Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Self-Publishing Basics: Ebook Formatting - The Easy Ways

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

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

Ebook Formatting
The problem with ebook formatting is that there's a ZILLION ways to do it. I am not joking. And when you have so many options, sometimes it's hard to figure out how to make it work SIMPLY. Since this is the BASICS of self-publishing week, we'll talk about the easy ways to format first.

Definitions:
Word: the format your MS is in when you write it
EPUB: Barnes & Noble format
Mobi: Kindle format

Getting from your Word manuscript ...

... to an EPUB/Mobi reader is what formatting is all about.
It looks deceptively simple. It is not.

There's basically two kinds of formatting:
Plain (text only, plain fonts) and Fancy (images, fancy fonts)


The Easiest Way of All
Pay someone to format for you. This can cost anywhere from $25 - $150 depending on whether you're formatting print or ebook or both, and whether you want plain or fancy formatting. But it may well be worth your time to pay someone else to do it (I highly recommend my formater/cover designer Dale Pease). The problem with paying someone else is that if you have to make changes (typo fixes, updates to back matter, new links) either you're paying them again, or you're bugging them to do it for free (not so cool).

It is possible to edit your formatted Epub using Sigil and converting to Mobi using Calibre, but if you can understand that sentence, you probably already know how to do it The Hard Way (which we'll talk about tomorrow). Even if you know how to code your own ebooks, you may still opt to pay someone else - it all depends on whether you're more pinched for time or money.

The Easy Way
Kindle and B&N, your two biggest retailers, have nice interfaces that allow you to upload your manuscript pretty much directly from Word. This is only for a plain, text-only document (no images or fancy fonts!), and you need to clean up your file first. Here's the 1-2-3 to easy epublishing:
  1. Format your Word document using Smashwords Style Guide (you may not want to publish to Smash, but the guide will tell you how to clean up your MS, getting rid of stray returns, problematic tabs, and various formatting no-no's). Add in your front and back matter (the copyright, acknowledgments, etc). Make a version of your manuscript with Kindle-only links, and one with B&N-only links. If you're not using Word...well, I can't help you. I would export to a Word doc and start cleaning it up from there. Most of the hassles I see people having source from using a different word processor than the "standard" Word document.
  2. Upload your Cleaned Up Word document to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP/Amazon) and PubIt (Barnes&Noble). Kindle has a previewer that allows you to preview your Word-converted-to-Mobi file before it gets published. B&N has the same. They even both have options where you can download a Mobi or Epub file to test on your own devices (do this!). Press "publish." You. Are. Done.
  3. If you want to distribute elsewhere: upload your Cleaned Up Word document to Smashwords, which will put it through a "meatgrinder" converter that will turn your file into a variety of formats. Use Smash to distribute to iBookstore (Apple) and Kobo, and anywhere else that Smashwords distributes. You can upload to those places directly, but it's NOT EASY, and this is the Easy Way, remember?
NOTE: If you take Smashwords epub and try to upload it somewhere else (like Kobo) you are violating Smash's Terms of Service. This is true for B&N and Amazon as well - most retailers do not want you using their conversion tools to sell books elsewhere. However, free tools exist for this - come back tomorrow for more on that.

The Harder Way
We'll dive into this tomorrow. But why would you choose the harder way?

Because plain text is, well, plain. And even if you don't care about fancy fonts or titles, you might want to include pictures. In fact, if you've written non-fiction, it's almost required. You can pay someone to do the fancy formatting for you, but then you're back to being limited in making changes.

Also, it reflects well on you when you take time to format your ebooks well, whether by paying someone else, or doing the hard work to do it The Harder Way yourself. Dale's formatting of my ebooks has netted me LOTS of compliments along the way.

So, if you're greedy (like me) and want everything (i.e. beautiful ebook formatting plus the ability to make as many changes as you like), then stop back tomorrow when we'll walk through formatting The Hard Way.

It's not as hard as you might think. :)


27 comments:

  1. awesome. Well, I made the mistake of thinking the epub on B&N would work on Kobo, and it seems that it doesn't. Just downloaded the Smash guide, and I'll see if I can figure out what happened. :p

    Fun with formatting! :D <3

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    1. You know, I was just re-reading this, and realized I forgot to update it (done now): using the ebpub from Smash to upload to Kobo is a violation of the TOS of Smash. That is true for pretty much any retailer that provides a conversion tool - they don't want you to use it somewhere else, because you're using their tools to make something for another retailer's benefit. This is why free tools exist to do those conversions (coming tomorrow).

