - how to format an e-book for the Amazon Kindle and other e-book readers.

Stories such as that of Kindle self-publishing phenomenon Amanda Hocking illustrate the huge potential for writers of publishing their work in e-book form - and it really isn't as hard as you might think.

But I'll let David explain...

* * *

Are you thinking of publishing your own e-book, but uncertain how to format it? Here are a few tips that will set you on the right track to preparing your Microsoft Word file for the Kindle and other e-readers.

But first, the title of this post. The secret is that a well-formatted e-book starts with your initial document. This will usually be created in Microsoft Word or similar. If you don't prepare this correctly from the beginning, your title will look a mess when it appears on Kindle or Epub readers (such as the Sony Reader).

Forget about the manuscript requirements of publishers and agents. E-books are not double line spaced, and they don't need your name, title and page numbers in the header. They don't need headers or footers at all - and because so much of the appearance is user-controlled, page numbers are redundant.

Right from the outset, throw out the multiple spaces or tabs you've used to create first line indents. Dispense with the serial returns used to create blank lines. It's true that some e-readers will support them, but there are many that don't.

If your book needs a table of contents, DON'T use Word's automatic TOC generator. Use bookmarks set up as internal links. Another couple of no-no's are text boxes and tables. If your title requires tables, insert them as images, and whatever you do, DON'T import an Excel spreadsheet into your doc. Microsoft Office uses exclusive field codes which e-readers cannot interpret.

For routine text formatting, learn how to use Word's style menu. Set up your styles, and implement them where appropriate.

Adapting any style in Word is simple. You right-click the style in question, click on "modify" and first set up the font (colour, position, typeface and size). At the bottom of the dialogue box, you'll find a "format" button, which will bring up several options, including the familiar paragraph-formatting box. Here you can change indents, line spacing and "before" and "after" settings. So if you want your chapter headings centred, emboldened, with a clear line of space after them, then set up a heading style to produce that font; and in the paragraph dialogue, set it to single line spaced, then move on to the "after" value. If you're working in a 12pt font, set the "after" value to 12. If you're working in a 14 pt font, set it to 14. This will produce one clear line of space between the chapter heading and what follows.

Finally, move to the second tab in the paragraph box and switch off widows and orphans. This irritating option is set to "on" by default, but it is largely redundant on e-readers.

I'm essentially a novelist, and it's rare that I need bulleted or numbered lists. You may produce non-fiction and you may make extensive use of them, but that doesn't mean the e-reader will support them, so you should minimise their use and find other ways of emphasising your points. My experiments have shown that Epub doesn't do too badly with them, but bullets don't show up well on the Kindle.

Images should present no problem. They're automatically embedded in Word files when inserted, and you can resize them within the document. Even images set up as hyperlinks will translate to the Kindle and other e-readers.

It's tempting just to upload the Word doc, but I convert it to a prc (Amazon Kindle) file first. This allows me see the finished product and ensure that everything is as it should be before uploading to the Kindle. In order to create the prc file, you will first need to save your document as a FILTERED web page. Word will complain about this, but ignore the message.

With the HTML doc saved, you should then use a simple converter, like Mobipocket Creator, to create and check the file. Amazon Kindle has a support page which goes into greater detail about this. And you can download Mobipocket Creator free by clicking here.

For Smashwords (which provides a self-publishing platform to Epub and various other e-book formats) you can download the Style Guide at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52.

The acronym to bear in mind when formatting your document is KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid - where "Stupid" is you and me. The cleaner your formatting, the better your final document will appear, and the fewer problems you will have with the Kindle and Smashwords vetting systems.

Good luck, and I look forward to seeing your new and perfectly formatted e-book on sale soon!

Byline: David Robinson is a UK freelance writer, novelist and blogger who has published eight titles (six fiction, one humour and one non-fiction) on the Amazon Kindle and Smashwords. For more information, visit his website at www.dwrob.com. David has produced two guides to formatting and publishing e-books: E-book Formatting & Publishing on the Kindle and E-book Formatting & Publishing on Smashwords

* * *

Many thanks to David for an interesting and useful article. Please do check out his website and his e-book formatting and publishing guides (linked above).

As a matter of interest, I have a new guide to writing and publishing e-books for the Amazon Kindle coming out soon myself from WCCL. Please sign up here for advance notification and my exclusive launch special offer!

If you have any comments on this article, queries for David, or comments about e-book writing and publishing generally, please do leave them below.

Photo Credit: Amazon Kindle & Sony eBook by John Blyberg on Flickr.


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7 Comments:

Blogger Words with JAM said...

I wish you'd posted this before I started Kindling WWJ [sigh].

11:26 AM  
Anonymous write dissertation said...

I did’t know that. Thanks for the article. Very interesting.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Me said...

I downloaded the mobipocket creator and it's a great tool for viewing what the ebook will look like.

I did have trouble in the early days with extra blank lines to indicate section breaks but a small amount of editing in Notepad has sorted that.

So far I'm three short fiction ebooks in - all short story 'collections' around a central theme. Love it. More are planned.

2:44 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, everyone. Yes, I'm a fan of Mobipocket Creator too - I have a section devoted to it in my new "Kindle Kash" course ;-)

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Bruce Anthony said...

If you really want to find out how to create e-books, have a look at the tutorials on: www.katiebooks.ca

5:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mobipocket Creator is not compatible with Apple Mac. Any suggestion of the best software to use for Mac?

11:15 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Calibre, maybe? As recommended by David Robinson in his latest guest post here: http://www.mywritingblog.com/2011/08/calibre-great-resource-for-e-book.html

I haven't used Calibre for this purpose myself but David highly recommends it. I've checked and there is a version for Mac OSX.

Any other suggestions elcome!

1:26 PM  

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