A Journey to E-Books, Part 2

Last week I wrote about writing, editing and proof-reading, but I realized about mid-week (I’m a little slow sometimes) that I had put the cart before the horse. Because where e-books are concerned, there’s something just as important that comes before the writing: formatting.

Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords can publish your book from a Word.doc or Word.docx. But there are a few extra steps you have to take with that program so it doesn’t come out looking like a hot mess.

Most of my manuscripts were prepared for submission to a print publisher, so they had page numbers and all kinds of other no-no’s as far as e-publishing is concerned. A lot of my time preparing a manuscript for e-publishing is getting rid of stuff that print publishers want that makes e-publishing freak out. So I’m going to try to give you a run-down on what to do, or not do, as you’re writing your book for e-publication.

STYLES: I had never heard of Styles for Word before I went to a lecture by an e-book author, and I’d been using Word for about fifteen years at the time. I’d seen those letters up on the right half of the ribbon but had no idea what they meant. (In fact, I had no idea of what most of that author showed us about Word that night meant. I felt like Phoebe on a episode of Friends when she was arguing with Ross about scientists not knowing everything. She said something like, ‘Scientists thought the atom was the smallest thing there was, but then they cracked it open and all this crap fell out.’ That author cracked open Word and all kinds of crap I’d never known about was suddenly there.)

Styles is basically saved default formatting for various applications. Only for e-books, you need to change it a little. You start with the Normal style, and then modify it. Make the indent for First Line, but you don’t want the default of .5; you want to make it .3 or .4 (or the indent will look too large on an e-reader). While you’re working on the book, you can have the line spacing at 1.5 or 2 for ease in reading it yourself, but when you’re ready to publish, you should change it to single space. You can use a justified margin but if you don’t, I believe that’s the default when it is converted for e-publishing anyway. Don’t use any Before or After spacing, and uncheck the Widow/Orphan Control. Save this style as something like E-Book; I have my e-book formatting saved as E-Book 1.5 (for the line spacing) and then modify it to E-Book SS (single space) for the final copy.

PAGE NUMBERS: Don’t insert page numbers. E-books don’t have page numbers because the page numbers would vary because of the different sizes of screens and the different font sizes the reader can choose. If, like me, you’re re-formatting a manuscript that was prepared with page numbers, you can’t get rid of them by just deleting them from the header and footer; they leave a ghost that screws up the conversion to e-book. On Word 2010 you can eliminate them by going to File – Info – Check for Sharing – Inspect Document. There is a drop down list; check only Headers Footers and Watermarks. If numbers are still there in ghost form, it will tell you they are there and ask if you want them removed. You do. I don’t know if prior versions of Word has this feature; I know Word 2003 doesn’t have it. I haven’t seen Word 2013 myself yet, but I hope this is still there because it’s invaluable for an e-manuscript.

TABS: You might think that if you already have the indent set to .3 or .4, why would I bring up tabs? Because you can’t use them AT ALL or they screw things up royally. So if something goes wrong and for some reason your paragraph doesn’t automatically indent, or it did and you accidently hit the backspace, don’t tab it into the right position. If you need to center something, don’t tab to the center, use that centering spacing thing on the ribbon (I don’t know it’s proper name) to center it. Just forget your keyboard has a tab keY when you’re preparing an e-book manuscript.

HEADINGS: The aforementioned Styles has a style called Headings. You will want to use this for your chapter numbers or titles, whichever you are using. Only my preference is to also modify this. I think the default is a kind of large-sized font, 16 pts. or over. E-books don’t like fonts that large, or at least that’s what I’ve been told so I’ve never used them. You can modify the standard Styles Heading to a font the same size as our text or a little larger if that’s your preference, and to a font that matches your text to keep it looking cohesive (the default is something weird). You can set it up when you modify to either be flush with the left margin or centered, your preference.

