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:


The Hostess with the Mostest said...

Without yet requiring it, Amazon is firmly suggesting a Table of Contents. I expect that will be a requirement before long.

Patrick Samphire said...

Absolutely! We'll generate a table of contents automatically later. Personally, I think it works better than manually creating one.