Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR QUICK START GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING and to be notified when the 3rd Edition of the Indie Author Survival Guide releases!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Self-Publishing Basics: Ebook Formatting - The Hard Way

All week, I'm doing a series on Self-Pub Basics.

Here's the series:

Tues: Where to Publish
Wed: Formatting Ebooks - The Easy Ways
Thurs: Formatting Ebooks - The Hard Way
Fri: Publishing to iTunes

Ebook Formatting
Yesterday, we talked about The Easy Ways to format. And honestly, that's the best way for most people. But if you can read this:
then you might want to foray into The Hard Way to format an ebook.

It's really not that hard, but knowing some basic HTML skills (or learning them) will keep you from tearing out your hair. If reading that HTML made you cringe, then you might want to stick with The Easy Ways.

Why You Want To Format The Hard Way
So you can include fancy fonts and images in your ebook...

...without having to pay for it, and so you can update it yourself.

Programs You'll Need (all free except Word)
Word: I'm assuming you are starting with your MS in Word.
Sigil: this is an Epub editing program
Adobe Digital Editions: will allow you to view your Epub
Calibre: will allow you to convert your epub (nook format) to Mobi (kindle format)
Kindle Previewer: To preview your mobi file

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. Clean up your MS using Smashwords Style guide; add in front/back matter (copyrights, acknowledgments, etc.). Make sure any retailer links go to Amazon (we can change this later, but we're focusing on Kindle first - you'll see why in a moment).
2. Save your Word doc, then save again in Web page, filtered format (this is a Save As... option with an *.htm extension)
3. Create any images you want to use (chapter header fonts, scene separation symbols, pictures). I download free fonts from the interwebs, install on Word, create the headers I want, screencap it, and paste it into Paint. Do whatever works for you. Save in png or jpg format.
example back matter

example scene separator
4. Import your HTML filtered format MS into Sigil (see Sigil FAQ, Users Guide, and Tips).
5. Format in Sigil and fix up any errors (this is where your HTML programming skillz will come in handy)
  • Insert page breaks in Sigil, fixing any stray formatting problems, etc. 
  • Insert all your images/chapter headings/etc
  • Include a cover (instructions).
  • Build a Table of Contents (instructions scroll down).
  • Hard-code your ellipses (…) and em-dashes (—) so they will always look nice (instructions). 
  • Learn about style sheets, to make your life easier (instructions, more instructions) Note: you have limited controls on fonts. You can set a default font, but users can change the font on their end.
  • Set Title, Author, Language, Copyright, Publication Date, Description, and ISBN if there is one, in Metadata.
  • Set your first text file (where the book will open) as Semantic type Text (right click on file, choose "Semantics"). 
  • Run the "Check" to compile; fix any errors
  • Save file as an Epub.
6. Convert to Mobi: open your Epub into Calibre. Convert (individually) to Mobi format (see Calibre FAQ). (Note: You can also use Kindle Previewer to convert to Mobi, but you will not preserve your Table of Contents). Use the "Save to Disk" option to save your Mobi converted file.
7. Check for errors in Kindle Previewer (make sure to view in all the Kindle formats). Fix up any errors in your Epub file in Sigil and reconvert until errors are gone. If you own any Kindles, check your Mobi there too. You can also upload to KDP and test it in the preview screen there. If all looks good, your Mobi is ready to load up to KDP (Amazon).
8. Prepare for B&N: copy your Epub to a separate file, to prepare for formatting for B&N. Change the links to B&N. View your Epub file in Adobe Digital Editions. Be sure to check all the formats - go back to 5 to fix errors. If you own any Nooks, check your Epub there too. You can also upload to PubIt (B&N) and use the previewer there. Your Epub is now ready to load up to PubIt (Barnes & Noble).
9. You're done. Have a beverage of your choice.
    For Kobo - Take your B&N formatted Epub, change the links to Kobo, and you're ready to upload.

    For Apple - Heaven help you. You need a Mac, ISBNs, and a bunch of other steps. I'll talk about this tomorrow. (Apple doesn't make it easy, but it's not impossible either.)


    1. I found Guido Henkel's guide invaluable for doing it "the hard way." His method is a bit of a riff of yours. All the italics and bold gets coded while still in Word, and the typography characters (curly quotes, dashes, etc) as well as nonstandard characters, in your HTML editor.

      If you use ANY non standard character, like a fraction, a copyright symbol, accented letters borrowed from French (words like cafe or naive can have them), they must be handcoded, or you'll get an error character.

      1. One of my links (Style Sheets) is to Guido Henkel's blog! By his "guide" do you mean his blog series, or is there something separate from that?

        Yes, the non-standard characters can get goofy fast. Thanks for the great comment!

    2. Yeah, that's my problem w/iBooks. Methinks I might have to wait on that one.

      UNLESS! Here's my question about Smashwords. Can I use it JUST for iBooks? Or does it have to do all of your distribution?

      Thanks, Susan! This has answered a LOT of questions. :o) <3

      1. You can opt in or out of any of Smash's distribution channels at any time. With this caveat: sometimes it takes a LONG TIME to distribute/undistribute. (I'm still waiting for my book to be pulled down from Sony, and it's been literally MONTHS; likewise, some books NEVER distributed to Apple, again after MONTHS).

        I held off a long time in going direct to Apple, and I regret that now - more on that tomorrow!

    3. I think you're convincing me I'd need to go the easy way of hiring someone to help. But thanks for the step by step advice.

      1. LOL! That’s okay. It’s better to know what you’re up against first, save yourself the hassle. :)

    4. Okay, big learning curve for me here. Brain stretching.

    5. Many thanks for your excellent advice & instructions. I've fairly successfully uploaded ten books to Kindle, rather unsuccessfully done one to Kobo, BUT never yet have I got a working TOC, Cover, Beginning, that my Kindle will recognize. Help welcome.

      1. I'm so glad it has helped! Best of luck with all your books! :)

    6. Thanks, Susan, I went off to read Guido's posts from your links and confirmed I went backwards. I should've skipped Calibre until the very end, but I didn't know Sigil would read from a file I could copy from word to my clipboard. Sigil was much easier to work with than Calibre so once I get that trick, I'll feel better about trying again--in an emergency. I'm guessing that "save as web page, filtered" is what I want. That's the closest option I can find in Word.

      I'm sending the link to the Smashwords style guide to a couple of clients whose books I opened and found a mix of tabs with styled paragraphs. Thanks, this is great. Bookmarked!

    7. Very interesting and useful posts; hereby bookmarked. Now I just need to find out how to self publish from a small country in north without an amazon server inside the borders >:)

      Cold As Heaven