Friday, 29 April 2016

A Guide to Self Publishing - The eBook Document

Creating the eBook

Thankfully, the ebook document is much easier to format than the hard copy document because the basic premise of the eBook document is to remove as much formatting as possible so that your book will appear correctly in as many devices as possible. There are now many different digital reading devices on the market from Kindles, iPads, iPhones, Android based tablets and phones, Kobo eReader and you want your document to look as professional as possible on all of them! It's time to hang up your artistic talent and keep it simple. While a printed book demands justified text, page numbers and formatted chapter headings, these features are exactly what you want to avoid in an eBook format. The reason for this is that the device "flows" your text onto the device page depending on the user preference for font, font size, device orientation and device size. A reader can choose to use your beautiful published font on their device but that's not the default setting in many devices.

Fortunately, Smashwords has a document template that you can use to produce a simple, lean eBook document, available when you sign up for an account. They have also published a document outlining their recommendations for a successful eBook document called the Smashwords Style Guide. This book is well worth reading as it's authored by one of the founders of Smashwords, whether you decide to use Smashwords or not.


If you do decide to use Smashwords, you'll need to copy the content from your hard copy document and paste it into a text editor like notepad. That will remove all the embedded formatting. Then copy that and paste it into the Smashwords template. You then need to reformat the parts that need to be reformatted, like the title, author name, dedications, copyright and chapter headings. Follow the same approach you took to format the hard copy document and apply styles to sections of the text rather than format bits of the text inconsistently.

One tip I can offer is for chapter headings. In my hard copy document I had defined a style that had leading space before the text and trailing space after it. I used a similar style in the Smashwords template and the leading space caused a page break when the document was converted, leaving two blank pages between each chapter. It's OK to have trailing space, it's OK to have the style include a page break but it's not OK to have leading space!

Once you have completed the Smashwords template with a basic font, minimal formatting and no justification, it's a simple matter to upload it to Smashwords. Smashwords converts the document on the fly and you can download a copy of the conversion to ensure it was successful. There should be no blank pages and the text should flow into the device simulator correctly. If everything is OK you'll need to wait for Smashwords to check your document before they decide to send it out to the distribution channels. You can take this opportunity to uncheck any retailers you don't want Smashwords to distribute to. I only unselected Amazon as I wanted to go direct and here's where there is an opportunity for some slightly dodgy behaviour. Smashwords will provide you with a mobi format file, perfect for the upload to Amazon. You can take this file and upload it to Amazon directly and save yourself 10% on the royalty. I'm not suggesting you do this, (though I did...) considering how easy Smashwords has made the publishing process, but if you do, it might be a good idea to put some karma back in and feature Smashwords prominently on your website sales page (which I did...). If you sell through Smashwords your making 15% over Amazon's royalty anyway!


The other alternative to get your file to Amazon is via the service offered by Createspace. Createspace will send your files directly to KDP (Amazon's eBook publishing) who will then convert the files into .mobi format for you. That is extremely convenient for the .Mobi, however I couldn't see how you could export that in any other format. That's unfortunate because if you could export you work on Amazon to ePub format it could save you the trouble of creating the separate word file for Smashwords as Smashwords can import an ePub document. You could try to convert the .mobi to .ePub using a third party conversion tool like Calibre but the results are definitely not guaranteed! There is probably a very good reason Smashwords requests a minimal word document for submission.

Jutoh and Scrivener

Jutoh provides the ability to import a Microsoft Word document to produce a range of eBook formats. This was the approach I originally took until I realised I had to create a Word document for the hard copy anyway. I don't actually recommend the Jutoh approach, but I've included it here for those that may want more control over their eBook format documents. Jutoh will read a Word file and automatically create sections based on the styles you have defined in your document. Before you load your file into Jutoh I'd strongly recommend consistency in the application of the styles in Word. For example, make sure all your chapter headings use the same style, the body content uses the same style, etc. I created a style for chapter headings, tailored the normal style for the body text, then created styles for the copyright, dedication, acknowledgements sections and one for italic content. Jutoh will then create styles for your project automatically. Scrivener appears to take the opposite approach and seems to be built around the idea of creating your manuscript in the application itself. While it can import the text from Word, the text for me came in as one block that I would then have had to split into chapters. Writing the book in Scrivener may suit some people, It didn't really suit me.
That's the eBook done!

Now for the Final Considerations.

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