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 19, 2013

Ch 5.4 Formatting: The Hard Way

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

Ch 5.4 Formatting: The Hard Way

Why Format The Hard Way
It's really not that hard, but knowing some basic HTML skills (or learning them) will keep you from tearing out your hair. Formatting at this level means that 1) you control the formatting at a basic level, so it's guaranteed (or nearly so) to show up nicely across all devices, and 2) you have more flexibility in doing fun things with the formatting, and 3) it makes your books look really professional. Like more professional than the professionals - a lot of traditional publishers don't take care to format their ebooks well. I've had many people complement me on the formatting of my books. Whether you pay someone to make your books look beautiful, or you learn how to do it yourself, it reflects well on you.

Programs You'll Need (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

Step-by-Step Instructions
1. Format your MS in Word so that it's an approximation of the final book (i.e. add in front matter, back matter, copyrights, acknowledgments, other works, etc.). Don't use tabs to indent (hopefully you know this already, but you should always use Paragraph formatting in Word to set your indents).

2. Save your Word doc as Web page, filtered format

3. Create any images you will be using in the book (750 pix version of the cover for inside the book, chapter header fonts, scene separation symbols, back matter images, a title page image, etc.) I download free fonts from the interwebs, install on Word, create the headers I want, screencap, then paste into Paint. Do whatever works for you. Save in png or jpg format.

4. Import your HTML filtered format MS into Sigil (see Sigil FAQ, Users Guide, and Tips).

5. Format in Sigil (this is where your HTML programming skillz will come in handy)

· Learn about style sheets, to make your life easier (Guido has a great series of posts with ebook-specific instructions and more instructions, but if you want to go hard-core, you can dip into the CSS tutorial here). Note: with ereader formats you have limited control over fonts. You can set a default font, but users can change the font on their end. Another Note: I set up one standard style sheet that I use (with minor modifications) for all my books. So once you learn how to set up your style sheets, you'll have a template to use with everything in the future.

· Before you insert page breaks, search through for any stray formatting that came through from your Word conversion. This is easier to find when everything's in one file within Sigil. If you're going to hard-code your ellipses (…) and em-dashes (—) so they will always look nice (more instructions from Guido), do that before inserting page breaks as well.

· Insert page breaks in Sigil. I rename all my Sigil files to easy to recognize things like “copyright” and “Chapter_One”. If I anticipate this book will be combined in the future into a collection, I add “Free_Souls_Chapter_One” to make it distinct. This is because when combining epubs, the files will order themselves by how they are labeled (note: you will need to use Calibre to merge your epubs—it's a plugin). Make sure not to leave spaces in the titles (Apple doesn't like them). Note that any image names also cannot have spaces.

· Insert all your images, chapter headings, etc.

· Include a cover (instructions).

· Build a Table of Contents (instructions scroll down). Also build an HTML TOC.

· Set Title, Author, Publisher, Publication Date, Language, and Primary ID in Metadata. Do not skip these (Barnes and Noble won't accept without them). Other good metadata: keywords and description.

· 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. Note: sometimes extra style classes sneak in from Word—just delete those. Being comfortable with HTML and Style Sheets will help you know which stuff you can just delete to clean up and which things indicate a larger problem.

· Save file as an Epub (in fact, save several times along the way!).

· Check your Epub file with the Validator to make sure that it validates.
6. View Your File to Check Formatting: Use Adobe Digital Editions to check the formatting, but also upload to any devices you own that take epub. To check on your Kindle, you can convert it mobi first (upload the epub to KDP and download a preview mobi file - if you use Calibre, it will strip out your HTML TOC). You can also view the epub (or mobi version) in Kindle Previewer), although the preview capability in KDP is pretty good.

7. You're done (with the hard part). Have a beverage of your choice.

Readying for Upload
You have a nice, shiny epub that will function on all devices. Heavy sigh of relief. Now all you have to do to upload to the different retailers is save a version of the file and alter the links so they are specific to each retailer (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Apple). I even make an epub version for Smashwords - with Smashwords links - and upload there (for my free books that I distribute to Nook). If you use D2D, it's the same - you can upload your beautifully formated file as an epub and everything will stay intact.

Uploading to Kindle, Nook, and Kobo is fairly straightforward. Apple requires a bit more effort (but not necessarily a Mac). The next chapter is all about uploading direct to Apple, and why you would fuss with such a thing.

After Formatting the Hard Way, trust me, you are up to the challenge.

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


  1. Maybe I'm missing something here. I create my ebooks in Microsoft Word and upload the files directly to Amazon and Smashwords for publication on almost every ebook reader out there. I tried this level of formatting once and hated it, even though I've done HTML coding for the last 15 years. However, all my ebooks consists of short stories and essays that don't require fancy formatting.

    1. You're doing it the Easy Way. Nothing wrong with that. :)

  2. I'm going to try the "hard" way this time around. Thank you for leaving a trail of breadcrumbs with this post to allow me to avoid the mines. :)

  3. I'm going to try the "hard" way this time around. Thank you for leaving a trail of breadcrumbs with this post to allow me to avoid the mines. :)