Thursday, 31 January 2013

Creating Your Ebook the Right Way: Part 2

In the previous part of this series, we collected together all of the material we are going to use in our ebook and figured out all of the different types of formatting we were going to need.

Now, we're going to utterly destroy it.

The Patented, Double-Nuke Destruction

The thing is, Microsoft Word (and other similar word-processing programmes) fill your document with vast amounts of crud. You probably aren't noticing, because it's hidden from plain view, but it's there, and if you don't get rid of it, your ebook is going to be a mess.

So, we're going to get rid of it. Violently and permanently. And we're going to get rid of all of our formatting at the same time.

Then we're going to put the formatting back in properly.

Unfortunately, we're going to end up repeating our actions a few times in this process. That's because we're going to be producing both a Word document that can be used for Smashwords (and Amazon, and a PDF) as well as the mobi and epub versions. If you've decided only to create the mobi and epub versions, some of this will be redundant. It should be fairly easy to figure out which bits those are.

Okay, if you're a Microsoft Word genius, you might already have done all the formatting perfectly. If so, good for you. Otherwise, for those of us who are fallible mortals, let's go...

Actually, wait! Let's not go just yet.

See, if you're like me, your manuscript is full of italics. We writers do love our italics. And we've probably got a few bolds as well. When we fireball the formatting, we're going to lose all of those. And who wants to go through the whole manuscript putting every single italic back in?

So, let's be smart about this.

Being Smart About This

We might have to lose our italics and bolds, but we can put in placeholders to show where they should be, and then automatically reinsert the italics and bolds afterwards.

The problem with this is that we are going to end up putting those placeholders around our headings too. And we don't want to do that. We're going to format our headings in a different way.

So, before we even put in our placeholders, we're going to clear all the formatting of the headings. Luckily, Word makes it easy for us to do this.

Click anywhere on a heading. Then use the dropdown menu shown and select 'Clear Formatting'.

Note: I'm using Word 2004 (on a Mac), because this is my preferred version. I think it's easier than more recent versions. Different versions of Word may have the functionality we're using in different places. However all the things I'm going to do should be possible on any recent version of Word. You may have to go digging around menus or the help section to find them, though.

Once you've selected 'Clear Formatting', your heading should now be formatted in exactly the same way as standard text ('Normal'). Do the same for all other headings in the document. (Make sure you do it for all the headings in the supplemental material, as well as the story.)

Done that?


Now let's go through and deal with those italics and bolds.

First up, the italics.

In your version of Word, go to "Replace...". On my ancient version, that's in the 'Edit' menu. You can also get to it on a Mac by this shortcut: Shift + Command + H (I assume on a PC you would use Shift + Ctrl + H, but I haven't used a PC for a few years now).

In the 'Find' box you need to select 'Italic' for format. On my version, you click on the down arrow, then select Format.

Then choose Font from the 'Format' dropdown menu, click on 'Italic' and 'OK'. Your version of Word, again, may vary in exact details.

This gives you:

In the 'Replace' box you need to select 'Not Italic' for the Format (same process as above) and type in the following: <em>^&</em>

Then click 'Replace All'.

What you've told Word to do is find everything that is in italic, take that content (denoted by ^&), wrap it between <em> and </em>, and then remove the italic formatting. (The <em> and </em> are the HTML way of denoting italic; you can choose whatever you like, as long as it's not something that actually occurs in the text).

For example, if your original document had the following:

This is in italics.

It should now look like:

<em>This is in italics.</em>

In the document now.

You have removed all the italics from your text, but you know exactly where they will go for later use.

Fantastic. Now you are going to do exactly the same with bold.

In this case, select Format: Bold in the Find Box and Format: Not Bold in the Replace box. (You may have to clear the previous italic and not italic formatting in these boxes. You should have a 'No Formatting' button in Find and Replace that does this.) In the Replace box type exactly this: <strong>^&</strong>

(Again, <strong> is the way you represent bold in HTML. More on HTML later; it's not that hard, and I'll explain these tags we've used.)

Now we're ready to clear the formatting from the whole document.

Nuke Number 1

Select all the text in the document (Command + A on a Mac; Ctrl + A on a PC) and choose 'Clear Formatting' from the dropdown menu, just as you did for the headings.

Everything should now be in basic text formatting.

That should be enough, right?

Well, not quite. There could still be crud lurking around.

