Ruth Harris Report #13: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Ebook Formatting But Were Afraid To Ask (Part Three)

Happy Weekend, WG2E-Land!

Please give a fabulous WG2E shout-out and welcome back to New York Times Bestselling Author Ruth Harris, who’s got another terrific post on Ebook Formatting! In case you missed the first two parts of this series, here you go:

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Ebook Formatting But Were Afraid To Ask (Part One)

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Ebook Formatting But Were Afraid to Ask (Part Two)

Take it away, Ruth…

Just as the revolution in e-publishing has made galleys and page proofs obsolete, a new profession—formatting—has been created. I’ve asked four of the most experienced formatters in the epub world to explain the process that turns your story from a previously published book or original manuscript into an elegant, easy-to-read ebook.

Here, in Part 3 of the series, our formatters will address questions about sample pages, scanning, and best practices for submissions.

Do you offer sample pages?

Rik Hall: On both my web site and FB page I have covers for many of the books that I have formatted.  Any perspective customer can go to any of those books on Amazon and do a “Look inside.”

Judi Fennell: I don’t have my clients’ work on my website for others to view, but you can certainly go onto Amazon and utilize the “Look Inside” feature, or download a sample from the other platforms.

Rob Siders: We do. We either encourage people to visit the ebook retailer of choice to download sample ebooks we’ve done for authors. We’ve also got a selection of samples we’ve put together that we’ll send out on request. In some cases, a few authors have given us permission to send all or a part of their ebooks to prospective clients.

Pam Headrick: No I don’t because the material would be copyright protected… but a potential client could certainly view a sample on-line at B&N or Amazon.

In what form should an author submit his/her book/manuscript? ie: MSWord, plain text, etc.

Pam Headrick: MSWord, ‘rtf’, WordPerfect (although there are issues which crop up when a WP file is translated into Word).

Rob Siders: Our preferences are Microsoft Word, Apple Pages or RTF… anything native, formatted text. These file types will get you our best quote. We also accept PDF, InDesign and Quark files. Each of these requires more work, so the price will be higher.

Judi Fennell: I prefer to receive a manuscript in MSWord format. Also, please don’t send me a manuscript before we discuss the services you want because my email inbin is only so large. I use to transfer files back and forth and will walk you through the process if you aren’t familiar with it. I prefer to initiate the dropbox transfer by inviting a prospective client to share the folder. They then upload their manuscript so I can take a look before issuing a final quote.

Rik Hall: MS Word is the most common and the one I prefer.

Do you provide scanning services for previously published books?

Judi Fennell: I don’t. However, I do offer a PDF to text conversion, so if your book is already scanned, or you’ve scanned it, and want to convert it to MSWord, I have an OCR program that will do this for a minimal fee.

Rik Hall: Sorry no, on that one.  My wife used a group called Blue Leaf Book Scanning (  I am in no way affiliated with that group, just a happy customer.

Pam Headrick: Yes, we have a very high res sheet feed scanner (so the books must have their spines removed before sending to me). We also have state of the art OCR (Optical Character Resolution) software which will take the scan and put it into editable text (rtf or doc). From that point either the client or my company MUST proof this resultant document to the print version. This is a critical step.

Rob Siders: We don’t provide it in house, but we will facilitate scanning on your behalf. If we do this, we charge you what our scanning partner charges us.

What different challenges present themselves between a scanned book & an original ms?

Rik Hall: Lots and lots. For the first three books we had scanned at BlueLeaf, the MS Word files were almost perfect! We were so pleased. For the next four books we had scanned there were problems. The Publisher was a different publisher and the font used was different. So, some “e”s became “c”s. There were a lot of words that got broken up with a weird MS Word character at the break. But, having them scanned and then fixing the problems was a great deal easier than typing the three hundred page novel in again. For four novels.

Judi Fennell: Unfortunately, the OCR software usually puts hard returns (the paragraph symbol) at the end of every line. I have proprietary coding I’ve devised to remove most of this issue, but the client will want to read through the converted document to make sure all paragraphing is as it should be.

Rob Siders: The biggest one is making sure we find the goofy artifacts that always get introduced into a book during the scanning process. We mitigate this as much as possible by running our own OCR against the scan’s PDF output. We can fine-tune the results better than working with the text output from our scanning partner. Once we have that new Word file, we give it a scrub looking for obvious and frequently-found OCR bugs. At that point it goes to the author to finalize. They can make changes right to the document and some even choose to rewrite scenes or entire chapters.

