The Indie Files, Part Six – How to Make a Book

So last time, we covered metadata. This time around, we’re gettin’ the goods on formatting.

Formatting can either be easy or hard. But before you can do anything, you have to have the book in order. Which means your completed manuscript, cover, and metadata all need to be ready to go.

I have to stop here for a minute – formatting is still the topic I know the least about. With metadata, once I knew what to look for, it was actually pretty easy. Formatting? Not so much. When you google formatting, you’re hit with links not just to how tos, but to companies who will do it for you. Trying to sort through them and figure out which ones are worth pursuing takes time.

I’ve given some thought to formatting my manuscript myself and uploading it to the various retailers to save a bit of cash. I’ve got a test project all lined up (free short story! It’ll be available before the end of the year) and I like the idea of having control over the entire project from start to finish. So my first stop was do it yourself posts.

On the do it yourself end, Bree Bridges has written a couple of posts on converting your Word document into HTML so you can convert it to an epub document. The series doesn’t look to be complete, but it’ll give you a starting point. As she points out, complicated code is bulky code, which leads to higher delivery fees (something I didn’t know about. See? I already learned something!) Got a Mac? Author Catherine Ryan Howard offers a simple way to format your ebook. Honestly, her instructions look easier to follow than Bree’s, but one thing that may be to Bree’s advantage is she used to work as a code monkey, so the woman knows what she’s talking about. I say may because I haven’t tried either of these methods (Bree’s or Catherine’s) and I can’t tell you how difficult either of them are. In Catherine’s post, she assumes you’ll be uploading to Smashwords; Bree uses a program called Sigil (which, according to Wikipedia, is no longer in development).

There are a couple of other ways to format your book yourself. Calibre is a free program that I’ve used to convert PDF documents to .mobi files – that way I can do a read-through of a manuscript on my Kindle (because for some reason my Kindle doesn’t always read PDFs). The resulting document sorta looks like a real book, but it has a tendency to screw up things like spacing and paragraphs. Plus, if I leave the page numbers in, they’ll end up in weird spots sometimes, like in the middle of a sentence.

Both Scrivener and Jutoh will allow you to create ebook files that you can upload. Of course, you don’t necessarily need a separate software program. KDP has a style guide, as does Smashwords.

If you’re not tech-savvy, or you’re paranoid (like me) that the result will not look nearly enough like an ebook produced by, say, a digital first publisher that knows what the hell it’s doing, you can pay someone to do it for you.

If you’ve done any research on this at all, you’ve probably heard of Ebook Formatting Fairies. They’ll format your completed manuscript, with or without customization. Customization gives you live links to your other titles on the various vendors. You can also pay them to upload your completed file to iBooks, because iTunes won’t let you upload anything unless you’re using a Mac.

Ebook Formatting Fairies aren’t the only game in town, though. BookBaby offers conversion services, and KDP has a list of companies as well. Another company I’ve heard come up recently is Plaid Hat Books – a number of authors have used Diana’s services and adore her. Do some comparison shopping, but don’t forget to ask other authors what services they’ve used. Ask them what they liked and didn’t like about the service.

When it comes to print books, CreateSpace is pretty much the only game in town. There’s Lulu as well, but CreateSpace is where almost everyone goes. Formatting for print is different than formatting for ebook, and some companies will do that for you as well. CreateSpace will provide you with an ISBN for your print book for $10, but if you do that, it lists CreateSpace as the publisher. If you want to be listed as the publisher, you’ll need to provide your own ISBN.

Once you’ve got your ebook files ready, you can upload directly to the different vendors (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KOBO, iBooks), or you can go through a multi-channel service like Smashwords. Draft2Digital is another service that puts your books on multiple platforms. If you want your book available on iBooks and don’t want to pay someone to upload it for you, a multi-channel service may be the way to go. I’ve also heard you can rent Macs through the cloud, but I have no idea how you’d do that.

The likelihood of me missing something on this topic is extremely high, so do your own research. Hopefully the links here will get you started.

So what’s left? Marketing? I think marketing. Hoo boy. That’ll be fun.

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