Monday, May 9, 2011

Author in Training: The formatting of an ebook

Last year, I decided to publish my debut novel, Love of a Stonemason, on my own. My second novel is at the proofreader’s at the moment. Since I began to publish my books through my micro publishing venture, Bookworm Press, I have been following the development of independent publishing with great interest. I make it a point to read as many indie books as possible, not just to support my fellow authors but also to find out what’s out there and, last but not least, to learn what works and what doesn't work. As an “author in training” I believe that the best learning experience is reading the books by other authors and learning from both their strengths and weaknesses.

I discovered some wonderful books that really impressed me. To be sure, in many cases, the writing is still a little “rough around the edges.” However, one thing they all have in common: The authors have great stories to tell, stories that matter, stories they care deeply about. And I believe this fact alone gives them the right to be “out there” and available. Craft can be learned. However, the desire to write something that has meaning and that matters not just to you but to someone else is, in my humble opinion, the foundation of good writing.

As I mentioned, I am an “author in training.” I’m not an expert. I am just an avid reader and passionate writer. And I hope I’ll get some feedback from readers and writers as well as editors who happened to read these posts.

I want to start by pointing out an issue I have come across in many ebooks, and not just in the ones published by indies: FORMATTING. I can’t tell you how many times I felt like throwing my Kindle against the wall when I read a good story that was so poorly formatted that it more or less ruined the reading experience for me. I’m not talking about an occasional wrong indentation or a space where there shouldn’t be one. The transformation process from MS Word or HTML to the different ebook formats is not perfect.

What I am talking about is, for instance, inconsistent justification of the text: one paragraph being left-justified and the next one flush left and flush right. Or, what’s even worse, different fonts all through the book, font changes within paragraphs, the size of the font changing from one paragraph to the next. As a reader, you don’t know if the changes are voluntary or accidental. Sometimes authors use a different font or italics on purpose, for instance to set a flashback to a past event or action off from the ongoing plot of the story. So, an involuntary change from one font to the other can completely throw the reader.

Poor formatting is not only confusing but it makes the book look unprofessional. You can always spot check an ebook version before publishing it. On Amazon, for instance, it gives you the opportunity to view at least an approximate likeness of your book. And it wouldn’t hurt to download the book after it has been published (even if you have to pay for it) and check it out on your Kindle or on your computer with the free Kindle for the PC. If you publish on Smashwords, you can download all the different ebook versions for free. There is also an excellent formatting guide on Smashwords (also for free). If you detect formatting problems, you can always upload a corrected version.

If you do the formatting of your ebook yourself, there is an easy to understand and free program a friend of mine recommended. It lets you create several different ebook versions on your computer. You can then check them out carefully before you upload and publish the book. It’s called Calibre and it can be downloaded from here: http://calibre-ebook.com/. There are other programs such as this. This is just the one I happened to come across and use for my books. It works well for me.

If you don’t want to do your own formatting, there are now many services out there that do the formatting for you at a reasonable cost. Since I have done my own formatting so far, I don’t have any personal experience with them. Suggestions are welcome!

The most important thing, however, is to check the formatting of your ebook carefully, whether you do it yourself or use a service. It shows that you care about your book and, most importantly, about the reader.

A good cover is important as well, of course—very important. But the best cover does not compensate for a poorly formatted ebook. On the contrary, a reader who buys your book because of its attractive cover and then discovers the formatting mess will really be irate.

Happy formatting! Check back for more blog posts on the fascinating and exciting world of independent publishing and all those writing pitfalls we struggle with, like spelling—ouch!!

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7 comments:

  1. I agree with you completely, Christa. I always download a preview to check the formatting. A few times it's so badly done that I know it would be too distracting if I tried to read the book.

    As you know, I did not check my file closely enough the first time, but you can bet I will next time. :-)

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  2. Ha, and you found a formatting issue in my book as well. I tried to correct it but it seems to be happening in the conversion from html to the ebook format. Oh, well, that's why I'm an "Author in Training!"

    Thanks, Linda, for stopping by.

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  3. Very interesting and informative, Christa. I'm checking this software out. Thank you so much for sharing!

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  4. Thanks Brenda and Elizabeth for dropping by!

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  5. Hi Christa,

    I just came across a post of yours on Amanda Hocking’s blog (from early days). I then took a peek at your blog. And I read this:

    To be sure, in many cases, the writing is still a little “rough around the edges.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Being newly self-published it’s painful to see. I would love for you to read my debut (an espionage thriller set in the Far East) and see if I have broken out of this unfortunate mold.

    And of course I’d love you to tell your friends if you liked it. There’s always the free sample…. ;p

    Anyway, thanks for reading, and thanks for the great list of new (to me) blogs full of useful advice,

    Michael
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004YDQORC
    http://hill170.blogspot.com/

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  6. Hi Michael,
    Thanks for stopping by. There is nothing wrong with "rough around the edges." The important thing is that we continue to hone our craft. And that's true of all authors, not just the self-published ones. I have a long "to read" list but I will certainly keep your book in mind.

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