Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Some Seemingly Simple Tips for eBook Formatting

Formatting manuscripts for eBook ain’t no fun. But having struggled with transforming Tinna’s Promise into said format from .pdf, I did learn some valuable lessons, learned mostly by experience (and repeated fails) and also learned a great deal from Mark Coker’s style guide for Smashwords. How I write my manuscripts now is influenced by how I will have to format for eBook later. I try to keep up with the formatting needs now so I don’t have to wrestle with it down the road.

If you’re not the kind of person inclined to read the directions (as I am often too impatient to do so), I thought I’d share some basic instructions on how to do it quickly and simply.

I don’t know if all authors operate as I do, but I’ve been known to write blocks of a manuscript in new documents and then cut and paste the new text it, if I don’t have the original file on hand. I also have been known to email paragraphs I’ve written on the fly to myself right in the body of the email. To make things worse, when a book is edited by someone else on another computer in possibly another version of MS Word (or switching between word-processing software), and you add and subtract text from your main file, you’re very likely to end with a Frankenstein formatted manuscript and you won’t even know it. Word has all these various styles. Whatever the defaults are on whatever computers your manuscript has been whoring with, by the time you’ve cut and paste the last of your text in and added all your revisions, it’s likely your styles are all mixed up and there’s really no easy way of telling just by scrolling through it.

Unless you wrote the whole book in that one main document, and passed that same document back and forth to editors or proofreaders, your book is going to be a patchwork of invisible ugly that won’t raise its hideous head until you’ve published to eBook and downloaded the ePub. You’ll be happily proofreading on your reader when boom... your font sizes are all over the place and blocks of your manuscript don’t match the rest. It can be annoying. More so because when the document is open in Word, everything looks quite consistent. Smashwords’ ‘vetting’ process also alerts you as to what problems may remain with your formatting that is preventing it from being submitted for the Premium catalog—but it does not always detect some formatting issues that appear in your final ePub. I take this vetting process quite seriously because Smashwords converts your manuscript to a variety of eBook formats to suit a variety of eReaders, so if you can pare it all down to the simplest, elegant format, you’re good to go. So the intent is to make it work for all.

The first thing you should do is make it a uniform formatting ‘style’.

If you are worried about having too many formatting issues that might trip up the conversion process, my first tip is to take your text and drop it into Wordpad . That will reduce your whole manuscript to its simplest form without any fancy-schmancy formatting mumbo-jumbo added in by MSWord and whatever other editors you’ve been using and pasting from. However, do not paste into Notepad because that will also remove intended formatting; such as italics and even paragraph indents, making the whole manuscript one giant text block. When you paste it all back into a word document, it will probably paste as ‘normal’ style, formatting it in paragraph blocks again anyway. But if you have italics or other special formatting in your text, you’ll likely lose it if you use notepad. So stick with Wordpad.

The ‘nuclear option’ for formatting can often be accomplished with simply selecting all your text (ctrl-A) and clicking the ‘Normal’ style. Your paragraphs will be separated by a blank hard return, with no paragraph indent—much like this blog post. It’s the easiest way to go. You can justify the text as well and be done with it.

If you look for the yellow box, that's the option you want to choose.
However, if you want your text to look like it looks in the book, indents and all, you select all of it, and you click the next style over, ‘No Spacing’. Don’t be afraid, because it will look scary first off—no indents, just one continuous paragraph of text until the first hard-return.

Gah! WTH! Kill it with fire! Don't panic. We're not done yet.
BUT with all the text still selected, you want to grab the little indent arrow on the top ruler (it’s the top one of the two pointing at one another on the margin), and drag it out to where you want your indents to be. The paragraphs ought to fall right in place as they’re supposed to, and you won’t look so scary anymore!

Above the page there's the ruler. On that ruler are little grey arrow boxes. The top arrow
box determines your indent. Drag it out to where you think your indents ought to be.
I go with a quarter inch as a mean
All you have to do is pick your preferred font (you can always stick with ‘default’) but in this case, I chose Garamond. Keep in mind, if you’re using some foo-foo-la-la font you found on or something like that, your results could be questionable. Stick with the ones everyone has. Arial, Helvetica, Garamond, Times, etc). I also justified the text. I like it to look like the page of a book.

