There are a lot of ebooks on formatting. It’s to be expected. In any new marketplace there are those who work out that the way to make money is to tell people how to make money. And you can make money by telling people that they can make money making ebooks. (And you can.)
But there’s more to it than this. There are also lots of very cheap ebooks written by people who have been through the steep learning curve that is ebook formatting and want to share it with others, because they know that people CAN do this for themselves and don’t need to pay money to be creative. They want to open the doors, to offer choice, to allow people to gain an understanding of the new media. And some of them think it’s fair to charge people for this. And some of them don’t care about the money.
Some of the guides are good and some not so good. It’s an object lesson in what’s behind the whole ebook revolution. That to engage you have to actively engage. You can’t allow other people to tell you ‘the truth’ you have to find ‘your own truth.’
I can tell you that if you can master Word and have the tenacity to write a 60,000 word novel you can learn to format it as an ebook. You need a computer, some free software time and a pioneering spirit. That’s all. However, I know that there are writers for whom the technology is terrifying and they don’t want to spend (or waste) their time learning the skills. They’d rather pay someone else to do it. Believe me, there have been times I’d love to have paid someone else to do it for me. I never had the choice. I’ve never been able to afford other people to fine tune my creativity. Like Jemima Puddleduck, I know that if I want anything doing I have to do it myself. I know my case is not true for all. So please don’t think I’m calling you a loser if you don’t fully embrace the whole publishing process on your lonesome. But beware – when you start paying others to do things for you – you do need to know what you are doing and more to the point, what they are doing and what the financial value of that is!
If I have one piece of advice for any creative person, it is learn the technology of your communication medium for yourself. I believe this is one of the keys which enables you to work professionally in a creative ‘industry’ setting. And it can save you a lot of money. Of course everyone can’t do everything but you need to know enough about each stage of your process to be able to hire in specialists (graphics, editors, proofreaders, distributors, marketers) in a professional relationship rather than run the risk of being ripped off or swallowed up by those out to make money from the unaware/uninitiated and yes, unprofessional in approach. Technological learning curves are always steep and keeping in practice with software is always a good thing but in terms of publishing there’s not that much to learn that’s beyond the grasp of the average writer using Word.
Even if you don’t end up doing the full publishing thing yourself , you need to understand enough to be professional – indie doesn’t mean unprofessional! And you need to be smart to avoid the many guises in which rip offs and vanity will enter the process. You avoid this if you do it yourself. You work to your own professional criteria and benchmarks and if you’ve set these suitably high by learning both the craft of writing and the business of publishing then you don’t have to be worried by people calling it vanity. Whether your inner motivations are vanity or professionalism is your own moral dilemma.
If you’re frightened of going it alone, good help can be at hand though. There are many people who ‘help’ others on an informal basis in formatting. Some of these will charge you. Some will do it out of the goodness of their hearts. Most will negotiate in a transparent manner with you on a job by job basis. And if you understand that a ‘clean’ html document may only take 15 minutes to format whereas a ‘dirty’ one may take 5 hours or more, then you are in a good place to negotiate with someone. Of course if you can’t tell whether the file you are giving up for publication/formatting is ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’ then I suggest you should at least start trying to learn the difference. Surely being ‘professional’ as a writer is producing professional quality copy? Yes there are always technological glitches and blips but not as many as some companies that would charge you $500 to format your ebook would suggest. My first ebook took 2 weeks of blood, sweat and tears to format. And the purchase of less than £10 worth of how to books. Now I can format for epub or Kindle in 10-15 minutes per title. I can find someone who will charge me 30p per page to ‘convert’. (£90 per full length novel) It’s a no brainer for me. I don’t charge my own time at £300+ per hour -or even £90 an hour – and I’m not paying someone else that rate.) They charge that because of the ‘risk’ of getting in ‘dirty’ copy of course, but if I know my copy is ‘clean’ why pay? Of course I can still run into hitches if I’m trying to do something ‘clever’ or forget to follow one of the ‘stages’ closely enough – computers are not known for their flexibility of approach to creatives. And I guess if I couldn’t resolve an issue then I’d at least know what it would cost me to get it ‘converted.’ Still makes my eyes water though. And of course I can understand that if I was doing the ‘conversion’ I’d want to be paid more than £15 for doing it – if it was my business – but that’s part of the problem. I don’t think that converting/formatting ebooks is something that requires a ‘professional’ being paid professional rates. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. And it tends to impact badly on views of the whole epublishing process.
Remember though that formatting is just one part of the process. Let me give you (for free) an insight into the workflow:
Note that that actual CREATIVE writing has all been DONE by this stage. That’s a given. This is publishing not creativity.
