Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Ebook formatting. Huh?
Believe it or not, it never occurred to me that you can’t just upload your pretty .doc file onto Smashwords or Amazon and expect it to come out the other side as a perfect ebook. The .doc file is to writing as fresh water is to civilization, isn’t it? Shouldn’t it be the Perrier of self-publishing?
I know, Amazon says you can just upload your Word file and they’ll take care of the rest, but according to David Gaughran, author of Let’s Get Digital: How to Self-Publish And Why You Should, you open your ebook to unpredictable coding errors when you do that and risk coming across to readers as unprofessional. Anathema to us, right?
Gaughran recommends Guido Henkel’s guide, “Take Pride In Your Ebook Formatting,” a free resource on the web, which takes the neophyte through a foolproof formatting protocol that will work with all self-publishing outlets. The only problem is that you have to use HTML.
Henkel’s thinking is that only you can ensure that your book will turn out exactly the way you want it. Automated conversion services are just that — automated — and they can introduce funky code that will make your Great American Novel look like a survivalist’s internet manifesto. (We all know what a great impression those make.)
I started playing with this yesterday, on a small document, and learned that it isn’t exactly a piece of cake. Some of Henkel’s painstaking instructions don’t work with my word processing software (Nisus Writer Express for Mac), so I killed a lot of time figuring out how to fix what went wrong. Still, after a couple of hours trialling and erroring, I’d managed to come up with an HTML version of the document that can be viewed on a web browser and checked for problems. I also learned how to make style changes, including font size, spacing, centering, bold, and italics — everything the average novel needs to look identical to anything the traditional publishers put out. There are some more steps for me to go through before I try it with my novel, but I feel a lot more confident about it now than I did twenty-four hours ago.
My question for other self-pubbers out there is, How did you handle the formatting of your ebook? Did you use the Smashwords style guide? Upload a .doc to Amazon? Pay somebody to do it for you? And were the results what you hoped for?
Gaughran makes it sound like you’re asking for trouble if you don’t do it yourself. Henkel’s way, he says, is the only way to make sure your ebook looks good on any device, from a Kindle to an iPhone. What’s the consensus?