Sunday, November 30, 2014

Adventures in Self Publishing - Formatting

A word about formatting - don't.  That is to say, when people format their books for submission to Amazon's KDP or Smashwords or where ever, it becomes more of an issue of un-formatting what is already there.  Starting with simple text makes life so, so much easier.

I've had formatting issues before and went down the rabbit hole of the KDP forums, which invariably suggest opening it in HTML and messing with the CSS code and a bunch of other things that will make things a million times worse.  Just don't.  A simple .doc or .docx file will be better.

The first thing you should keep in mind is that you will lose almost all aesthetic control when publishing for ereaders.  The ereader, the reader software, and the human reading it can adjust the font, the size, all kinds of things.  I know there are some OCD folks that want the words to show up just so, but sorry, it doesn't work that way.

If you intend to do all the fancy layout jazzamatazz for the hard copies, do yourself a favor and start with a clean, simple file in .doc for the ebook.  I use Google Docs and Open Office myself.  Word works, but it can add unnecessary coding.

Have one master file, then separate files if there are changes per venue (one for Amazon, one for Smashwords, one for Lulu, whatever).  Then if you make any changes later, you know which file is the most current.

Do your basic formatting (or unformatting) before your final edit, so you can check for things while you're going through the text anyway.

You may have written in various different files and combined them later.  Even if you use the same program with the same defaults, there always seems to be a difference in style between them.  You want it to be consistent throughout the document, so hit your ctrl-A and make the font and font size the same.

You'll want to left justify or align.  Justifying on both sides doesn't look good on ereaders.  You can center, but since the margins are so narrow, unless the text is very short, you might not be able to tell.

Here is the biggest mistake I see (and made) - never, never, never use tab to indent.  If you have already used tab, or even if you haven't, go through and delete all of them.  Look here for tips on that.  What happens is that ereaders read tabs as distinct from indention, and some ereaders set their own indention.  So what happens is you get double or triple indention randomly through the text.  After your tabs are gone, hit ctrl A, then go to paragraph styles and set the indent option for "First line" between .25 to .33.

On a similar note, don't try to use double indents for a block quote or something similar.  With the margins so narrow, you end up pushing all the text to one side and get maybe one word per line.  A lot of poets hate ereaders for this reason.

There are a couple of things that are particular to ebooks.  Many authors put an extra line between paragraphs, kind of like I'm doing here.  Also, make use of the page break at the ends of sections or chapters, which is usually ctrl enter.  In ereaders, this ends one section and you have to turn the page for the next, regardless of how long the text is.

Basic stuff like bold, italics, and underline is fine.  While you can't control font size, you can usually control relative size, so you can have chapter headings larger if you want.

If you start out with a pretty clean copy, you shouldn't have any issue just uploading the .doc file.  Smashwords has what they call the "meatgrinder", which takes your word file and spits it out into multiple formats, and it's a bit more particular with extra formatting.  Even if you strip it out, often the code lingers.  This is when you go nuclear.

If all else fails, there the nuclear option to strip out your formatting.  Copy (ctrl c) all the text, and paste it into something like Notepad or Wordpad.  Save that as a .txt file, close it, reopen it, then copy and paste it back to where you want to proof it (Google Docs, Word, Open Office).  This will strip all the formatting, even the stuff you wanted to keep, so you'll need to go through and add your page breaks, bolds, etc.  If you're starting out with a heavily formatted proof copy, you might want to start with this step and add your formatting back in while you proofread.

Above all, there is no reason to pay anybody to do this.  If you create and/or proof in an ebook friendly format, you don't even have to spend any extra time formatting.  And frankly, you'll probably do a better job than the "professionals".  These days, most authors will have an ecopy of their book, but there are services that will take a paperback, OCR the text, format it, and give it to you to submit.  I'm sure some of these are good services, but as a reader I've seen some turkeys.  When every letter I turns into a ! for two chapters, this is profound sloppiness on their part to not even do a basic spell check.

In summary, start with a stripped down version with minimal formatting, get rid of tabs and indent with paragraph styles, do it yourself.

1 comment:

  1. Great advice. I've recently published my 12th work, and I can agree with everything you've stated. Less really is more, especially when you realize that making it look "fancy" often means it'll just get wrecked by the person's e-reader. I keep font sizes the same for everything except the title, I only use bold and italics, And I use first-line indents instead of tabs. If your book is interesting and captures the attention of the reader, any more formatting is completely unnecessary.