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

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ch 5.3 Formatting: The Easy Ways

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)

Ch 5.3 Formatting: The Easy Ways

Word: the format your MS is in when you write it
Mobi: Kindle format
Epub: Barnes and Noble format, Kobo format, Apple format (Smashwords and Draft2Digital will now accept epub as well)

How to get your manuscript from Word to Mobi and Epub is the essence of formatting.

The Easiest Way of All
Pay someone to format for you.

This can cost anywhere from $20 - $125 depending on how big your manuscript is and how pretty you would like it. My cover designer Dale Pease does beautiful formatting, both ebooks ($100) and print ($150). Fellow Indelible Ali Cross does gorgeous work too, with ebook pricing from $75 (for 25k) to $125 (100k). At those prices, you will have an ebook that's as beautiful as any print book you've picked up. If you don't have images or fancy formatting in your chapter headers (just text and links), then Lucinda can format your ebook for $20 (for 20k) to $30 (for 99k). (See Appendix A - Freelance Service Providers for more formatters)

There are many different ways to format, and I certainly don't know all of them. I've heard people use Scrivener (on the Mac and PC) and Pages (on the Mac) for easy, simple formatting, but I haven't worked with those personally. I'm going to cover the couple ways that I know will work. You may well decide that formatting is worth paying for just to eliminate the headaches of learning how to do it yourself. But formatting is one of those tools that you will use more often than you might think - formatting short stories, updating back matter, fixing typos, sending out sample chapters. Formatting could be a skill worth acquiring.

The Platforms Keep Evolving
There are two main formats (Epub and mobi) but each platform (Kindle, Nook, Smash, Apple, Kobo) has its formatting requirements. And recent changes in the Kindle and Nook platforms have increased the things you can do (like insert images) but also made them less "easy" to work with.

The Easy Ways are Less Easy than they used to be, but now they do more.

One more reason either to 1) pay someone else or 2) commit yourself that you're going to have to keep on top of the changes.

Recently Amazon (KDP) updated their platform to include a simple cover creator. KDP has some simple formatting guidelines that allow you to format your Word document for direct upload to KDP - they will convert it to Mobi for you. Even better, they allow you to download a mobi file from KDP (which you can view on a Kindle Previewer or email to your Kindle). This is important for you to be able to give away free/review copies of your work in mobi format. I played around with this option, and the conversion is reasonably good if you follow the guidelines.

A couple tips: 
* Edit your Word document to include all the front and back matter. Follow the formatting guidelines, paying special attention to things like indents.

* Use the "Header" styles to create your Table of Contents, but don't forget you can modify the styles to be whatever you like

* Use Word's styles throughout your MS for better results in the conversion

* if you embed images in your word document, make sure you follow these instructions to upload a zipped file with your images, and not just the docx file: 1) insert images into the Word doc with "insert" not cut and paste, 2) save Word doc as "web page filtered", 3) create folder with Web doc and photos, 4) send that folder that includes the pictures to "compressed zip folder" (right click on the folder and choose "send"), 5) upload the compressed zip folder to KDP as your manuscript file.

With the advent of Nook Press, you can now upload your manuscript and edit it directly. You can use the same manuscript file, just make sure to change the links to be Nook links, not Amazon links. Because the Nook platform generally underperforms (compared to KDP), you'll have to make some changes to the manuscript once you upload (or alter your manuscript to follow their different formatting guidelines). NookPress also allows you to download an epub file (which you can view on Adobe Digital Editions).

A couple tips: 
* make sure to upload the docx version, not the html version of your manuscript

* insert page breaks and chapter headers to create the Table of Contents

* although you can preview the epub, you can not download it until you hit the "publish" button.

Apple/Kobo (or Smashwords/Draft2Digital)
Unfortunately, you can't use the epub generated by NookPress to upload directly to Apple or Kobo - not because there are Nook links inside (which is also a problem), but because NookPress's Epub has errors that won't pass the Epub Validator necessary for your file to upload properly to Apple and Kobo. Which leaves you pretty much with uploading your Word document to a distributor like Smashwords or Draf2Digital - and I've already talked about the problems with using distributors (see Where to Publish). But if you're going to use a distributor to reach Apple or Kobo (there's a host of other retailers, but they're a tiny part of the market), I recommend using to Draft 2 Digital - D2D's converter isn't great, but it's far better than Smashword's "meatgrinder." You'll have to remove any images from your original Word doc file (because the distributors won't take those unless they're in an epub already), remove any retailer specific links (otherwise Kobo files will have Apple links or vice versa), and fuss with your Word doc until the conversion looks good on D2D. Then distribute to Apple/Kobo (I would still go direct to Nook/Kindle so you don't have to pay the 10% fee to the distributor, and those are the main source of your sales).

If all these "Easy Ways" don't sound that easy - I agree.

Medium Easy - Scrivener
I've used Scrivener for a while for research, but not for the manuscript. However, they do have an option to compile your manuscript into an epub (which would be universally uploadable to all of the Big Four retailers). See this tutorial about using Scrivener to create an epub. I would say it's "medium" level of easy, because you have to purchase scrivener and learn how to use that first, but as a Scrivener user myself, this appears to be a fairly straightforward option for compiling. I suspect getting it to format as you want is the trick, and it probably works better on the Mac, where Scrivener has full functionality. Another option on the Mac is Pages, a program I've heard will output ePub as well.

My Recommendations:

If you have a simple text file, no images, no fancy formatting - I would pay someone the $30 to format it to epub and mobi, then upload those directly to the Big Four (KDP, NookPress, Kobo, and Apple). If you want to modify the files later (something simple like correct a typo or change the backmatter), learn how to use the epub editor Sigil well enough to do those small edits (it's not hard).

If you have images (which can include backmatter) or want more sophisticated formatting - I would either pay someone to format for you (it will cost more) or learn how to do it yourself. Either way, if you want to modify the files later, learn how to use the epub editor Sigil well enough to do those small edits (it's not hard). Or commit to learning how to do it The Hard Way (which is basically full usage of Sigil, creating your own epubs from scratch).

The Hard Way
I taught myself how to use Sigil - I'm familiar with HTML and have a technology background, so I'm not saying it's the Easy Way (see above). But being versed in formatting means I can do things like put out a short story quickly, or format a complicated ebook like this one, or update my files as many times as I like, without having to pay someone else to do it. Often it means quicker turn-around, simply because I can do it myself. Even if you know how to hard-code your own ebooks, you may opt for the convenience of paying someone else to do it.

There's no wrong way, except the one that leaves you with bad formatting or unable to upload!

In the next chapter, I'll walk the Brave of Heart through how to teach yourself to format The Hard Way. And for the even braver, we'll talk about uploading directly to iTunes (which you can do whether you pay someone to format or you do it yourself). The rest can skip to How to Make A Trailer, which is much easier and gobs more fun.

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)

1 comment:

  1. Hey, Susan,
    Great going. Learning to format is the best thing I've done for myself all year. As you've said, it's so much easier to handle yourself when you have small adjustments to make and there is the saving for the DIY's in a crunch.

    Haven't tried making a trailer yet. That definitely sounds like fun.