See? It's getting prettier.
Now... the next step is to check your text for formatting features that might interfere with the conversion process and make stupid things happen, like soft line breaks between paragraphs and sections that will vanish, and tabs that screw with your indents. Click on the little paragraph symbol (¶) on your 'home' tab (assuming you're using a recentish version of Word) and all your formatting symbols will pop into view. Once those are up, scroll through your text and look for messy things. There should be only the ¶ symbol separating lines and ends of paragraphs, nothing else!

Gt rid of ‘soft returns’ and use a hard return to replace them. That means replacing the little symbol shown below (arrow going down and then pivoting left) with the ¶. Just delete it, backspace and return; that ought to do it.

Delete those little arrowy bastards!

That also means you should watch for tab symbols, as shown below, the little arrow pointing right. Use your center function to center text, do not tab it out to the center of the page. Select your text while it’s up against the margin and click the center text button. Easy as pie.

See that tabby whore? Backspace it into oblivion! There should be NONE in your manuscript.
Once the manuscript is all cleaned up of that, you can move on to formatting your title page and your chapter headers.

The first thing is to create your title page. So at the beginning of the very first line of your manuscript, insert a page break and push your first chapter down. Use this new page to build your title page—keeping the page break right after the last word on your new page.

Type out your title page as needed. Note that the text is still indented.
Remember, your document is a uniform style now—and all indents are set to where you just put them. But when you want to center something on the page, you need to remove that indent on those specific lines so that it doesn’t put the ‘center’ off kilter.

Select the text on your title page only, and drag that little indent arrow back to the margin.
Select only the text you want to center or justify, and set the indent back to flush with the margin for just that selected text.

Oooh, ahhh... purdy.
Then center them and format them as needed. Smashwords’ vetting process does not like fonts over 18pts. Just a tip. On an eReader, the title on the title page doesn’t have to be more than that to stand out. You can bold or italicize things as well.  You can justify any text blocks on the title page, just to make it look neat (you can center it too, it’s entirely your call—it’s your book).

If you intend to add in a table of contents that’s hyperlinked, then here’s an easy way to do it.

I bolded the TOC words, and you can put whatever you like on each chapter line, of course.
Go to the next page and insert another page break, and type out your Table of Contents as you want it to be.

Then click down to your first chapter and add in your chapter header if it's not already there (be sure to fix the indent on that line and all chapter header lines (and any other sequence separators to follow, such as the ****s used to divide sections). This will insure all of them are truly centered.

Chapter 1 or whatever you want to title it.
 Once that’s done, click your cursor right after the last letter of your chapter header and go to Insert > Bookmark.

The window will pop up. You can only use text and underline, no symbols, you don’t have to put all that much in there, a simple 1 will suffice if you like to keep things simple.  Click 'add'.

Once that bookmark’s made, go back up to your table of contents and select the text you want to hyperlink to that bookmark. Then RIGHT click on your mouse and pick ‘Hyperlink’

On the hyperlink window, there’s a button that says ‘bookmark’. Click it baby.

'Bookmark' button is on the right margin of the little window, second button down. See it?
You’ll see your first bookmark there. Select, hit OK twice, and you have your first hyperlink. You repeat that process as you go along, making bookmarks for chapters in succession and connecting them to the text on your table of contents.

Select the first (or appropriate bookmark from the list and hit 'OK'.

Et voila. That's your first hyperlink. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Another tip, Smashwords converters (and other converters) are not fond of .rtf or .docx format. So when you save your newly formatted document, save it as a Word 97-2003 document, it will make your life simpler. That *ought* to do it. Some eBook publishing sites have their own license notes you need to add, so be sure you do that as well (as shown above on the title page).

Just for good measure, to avoid problems.
You can add in extra pages for dedications, other title listings, web information and more. Just don’t clutter up your intro pages too much, you can always add some addendum pages, and maybe some sneak-peek paragraphs of the upcoming sequel or your next novel.

Those are tips from moi. :)

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