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  2. Great post. That is definitely the easy. I think I chose the hard way from the very beginning. I worked to get those drop caps in and then realized that Amazon strips them out. Wasted time but a learned lesson. :)

    That's odd, LTM. I'm pretty I used the epub from BN for Kobo and it worked.

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    1. Amazon stripped out the drop caps from your mobi file? Or your Word doc? I thought they pretty much took whatever your mobi contained? (This is a Hard Way question... :))

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  3. The easiest way of all is to just make your husband do it for you :P. Haha.

    Great blog post, Susan. I am making sure to bookmark this series so I can pass the info along to friends interested in self-publishing!

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    1. LOL! You've got it MADE Sarra! In house formatting service. Nice. *hugs to you and baby Ender*

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  4. I think I like the suggestion of hiring someone to do it. Lol

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    1. It definitely worked for me. I was only brave enough to try the Hard Way about a year later.

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  5. Ooh, this is such a great series to be doing! And I've often wondered about the intricacies of formatting a manuscript. Bummer that you can only do it with plain text though. Yes, paying someone to do it does sounds a lot easier!

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    1. I hope it will help some of my friends along the way – a lot of this you have to fumble around and figure out for yourself. Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. I'm doing it all "the hard way" of using CSS and HTML. Mostly because I am a control freak (overly enamored with curly quotes LOL), and I have some oddball formatting too--like e-mail messages in a sans serif font.

    I'd advise anyone considering options to be aware what limits come with using a particular vendor's converter, versus using free software (I recommend JEdit and Calibre). With the free stuff, there's some learning curve but TONS more control. And you have formatted files ready to send to early reviewers before the book is available for sale.

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    1. So true. But all that can be intimidating for people just starting out (unless CSS is like “of course!” to them). But there are serious advantages to the Hard Way – and you make an excellent point about having formatted files for early reviewers. Although Easy Way people can use the epub and mobi downloads that B&N and Amazon now provide as well (that wasn’t always available, and it’s a nice feature now).

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  7. Having this done by someone is a huge help. After doing it myself once, I think it's worth the money.

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    1. I can totally see that! And did that, letting Dale work his magic for the first year. Only now am I brave enough to tackle this, and mostly because I had short form works that didn't seem worth paying to have someone format, but that I still wanted something fancy for. That, plus I'm greedy. :)

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  8. Great post, Sue! I wondered why some self-published books are only sold at certain sites. Definitely a tweetable post!

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    1. If you only publish on one site, it should be Amazon. I’m amazed that not everyone knows this (at least at first)!

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  9. Even though I'm not planning to do this right now, it's so interesting to learn how to do it. Hope you'll have links for this series on your sidebar or somewhere. A lot of people could benefit from this.

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  10. Thanks for the guide -- I've not had too much trouble with the simple formatting (a couple hiccups here and there), but I will be paying close attention to Thursday's post on fancy formatting. It really is a nice finishing touch on a book.

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    1. That is the part that flummoxed me for a while, but it's really not so bad. And I'm glad I took the time to figure it out, so I hope it will help others too!

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  11. This is a great "how to". I'm sure I'll take "the easiest way of all - pay somebody" if I ever get this far.

    ........dhole

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  12. This is a great post!! Thank you so much!

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  13. Thanks - I'm about to upload (download?) my book to Amazon and this is helping - I think:) I'm off to read the Hard Way now.

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  14. Thanks for this. I'm gleaning all I can from posts such as yours.

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  15. I've bookmarked these, Susan. Thanks!

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  16. One of my first customers asked me to convert his print formatted book to ebook. I gave him a conversion reference and he still wanted me to do it. Wow, was that hard. Halfway through, he decided to publish with bookbaby (they publish and distribute to a whole bunch of retailers for a flat $99 with about $20/yr after to keep your earnings reports so you keep 100% of profits) and they would have done for another $50 what took me upwards of 20 hours to learn about Word formatting, Calibre and Sigil. Next customer, I'm going to send straight to bookbaby to distribute AND publish. Now I'm going to read your hard way post to see what I didn't learn.

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  17. Great post! Thanks for all this info!

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