You’ve written, revised, rewritten, come *this close* to lighting it on fire several times over, sent it to a professional editor, cried, revised, revised again, cried harder before revising one last time… and your manuscript is finally ready for the next step: Formatting.
Once you have your proofed final document, you’ll need to format for optimum file conversion (converting word processing files to ePub and mobi files). If you don’t, there is a good chance your eBook will look nine kinds of jacked up.
More on this below, but the trick is to be consistent with your chapter headers, so the conversion software/program can recognize and group them. Use page breaks instead of returns, and don’t use crazy fonts that won’t translate.
TIP: You can work with whatever fonts and spacing you prefer while writing, but when your project is ready for formatting, save a copy and format the copied document.
Some authors avoid having to worry about this by hiring a professional to do the formatting. But what if you don’t have the cashflow just yet? Or the content you want formatted is shorter than a novel, say, for instance, a single chapter or a short story? Or perhaps you are simply a glutton for punishment? Well, then you do it yourself.
Not going to lie, DIY formatting takes time, a bit of internet savvy and a lot of patience…but it can be done. You just need to find the right combo of program/software/online tools that work best for you.
I’m a sucker for DIY projects, a glutton for punishment, and I also happen to be one of those authors that doesn’t have the money to hire it out. Especially when all that I need done at the moment is bonus content for my subscriber list.
It took weeks of googling and youtube tutorials, but I figured it out. Well, sort of. Let’s just say I managed to learn enough to get some decently formatted content up on BookFunnel.
Before I go any further, I want to clarify that I am not a formatting expert. What I’m sharing with you is just what I’ve learned so far. Take from it what you will, but please make sure to do some of your own research as well. Oh, and if I get anything wrong, please leave corrections in the comments below!
Here is a list of some of the word processing programs/software/online tools you can use to format your manuscript for an eBook. It is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good starting point.
- MS Word
Here is where I say that I didn’t try all of these (I ended up using Pages because I was in a bit of a time crunch and found it the easiest to work in). In some cases, all I had to do was read a few reviews and/or look at the website interface to know it was going to be a big fat not even gonna try it right now for me.
PRO: I found formatting in Word frustrating, but a lot of peeps do it because it’s free. You can find helpful tutorials out there, like this one by David Stewart. It’s long, but there’s a lot of good info in it, plus it’s fairly recent.
I also found this article from ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) on formatting in MS Word that lays out the basic do’s and don’ts when formatting in Word.
Here’s another helpful post I found on the BookBaby blog explaining what you should and should not do when formatting a Word doc.
CON: You can’t export a Word file as an ePub file like you can in Pages and Scrivener. The good news is you can upload your formatted Word file to Draft2Digital, Smashwords, Createspace or Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and they will convert it to ePub and/or Mobi for you.
PRO: Pages is a word processing program that is preloaded on macs. It has all the formatting features as Word, but you can export your manuscript as an ePub file.
CON: There is no preview of how the ePub file will look before you export it, so you can’t tell if the headers, spacing or margins are wonky. Basically, you have to export eleventy billion times until you get everything how you want it. Then save that as a template for your next project.
PRO: Scrivener is a super awesome word processing program, specifically designed for writers, that also “compiles” your project into an ePub or mobi file. If you download KindleGen and Kindle Previewer, you can preview it for formatting issues. You still have to export first though, which kind of defeats the purpose of previewing it in the first place.
CON: The compile settings are so confusing and disorienting, there is a 99.9 percent chance your head will blow clean off your shoulders. Seriously, one of the biggest complaints from users is how confusing the compile feature is, even on the latest version, Scrivener 3.
Unless you have been using Scrivener for ages and have watched every single tutorial on Youtube known to man about how to use the compile features and have gone through several weeks of tinkering with the settings in order to get it right, you will want to flip tables.
Not saying you shouldn’t use Scrivener to format, just saying you’re gonna want to NOT be on a time crunch when you do.
Calibre is free software that you download and install. I came across it during my research, but didn’t end up trying it. Mainly because it was software I had to install. I can’t give a pro or a con since I didn’t use it, but here is a review if you want to check it out.
Also check out this list of the best eBook creators of 2018 according to TopTenReviews.
PRO: D2D is a distributor that also has an online formatting tool. You have to create an account to use it, but the pro is that it’s free, even if you don’t use D2D to distribute your books, and there is no software to download and install.
The online tool is simple to use, all you do is upload your file (.docx, .pdf, etc.), choose a pre-designed template and their software formats it automatically. The tool even offers a preview, so you can see how it looks once it’s in the template, which is very useful.
CON: Limited template designs. I wanted something more unique than what they offered. But check it out, you might like them! The ease of use aspect might outweigh limited template choice for some.
KINDLE DIRECT PUBLISHING
PRO: From what I’ve read, it’s super easy. Again, you upload your file to KindleCreate and, bam, it formats it. Like D2D, you can select a design theme and you can preview how your book will look by downloading and installing Kindle Preview on your machine.
CON: It’s for formatting KINDLE eBooks only. You can use it to publish on Amazon, but, from what I understand, and correct me if I’m wrong, it creates mobi files only.
For SWs, between one look at their website, the low score on TopTenReviews best of 2018 list and reading this review, I didn’t even try it.
For Createspace, again, someone correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s for formatting Print on Demand books only, not eBooks.
PRO: Although I haven’t used it, Vellum is a turnkey print and eBook formatting software that many, many authors, including the likes of Joanna Penn, swear by. It’s often touted as being so easy, you can create a beautifully formatted book in literally ten minutes.
I have not seen the templates beyond what’s on their site, but I will say they do a very good job of convincing me I really can create a beautifully formatted book in mere minutes. And THAT is what I’m talking about.
CON: It’s cost prohibitive (at least in the short run). $250 smackers. Ouch. However, once you pay, the number of files you create is unlimited.
Formatting has a large learning curve upfront, but once you find your stride, it can be another asset in your indie publishing toolbox.
The above are my opinions base on experience, and I definitely have a lot more to learn, but I hope I helped at least create a starting point for some of you!