1) You write your ebook. In Word format. You want to make it CLEAN and this means that you don’t use tabs you avoid headers and all the fancy formatting that you would tend to use when writing for other mediums. There are quick ways of converting your word doc to CLEAN. And there are sneaky little bear traps that make you think that you’ve achieved in only later on down the line to find that you haven’t. But always, always, if you work from a clean document you will save yourself masses of time. If not, that’s where the problems occur. So if you have a mass of problems that you can’t sort for yourself and don’t understand – that would be the time to hire someone in – and be very clear with them what the problems are and negotiate how much time they think they will take to fix (bear in mind that just because you’ve sweated for a week over it doesn’t mean that someone with a basic knowledge of HTML won’t be able to ‘fix’ it in 5 minutes. And then you’re paying them to drink coffee!
2) You convert your document to HTML (usually) and run it through a conversion/formatting software programme: There are good free ones out there. Mobipocket for Kindles and Sigil for epub are the best I’ve found. If you can work Adobe InDesign you’re laughing.
3) In the conversion/editing/formatting stage you just have to follow the steps. Carefully and rigorously. And without fear. You’ll get your cover, metadata and text file all sorted and put in the headers and TOC that you need. For epub you do all this in Sigil. For Kindle you do some of this before you enter Mobipocket. There are many cheap guides on how to do this. At the end I’m listing some I know of.
4) You are then ready to check that the file has formatted properly and PUBLISH it. KDP and KWL are the most easy to use interfaces, which give you an ebook in Amazon and Kobo respectively. I’ve never used Smashwords. I am afraid of the MeatGrinder. It sounds brutal. I don’t want my work mangled. The others can mangle your work as well, but if you’ve created for KDP in HTML/mobipocket and KWL in Sigil you are more or less providing them with oven ready product. If it works for you it works for them. And you can test it on their downloads prior to publication to be sure.
5) That’s it.
I’ve dipped into (or bought) as appropriate all of the ebooks/blogs mentioned below. They all have something to offer. Some more technical, some more hand holding, some more conceptual. And while I’m a great cynic as regards ‘how to’ books in general, it was a good deal cheaper than paying to have my work formatted. There’s a lot of folk out there offering good advice for free or next to nothing and you take your chances, do your research and make sure they are offering what you need to know before you part with your cash. But I don’t need to tell you that do I?
Guido Henkel’s Take Pride in your Ebook formatting is good. Free blog advice and he offers an ebook formatting service
Dave Gaughran is also good. He ‘tells it like it is’ and offers a lot of sound advice. His blog and ebook are both very useful. You do tend to find that once you’ve stripped a person’s blog for ‘tips’ and ‘help’ you don’t feel as bad giving them a couple of quid for an ebook which has it all in one place for you! By that stage you’re so grateful you might pay their kids through college!
If you are going to publish epub format (that’s the ‘open’ format used by all but Kindle) then I’d strongly recommend you get to grips with Sigil. It’s a bit odd if you’re not used to text editors to begin with, but it’s one of my best free friends these days. Sigil is good. I’d even pay money for it. And the best place to find out about it is from the online guide
Keep it Simple Stupid by Elijana Kindell is the first book I bought and it did most of the job for me. And I reckon it is still the best 77p I’ve ever spent. (I was deeply cynical about an author called Kindell teaching me how to convert to Kindle – but I learned sometimes you just have to ‘believe’) Where I still had problems they tended to be my complete unawareness of HTML/coding and editors in any way. Once I’d grasped these from other sources I found I could make more sense and use of this guide.
How to Publish an ebook on a budget. Stephanie Zia’s book is more useful conceptually I found than actually in terms of nuts and bolts how to build the damned thing. She links a lot to places that give you the detail. It wouldn’t be my first buy but it’s useful for the odd tip here and there and for an overview of why you would want to do this thing in the first place. a lot of times you need to refer to different writers viewpoints simply because they explain the terminology in different ways and sometimes you need to read a couple for the terms to ‘click.’
You certainly don’t have to pay a lot of money to get a lot of good advice. I gave myself a budge of £10 for how to format ebooks. I walked away with change.
I am aware that I’m giving you a pretty positive view of the whole formatting thing and I wanted to offer a balanced approach so I’ll turn things over to K.D.Lathar who has epublished titles of his own and those of Dennis Hamley and he’ll give you his take on the whole thing. (and give a wee plug for his books – well you do, don’t you!) Once you’ve had two personal opinions I hope you’ll feel more informed and maybe inspired to actually get into the process for yourself (always assuming you have a great work ready for publication!)