Nuke Number 2

Select everything again. This time, copy it.

We're going to paste everything into a plain text editor.

Plain text editors include:

  • Notepad (On your PC already ... hopefully)
  • TextEdit (On your Mac already ... hopefully)
  • TextWrangler (Free; Mac only)
  • TextMate (Free trial period; Mac only)
  • Sublime Text (Free trial period; PC, Mac or Linux)
  • Any other basic HTML editor

And so on. Don't use any text editor with formatting facilities. For example, WordPad would be completely unsuitable.

Notepad is ideal for this, but we will be using either TextMate or Sublime Text later on in this series, so you may want to consider getting one of those at some point.

So, paste everything you copied from Word into a new document in one of those text editors and save it as a .txt file (e.g., 'my-book.txt').

Right. That's enough for today. Next time, we'll put the text back into Word and do some cleaning up of this text so that we can get it properly formatted for Smashwords or Amazon upload.

See you then!

Part 3 is now available: read part 3 here.

(Note: if you are interested in hiring me for ebook cover design or ebook formatting, you can see samples of my work here: and see details (including cost) of my services here:

Friday, 25 January 2013

Creating Your Ebook the Right Way: Part 1

Turning your manuscript into a well-formatted ebook that works on most e-readers can be an enormous challenge for writers. Information on how to do it is sparse, and some ebook vendors seem determined to keep details of what works and doesn't work on their devices a state secret.

This blog series is going to tell everything you know to turn your novel or short story manuscript into formats that work for most e-reader devices.

We'll start by creating a properly formatted Word document, then convert it to the epub format (suitable for most e-readers), and finally convert it again into mobi format for Kindle.

There are a large number of ebook stores that you might want to distribute your ebook through, including your own website, but the main stores you are going to be interested in are Amazon and Smashwords (which can distribute your ebook to most other stores).

Smashwords allows you to upload either a Word or .epub version of your book. We'll discuss the pros and cons of these approaches later in this series of blog posts, and I'll show you how to create both formats here.

I'm going to assume that you are working in Microsoft Word. You don't have to. Other word processors have similar capabilities, but the examples and processes I show will be in Word.

Note that this guide is only for converting a novel / short story / story collection manuscript. If your book has a complex layout (e.g., it's a technical book), you really need to employ a professional.

Assemble Everything

First things first. You're going to have more in your ebook than just the story. Here are some things you might want to include:
  • Title Page
  • Dedication
  • Story (!)
  • Info about other stories / books you have available
  • Biography
  • Acknowledgements
  • Copyright Page
  • And so on
What you want to do is put all of this in a single Word document. The only things you are going to leave out are the images. We'll add these later. Right now, they'd just be in the way.

You should put as much of the supplementary material at the end as possible. In general, the only things that should come before the actual story are the title page (possibly with a copyright statement) and a dedication (if you're using one). Everything else should go after the story.

This is because potential ebook buyers can download a sample from your ebook. On Amazon, this is the first 10% of the ebook. This is your chance to persuade readers to buy your book. Are they going to really do this if the sample is pages and pages of guff?

Last year, I downloaded a sample of a book I was thinking about buying. The 10% consisted of several title pages, many pages of copyright and other similar stuff, and an introduction. Then the sample ended, before any of the actual book showed up. Needless to say, I didn't buy it.

A further word of caution on the supplemental material here: be careful of how much you include, even if it is after the story. A reader who buys an ebook is going to feel cheated if a third of the content is extras. They are paying for the story, not for your adverts.

If you distribute your ebook through Smashwords, you will need to include a different and very specific copyright statement. We'll come to that later, but for now go with whatever copyright statement you feel most happy with.

Take Stock

Before you launch into formatting your ebook, you need to take stock of your manuscript. Go through it and make a list of every different kind of formatting you've got. To illustrate this series, I'm going to use as an example a short story of mine, Love Stories from the Jungle, which I'll convert into an ebook as I go along.

Here are a couple of screenshots of the manuscript:

This is the opening of the story.


This is some of the supplemental material.

