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GUEST BLOG: Terry Hayman

Guest blog: Terry Hayman

Avoid or fix the most common e-book formatting problems

If you’re just getting into the e-book game, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered some problems with getting your work to appear the way you want it to in e-book form. And while there are a bunch of “How to” guides out there that go into great detail, unless you’re doing something really tricky like forcing a particular font, or inserting columns, pictures, etc. into your text, getting a cleanly-formatted e-book is easier than you think.

Biggest rule is keep it simple. Use Microsoft Word as your creation/preparation tool. If you’re a Microsoft hater (I personally prefer WordPerfect to Word), use it anyway. The e-publishing tools of Smashwords, Amazon, and Pubit! (Barnes & Noble) are all designed to work with Word documents. Yes, they’ll take other stuff too, but unless you’re a tech-head who’s into HTML and such, stick with Word.

Now, take that manuscript that has been created or ported into Word and strip out anything but the basic text done in Times New Roman 12-point. (You could instead choose another standard font like Arial. Doesn’t matter. When you put it through the Amazon or other uploaders, they’ll switch it to their own preferred font.) You can include italics, forced page breaks, and paragraph first line indenting and 1.5 line spacing selected via the Paragraph’s Indents and Spacing setup.

Take out all tabs, headers or footers, page numbers, underlines, section breaks. Oh, and don’t use more than four paragraph returns at one time because it can end up giving you an entire blank screen on an e-reader.

All these rules and a few less common ones (like how to insert pictures, chapter points, hyperlinks, etc.) can be found in the free Smashwords style guide if you want to pick your way through the process point by point, but if you’ve done the basics listed above, when you upload your book the formatting should be fine 90% of the time.

But wait! You’re not done yet. You need to check your work.

With Smashwords and Pubit!, you can download an epub file into your e-reader or a program on your computer which can read epub and check for errors. For Amazon, before you go to the second screen on Amazon’s publish site, click on Preview Your Work. Go through at least five or six pages and you’ll catch the most common errors that show up, namely weird symbols for smartquotes and weird indents when you have multiple short paragraphs for things like dialogue.

When I get weird symbols, I usually fix them in Word itself by copying and pasting the offending quotation mark or whatever into the “find” of Find and Replace, where it will show its true form. Then I put the proper symbol into “replace” and do the switches. (But be careful about doing an indiscriminate “replace all” if the symbol is something common like a capital A!)

For weird indents I’ve found I have to, from Amazon’s “preview” screen, download the HTML.  Take note of what the to-be-downloaded file is called so you can find it later. It downloads as a zip file, though it may not be identified as such. You need to unzip it, then put it into an HTML editor that lets you see the actual HTML (there are some free ones available online, but I use Microsoft’s ExpressionWeb), find the offending code that shows up just before the bad indents, and do a search and replace, changing that bad indent code to one of the good indents code strings you’ll find before a properly indented paragraph. Then save your corrected file, re-zip it, and re-upload it to Amazon. Again check the preview and everything should be fine.

(Note: Some friends of mine have recommended instead that you convert the file to .mobi format via a plugin Amazon offers for InDesign if you happen to have that program. Others say run your work through Smashwords, which tends to fix some of the problems and then download the .mobi version of your work and upload it to Amazon. The latter technique, Smashwords notes on its site, may bring about bad karma since you’re essentially using their formatting work to upload to a competing distributor.)

If all the HTML and .mobi stuff sounds too difficult to deal with, remember that the formatting problems should only happen on a few of your e-books and, as long as you tell a great story, most e-readers will forgive a few formatting errors.

Don’t let fear of formatting stop you from getting into this game.

You can learn as you go. You can go back and fix errors if you discover them later. Remember that, unlike traditional print publishing, this is a long-term play you’re making. Your books will not go out onto shelves for only one month to a year and sink or swim. You have decades for your book to find its audience.  Decades for it to earn its keep and communicate your great story to the world.

So do the best you can. Get help if you need it. Keep learning and growing. But get your stuff up there!

About the Author

Terry Hayman is a former lawyer, actor, and professional speaker who now writes full time in North Vancouver, BC. He’s actively working with Fiero Publishing to make his novel Chasing the Minotaur, his backlist of published stories, and some exciting new fiction available as e-books. You can visit his blog for some regular story ideas as well as other thoughts on the writing life.

HYPERLINKS (in case you need to add them in manually)

Terry Hayman http://www.terryhayman.com

Fiero Publishing http://www.fieropublishing.com

Chasing the Minotaur http://www.amazon.com/Chasing-the-Minotaur-ebook/dp/B004D4ZPL8/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&m=AZC9TZ4UC9CFC&s=digital-text&qid=1295400988&sr=8-3

stories http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=terry+hayman&x=0&y=0

blog http://www.terryhayman.com/blog

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