FONTS: Speaking of fonts and font sizes, a fairly plain font is easiest to read on an e-reader. I use Times New Roman in a 12 point. This is allegedly the size that works best with the adjusting-the-font-size feature on e-readers. The only place you can use a font size up to 16 points is your title page, but even then, if your title is long as has some long words in it, you might want to go smaller as e-book screens are pretty small (and reading on a cell makes the screen even smaller!).

By the middle of this upcoming week, I will probably think of the other things I should have included here. That’s where I’ll pick it up next week.

A Journey to E-Books, Part I

Maybe you’re here because you’re read my books and like them, and you want to know when more are coming, or something along those lines.

But maybe you’re here because you saw the sub-head Indie E-Books and that’s something you’ve been thinking about getting into yourself, and you’re looking to see how someone else did it. In that case, this post (or posts, as I’m not sure how long this will turn out) is for you. This will be a strictly personal account, though, of how I got here, but maybe there is something helpful you can glean along the way.

You can’t publish an e-book without having a book to publish first, and to have that book, you have to write. That may be the hardest part of the whole journey. Don’t get me wrong, I love to write. But in our fast-paced world, finding the time to sit down and write is difficult. You work all day long, come home and have meals to cook, laundry to wash, other household chores, don’t forget those favorite TV shows, and by the time you have a minute free, it’s 10 p.m. or later, and you just don’t have the energy to sit down and write. I can’t tell you how to find the time to write, but it kind of boils down to taking time from some other thing you already do. But you don’t have to write much each day. Think about this: if you wrote only a page a day (about 250 words, depending on the word processing program you’re using), you’ll have a 365-page book by the end of the year that’s about 91,250 words long! Not too shabby!

Typing ‘The End’ isn’t the end of it, though. Because you plan to be an indie author, you’re not just the author, you’re your own editor, proof-reader, and publisher. And before you can get to that last one, you have to do the prior two first. Editing and proofreading are the two big thorns in the side of this indie-author. I love to write, as I said, but editing I can live without. When I was still trying to get published conventionally (that’s another, different story) I would carefully edit the sample chapters which were required back in the day. But when submissions turned into a short email, not even to a publisher but to an agent who most likely had an automatically dispatched rejection letter in your inbox within seconds of you having clicked ‘send,’ I got lax about doing that. So I got into the habit of putting a finished book away, figuring the ‘cooling off period’ I’d have while it languished on a shelf would make editing easier later on. Not so, I’ve found, now that I’m publishing; I’m paying the price by having to go back and do all that editing now. Editing is more than just making sure all the spelling and grammar is correct and you didn’t give a character blue eyes in one chapter and brown in the next, or catching that when you used ‘find and replace’ to change a character’s name, not every version of the name was changed (NB: it tends to skip possessives). You have to tie up every little loose end in the plot, and make sure your chronology is right, and… well, the list goes on and on.

Proofreading is just as hard, because the eye sees what it thinks it should see, and you (or at least I) can read something countless times and miss a typo each time because the eye convinces the brain what’s typed there is correct, and the brain, which by this time has read the same book seventeen different times, is willing to believe that if the eye says it’s right, it’s right. But readers still see those errors even when you don’t, and it’s mortifying when you get reports of typos throughout the book you thought was done perfectly. I had read my first manuscripts out loud not once, but TWICE, thinking that would force my eye to see any mistakes I had made, but even that didn’t work. I think I had to go back and make about 200 corrections on the first book I published. (BTW, spell check doesn’t catch everything; if a word is spelled right, it doesn’t care if it’s the wrong word, e.g., you typed form when it should have been from. But no doubt you already know that’s the way spell check functions — but will you catch that kind of mistake? Doubtful, because your eye is saying, ‘Looks right to me!’) Fewer mistakes are slipping by me with each subsequent book, partially because I discovered if I run the cursor underneath each word as I read (silently or out loud), I’m more likely to catch a mistake. It just takes much longer that way.

Let’s say you’re now at the point where you’ve written your book, you’ve edited it and proofread it, and you’re ready to publish.

Not so fast. There’s still a bunch of things to be done.

And those things will have to wait until next time.

See you in Part II.