Even though I haven't gone through and properly formatted the story yet, I can still get a pretty good idea of the types of formatting I'm going to need:

  • Main heading
  • Sub heading
  • Chapter / section heading
  • Normal text (most of the actual story)
  • First paragraph text - for the first paragraph in a section or chapter. (If you look at professionally-produced fiction books, you'll see that the first paragraph in every chapter, or section of a chapter, is not indented, unlike the other paragraphs. We will need to do this too.)
  • Bold text
  • Italic text
  • Centered text and images
  • I also have certain lines (paragraphs) that are indented further than normal (not shown on the screenshots), so I'll have to handle those too.
Sometimes I will also want extra white space beneath or above an element, for visual reasons. For example, each of the sections in this story has a title, and so I'm going to want the ability to insert blank space between the end of a section and the title of the next section. I could do that with blank lines, but that's not really a great idea, and I'll show you a much better way of achieving the same thing.

These formats should cover everything I need for the story. You'll note that I don't have any different fonts in the story. I strongly recommend that you don't either. If you do have different fonts in your manuscript, consider whether you can produce the same effect with just italics and bold.

It is very difficult to reliably set fonts across different e-reading devices, and furthermore, even if you can do it, it's a bad idea.

The principal principle...

One important principle we're going to be sticking to all the way through this process is that we're not going to over-ride our readers' settings on their e-reading devices. We can (with low reliability, as it happens) change the font, font-size, line-spacing and so on of the text in our ebook.

But if we do, we'll be irritating our readers.

Most people have their e-readers set up how they like them. They can choose their font, their font size, the line spacing, whether the text is justified (lined up on the right hand side as well as on the left), and sometimes other settings, depending on the device. Me, I like a fairly small font size and small line-spacing, and on my Kindle, I have the font set to Caecilia condensed, and I have the minimum possible margins.

Now suppose you come along with your ebook all set up with a completely different font, size, line-spacing and so on, and I can't read it. Not easily. It hurts my eyes. I fiddle around, but because of your typesetting and layout, I still can't get it exactly the way I want it.

I might give up on the book (I did with one recently where I couldn't get it easy to read) and ask for a refund from Amazon. You've lost the sale.

There's no need to alter the base settings on your ebook. The people who designed the Nook and the Kindle and all the rest have done a fantastic job. They probably know far more about how to make e-readers readable than you or I do.

Don't get in the way. Leave most of the typesetting and layout to the device and the reader.

So, on with the show

Back to the ebook we're creating.

You should now have a list of all the different types of formatting you'll need in your ebook. Next time, we'll start actually formatting this thing properly.

See you then!

Part 2 is now available: read part 2 here.

(Note: if you are interested in hiring me for ebook cover design or ebook formatting, you can see samples of my work here: and see details (including cost) of my services here:

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Bone Roads on Smashwords

Just a quick note that my fantasy short story collection, Bone Roads, is now available on Smashwords.

The collection consists of nine short stories, eight of which were previously published in places like Realms of Fantasy, Strange Horizons and Black Static.

You can still buy the .mobi version of this collection via the various Amazon stores, but you can now also get an .epub version at Smashwords. It should filter out to other online stores over the next few weeks. Here are the links to where you can buy it:

Amazon UK
Amazon USA

Here are a few reviews of stories in the collection:

- Colin Harvey, Suite101, on 'At the Gates'

"This one kept me turning the page without pause, with its natural pace and flow of words, good characterization, and skillful plot build-up. Samphire's writing skill is matched only by his knowledge of Ancient Egyptian culture and mythology."
- Scott M. Sandridge, Tangent Online, on 'The Land of Reeds'.

"A great coming-of-age story."
David Roy, epinions, on 'When the Dragon Falls".


Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Christmas Haul

So, yeah, I haven't posted my haul of Christmas books, which I figure are going to be pretty much all of my reading for the next few months. Here we go:

Blood and Bone - Ian C. Esslemont
Whispers Under Ground - Ben Aaronovitch
London Falling - Paul Cornell
The Hydrogen Sonata - Iain M. Banks
Stonemouth - Iain Banks
The Mark of Athena - Rick Riordan
The White Mountains - John Christopher
Zom-B - Darren Shan
Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King
The Wind through the Keyhole - Stephen King
The Children of the Sky - Vernor Vinge

Also, these books on Kindle:

The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through Hidden Connections of the English Language - Mark Forsyth
Storm Front - Jim Butcher
Earthfall - Mark Walden
Great North Road - Peter Hamilton

There are also a couple of books that Steph got that I'm particularly interested in reading:

Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities - Mike Jung
The Friday Society - Adrienne Kress

So, how about you. What are you planning to read next?