EPublishing, Formatting and the Dream
By K D Lathar
I have produced two books; p/b, h/b and kindle. I format for others and am an independent publisher. Failure to publish my first, The Changeling, despite a well-known agent, didn’t mean that my dream was dead. IT background helped, but with no fiction writing or publishing experience, I was in for a steep learning curve; trust me, at times it was bad.
So, a brief history. Having decided to write brought the first of many hurdles, including the intrinsically linked understanding of many formats that exist in an industry which deals with precision layouts, a million different fonts (bembo, ariel, true fonts etc), and the difficulties related to format conversations.
I learnt a lot about the publishing process, from jacket covers in pdfs, high res. jpegs, to dpi (dots per inch) required to print clearly, to paper thickness (80/120gms),the feel of the final product, cost increasing with weight, quality and delivery. Suffice it say, Simon Mayo said to a publisher about my book; ‘I have it here, nothing amateurish about it, it’s beautifully produced.’ Then came Kindle.
Let’s look at this eform more closely. Remember the examples are not exhaustive. There are a multitude of applications used in writing. All store the written form in a particular format (word, quark, notepad, paper). Yes, paper is a format, from which conversion may be necessary. Then graphics – jpegs, gif, tiff, bmp, powerpoint, visio – more formats. Therefore first clarify what you mean by “format”. The reason for this clarity is that you, or someone will take this storable and editable form and will convert from it into eform; kindle, ePub, Nook, PDF, text.
Having my second book, The Eternal Well, in Quark format was a mistake. It didn’t convert to Word well, or directly and easily into html, which is what is needed to convert it into electronic formats. It also has graphics (jpegs), more problems. In addition, there is a series of application-specific hurdles created from the ‘metadata’ needed to display, comment, track, and convert to the final form that a user reads on PCs or tablets.
Finally: conversion tools, Calibre, Mobipocket, and others. Each has its own merits, each requires time to learn the finer points and each will have deficiencies which will waste a lot of time because they mangle the conversion into eform by adding extra lines, adding carriage return, inserting indexes you didn’t want, strip out items you did want. In the end, you’ll be ready to wreck a PC you can’t afford to replace.
I’ve now reached a series of processes which produce the result that I need; format and work in Word, converting using Calibre and Mobipocket. I offer this limited service to writers who have produced a quality product. No formatting will produce a quality product from a badly written book. My advice, write a great book, convert it yourself if you can, pay to have it converted if you can’t, and assess the final product yourself.
K.D. Lathar’s details
Writer, artist, cook. You have one life but it is best to get on with it. After four decades on earth, I decided I had something to say about life, death, inner demons, the darkness in our souls and the magic that surrounds us all, hence The Changeling Saga.
When push comes to shove, the animal inside awakes….
It’s a primeval instinct and everyone has an animal inside…you just have to find it.
When the images in the mirror start to move, there is no more time to dream. For twelve year old Peter Badger, the dream about finding his missing father has already become a nightmare.
Pushed into a world which transforms when the sun goes down, where the reflection in the water is that of an animal, Peter struggles to stay human while containing the animal spirit. Out in the wild, where deadly creatures and elemental demons roam, where two enlightened races are at war, Peter discovers his ability to transform into a powerful badger. Caught between the races, he and his Changeling friends, Michelle Hawk and Paul Otter, have to decide which side to take.
The Changelings must face the Rumanni King, who will stop at nothing to gain the Changelings’ power. Unfortunately for them, the casually murderous ruler might also be responsible for the disappearance of Peter’s father…
The Eternal Well
‘What do you mean a single soul can destroy the universe?’ The Clan leader was serious.
Thirteen-year old Peter Badger and Michelle Hawk cling to the hope that their other Changeling friend, Paul Otter, is still alive and has found one of their missing parents. They re-enter the world in which the Rumanni are struggling with the Clan for dominance; the Rumanni might against the Clan’s enlightened spiritualism.
The Rumanni King however hates the Changelings and is hunting them down. He wants their power, for he believes that somewhere in it lies the solution to his longing for eternal life. To make matters worse, the land becomes a perilous place when the sun goes down as the night creatures and the Rakshas, the demons, come out to feed.
The Changelings’ attempted rescue of their captive parent is a disaster. It acts as a catalyst which transforms the Changeling parent’s soul into a nemesis that could destroy the whole of existence. Unwilling to accept their failure, headstrong Michelle goes in search of the Gate to the very Realm of the Dead, to save the soul of the missing parent. Peter and Paul follow, knowing that all three must stay together to have a chance of succeeding.
In this Realm, terrible in its simple imperative, the ruler of the Dead is their absolute enemy. Surely the Changelings’ task to find one soul amongst the untold trillions is impossible?