Do-it-yourself formatting for e-readers

Of course, the obvious place to start when considering self-publishing is the writing and editing of the book itself. Editing one’s own work can be extremely challenging, but I’ve spoken on that subject here before, so I won’t go into it this time. I’m just going to assume that if you’re at the stage where you’re looking at formatting your book, you’re probably done with your very thorough editing job.
Keep in mind that this is not a tutorial or instructions on how to format, it’s just a glimpse at what formatting work actually entails.

Formatting a manuscript into a book is quite an ordeal. And what you might not realize yet is that formatting for e-readers and for paperback release are completely different, separate tasks. You’re not going to get good results if you just dump a raw, unrefined Word document into Amazon or Barnes and Noble, but quite a few people do just that!
Many people choose to use Smashwords to handle formatting, simply because it’s easy. But ease comes with a price of its own, and since they get a cut of up to one third of your profits, it might be wiser to do things yourself.

When it comes to e-book formatting, Nook Press definitely has a leg up over Amazon, even if the Kindle is the more widely-used e-reader. While it wasn’t an option when I first self-published Death of the Sun, they’ve made their own manuscript editor into something fantastic.

Nook Press manuscript editor

B&N;’s Nook manuscript editor is easy to use and provides pleasing results. It’s a straightforward WYSIWYG editor (which stands for “what you see is what you get” for those unfamiliar with the term) and includes easy options for inserting and arranging images, as well as a simplistic way of working with Nook-supported font faces. A single click splits a block of text into its own chapter, and the table of contents is just as easy to work with. Self-publishing with Nook Press is, by far, one of the easiest and most user-friendly ways to do it.

Publishing for Kindle, sadly, isn’t the same story.

If you’ve never worked with HTML and you plan to release a nicely-formatted book for Kindle, you’re going to need to learn. You might be able to get by through just uploading a Word document, but it’s not going to be pretty, it will contain weird formatting issues, and you probably won’t have a linked table of contents that actually works.

Some people try to use programs like Adobe Dreamweaver to do the HTML work for them. Don’t! While editors like Dreamweaver are fine for doing things like working on webpages, the program leaves messy code “artifacts” behind that can actually mess up your e-book’s formatting. You’re going to have to download a copy of Notepad++ and get your hands dirty. Don’t worry, it’s free – All it will cost you is time.

For those feeling concerned, don’t be too intimidated. Editors like OpenOffice and Word allow you to export your document as an HTML file. All you’ll need to do is clean up the code.

Want a good-looking Kindle book? Get used to seeing this.

There’s a lot of great guides on how to format your HTML for Kindle. There’s a good (if basic) one here you might visit for further reading. I was fortunate enough to already have familiarity with HTML, so formatting was a breeze for me. Still, it was an on-and-off process that I worked on for several days, adjusting and tweaking things until I was happy with the results.

All in all, I spent at least a week formatting for e-book release, somewhere around 40 to 50 hours making it look great for both Nook and Kindle. Some people will do this faster, others slower. Some people are not as picky about paragraph spacing and indentation as I am. But if I’d been paying myself a fair wage to get it to look just right, I’d be around $500 richer. Understanding the work that goes into this is precisely why all writers should do it themselves, at least once.

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