This is the fourth post in my continuing series INDIE PUBLISHING FOR INTERNATIONAL WRITERS, a step-by-step guide to getting your stories into (digital) print. I’ll be doing each step with you, learning as you do, because I’ve never done this before either.
Step Four: Format Your Story
All those different e-readers and devices use different software to display e-books, but there are a few industry standard file formats. What we are going to learn today is the digital equivalent of typesetting, known as formatting.
While you are waiting for your final edits or your cover, I recommend that you start learning how to format. You won’t be able to begin on your e-book until you have everything ready, but it’s good to get some practice in now.
E-readers can do things that printed books can’t, but these features make formatting a little tricky. For one, e-books have no ‘pages’ as such.
Each user has their own default fonts, font sizes, and other display options, and your e-book must be set up so that it all displays correctly on their screen, and that your text flows and wraps correctly when they zoom in and out.
If you do it right, it looks really neat, and you can do all sorts of things like add weblinks, photos, even audio and video.
There’s no easy way to tell you this, but I am going to have to ask you to do something, and you are not going to like it. But if you want to publish your book, there is no way around it. You are going to have to do a teeny tiny bit of computer programming.
Alright. You got me. There is a way around it. You can pay someone to do it. But it will cost you a minimum of $100 per short story to get it done right. And will cost you a minimum of $200 per novel too.
Add more if it’s non-fiction, and more again if it’s super-long, has lots of images, or has any other visual/layout quirks that you want to incorporate. Then, add more again if you are interested in publishing to more than just the Kindle (and you should be).
If you are still thinking about going this route, remember that’s more copies of your book you have to sell to cover your costs, longer time until you break even. And remember, all your costs are sunk costs, once you cover those, everything after that is profit. And you want to get to that point as quickly as possible.
Anyway, we are here to learn. When you get to the point where your time is too valuable, and should be spent writing instead, great, then outsource it. Until that time, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to format.
Guido Henkel’s Guide to Formatting
Self-published author Guido Henkel has produced an amazing document on how to format your e-book, and how to do it well. It’s a nine-part guide (but you get through it quite quickly as most of it is just patient explanation rather than actual steps you have to take).
If you are serious about doing this professionally, you have to go and read it when you are done here. I’ll summarise the key points below, but this summary is not a substitute for reading his guide.
Guido Henkel is the author of the Jason Dark series starring a ghost-hunter in Victorian London. As I mentioned a few days ago, digital publishing is allowing a lot of people to experiment with different lengths.
He has written a series of novellas, about 25,000 words each, or about 100 standard book pages, reviving the tradition of dime novels and penny dreadfuls.
They are old-fashioned Gothic horror stories, and I mean that in the best sense of that phrase, i.e. they are more about unbearable tension and creepy atmosphere than cheap thrills or gore.
They are a cut above that kind of slasher story, with all sorts of historical detail and references which really bring the story alive and give it depth and colour.
The books are excellent: top-notch production and great writing. He just released the 10th book in the series – Curse of Kali – and to kick you off, you can buy the first book in the series – Demon’s Night – for the low, low price of $0.99.
Guido Henkel has provided this formatting guide for free, and if you find it useful, I suggest that you consider purchasing a copy of one of his books to show your appreciation.
Even if it’s not your genre, I recommend it. It’s a great read. And besides, if you really want to know how to format a book, you should look at one that is done perfectly.
If you don’t have a smartphone or e-reader, go to Amazon right now and download Kindle-for-PC (there’s a link at the bottom of that page to download a Kindle reader for all other systems/devices).
It’s free, and you will need it anyway to check the formatting on your own stories. Once you have installed it, you can sample Kindle books for free (and see how the formatting looks).
1. There are no shortcuts. You might hear about shortcuts, and think that I didn’t know about them. But if you try, for example, just to export an e-reader ready file from your manuscript in Microsoft Word it will be an unmitigated disaster. Trust me.
2. There really are no shortcuts. You might also hear about programs which can create the Kindle-ready file straight from your Word file. These can leave problems in your formatting, and won’t give you all the files you need for all the sales channels anyway, so you are just adding an unnecessary step which may cause you problems.
3. Microsoft Word is not your friend. All those bells and whistles they have added over the years, the automatic indenting, the ‘smart’ quotes, and so on, are about to cause you extreme pain.
4. You are going to have to get into some HTML, there is no avoiding it. If you are smart enough to write a book, you are smart enough to do this. Don’t fret. It’s not that bad if you take your time and follow the instructions exactly.
5. You will need some new software. Don’t worry, it’s free and simple to use. In Guido Henkel’s guide he recommends TextMate for the HTML, but if you have a PC, I recommend Notepad++.
The Nitty Gritty
As I mentioned before, there are various sales channels for your e-book, and to maximise your revenue, you should upload to as many of them as you can. There are some restrictions, and I won’t be able to guide you on exact process of uploading to B&N because they don’t let international authors publish their work directly.
Instead, we have to go through Smashwords. But if you can upload direct to B&N, I can at least show you how to produce the file that you will need. Essentially, what you need to produce are three separate documents:
1. MOBI file – this is what you need to publish on Amazon
2. EPUB file – this is what B&N require (and it’s useful for Xinxii).
3. A clean Microsoft Word document for Smashwords (this is the only file kind they accept), which they will then convert themselves into all the files needed for the channels they distribute to.
If you follow Guido Henkel’s step-by-step guide, you will end up with the MOBI & EPUB files. It took me a few hours to do a 4,000 word piece, but I can see it going a lot quicker in the future – even with much longer work – now that I know what I am doing.
The clean Microsoft Word document you will have to do yourself. It’s a frustrating process, essentially about taking out all the styles and formatting that Microsoft puts in automatically, and re-entering them a different way.
If your editor is familiar with the process, this is something they could do for you, or at least get you part of the way along the road. Again, this is something that you will get much quicker at in the future, once you realise how to set up a document in the first place.
Smashwords have a style guide, available free here, to guide you through the process. Read it all. It’s no page-turner, but you can get through it in less than an hour and it’s essential to having your documents accepted there.
How quickly you can work through the style guide and convert your document will depend on your level of familiarity with Word. My document took me less than an hour, but only because my editor had cleaned a lot of it up. At worst, it will take you a day – the first time.
Sales on Smashwords aren’t big, but it’s the only way to get onto Kobo, Sony, Diesel, and the only easy way to get into the Apple iBookstore, as well as the only way for international authors to get onto B&N. It’s worth the hassle.
Upload Your Work
Now that you have all the documents ready, you should upload your work to the various sites: Amazon, Smashwords, Xinxii (new European site), and PubIT (B&N) if you are in the US. With Smashwords extended distribution channels, this means that your work will be for sale on Kobo, Diesel, Sony, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Xinxii, as well as all of the international Amazon sites.
Your e-book will take a few days to appear across the various sites (Amazon is usually 48-72 hours, Smashwords is longer).
Once your story appears, congratulate yourself, you are now a self-published writer. But, under my mother’s definition at least, you’re not an author yet. To earn that title you need to sell some copies.
To do that, you need to let people know it’s there. Next up, Step 5: Market Your Story.
As I mentioned above, Guido Henkel has provided this invaluable guide to formatting your story free of charge. If you found it useful, I suggest that you consider purchasing one of his novels. I just bought the first in the Jason Dark Series, Demon’s Night, and it is excellent. I recommend you do the same. After all, it’s only $0.99, and if you follow his steps, he will have saved you hundreds of dollars. At the very least, please leave him a note in the comments on his website thanking him for his work. Spread the love at www.guidohenkel.com.