Pam Headrick: The scanned book has all kinds of invisible code and some visible (like optional hyphens) which will really mess up an ebook. Lots of errors are dropped into the document during the scan/ocr process. In fact the quality and age of the paper used in the print version to be scanned makes a big difference. Trade paper books scan better and more accurately than mass-market, mostly because of the quality of the paper. And the ocr process is translating an image (pdf) which is pretty problematical. It will see ‘arm’ and give you ‘aim’, ‘coming’ and give you ‘corning’, and this is a good one and a real story-changer… ‘arm’ and sometimes give you ‘anus’. I’m collecting these ‘OCR words’ for a humorous book.

Next time, in Part 4 of this series, our formatters will address questions about how much time to allow for formatting and best practices for handling edits and corrections.

Rik Hall

Judi Fennell:

Rob Siders:

Pam Headrick:

Okay, WG2E-Land: What questions do you have for our fabulous Ebook Formatting Panel?

The Best of Ebook Formatting Wishes —

Ruth Harris

NYTimes Bestselling Author

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  1. Tamara Ward says:

    Thanks for the scoop, Ruth! It’s great to know answers to these questions.

  2. Thanks, Ruth. Interesting stuff. I love having a place to send people who ask me about formatting. Thank you!

  3. Rik Hall is my formatting savior – and he’s fun to work with!

  4. Nora Gaskin says:

    Great series. Question: What should we writers do differently as we process words, to make formatting easier and to get a better ebook?

    Thank you for helping to educate us!

    • Ruth Harris says:

      Nora—Thank you for your comment. Excellent question! I’ve invited our formatters to drop by to answer readers’ questions. Hope to hear from them so we’ll get an answer to your question.

    • Great question, Nora! I’ve often wondered this myself. It sure would be nice to type it directly into format, if there’s a way to do that.

      Looking forward to hearing the answer from the formatters.

      • Judi Fennell says:

        For the easiest/fastest/best formatting, know how to use MSWord and standard industry layout. For example, only one space after a period. Don’t tab the beginning of your paragraphs, but use the indent feature. Don’t use Styles for chapter headings because they get stripped out during formatting process and are one more but of code that can mess things up. Learn proper use of italics. So many times I see : “What day is this,” John thought to himself with the words between quotation marks italicized. They should only be italicized if not in quotes and, even then, if you’re deep enough into John’s POV, you shouldn’t need italics. Italics are typically, the thing that takes the most work bc they have to be stripped out with all the coding then put back in. Any “wonky” layouts are going to make the job more difficult (ie, subheadings, graphics, etc)

      • Judi Fennell says:

        Think of the book not as a printed book layout but more of a really long newspaper column bc that’s how the ereaders present the text: as one flowing entity. Unless, of course, you’re doing a picture/children’s book where the text pages are created as images. But still, you only see one page at a time, not side-by-side.

        • Ruth Harris says:

          Judi—Thanks for the answers to an excellent question. Much appreciated!

          • Pam Headrick says:

            Italics used to give me fits, then another formatter gave me a code that saves the italics through a nuclear purge… My life was changed! And I would suggest that a client not try to place text on the page with hard returns…. I just have to taken all blank spaces out. And PLEASE mark your scene changes with something…# % … anything….

      • SK Holmesley says:

        My daughter-in-law converts her books to .epub files (she’s in Pages) with the export function, I unzip them, clean them up by running them through a few scripts, then we convert them back to .epub for display on her iBook. Once we get the first conversion, she does all her editing using the Xcode editor after that. She has her iPad hooked to her Mac through the USB port and so any changes she makes immediately migrate to her eBook.

        I don’t even go through the Pages stage, but anymore type my books directly into Xcode. It doesn’t recognize .epub exactly, but does recognize HTML, so changes color for tags and expects things like an open quote or parenthesis to be closed eventually. You won’t have Xcode on Windows, but there are a number of HTML / code editors that are available. There are also apps like Oxygen for one, (available on both the Mac and the Windows system). I looked at it ($349 last time I looked), but it was a little bulky for me and I prefer typing into the code window itself, rather than the document and having the app interpret for me.

        On the whole, if you despise formatting, you’re far better off going with a service, since it can be extremely distracting to your writing if you’re trying to just get your words on “paper”. But if you are doing your own formatting anyway and want to go the route Riley has asked about, look at HTML editors. Before you pay for a pro-one, however, try one of the free or very low cost open source one’s. I coded for over 30 years, so am very comfortable with formatting :-) , since many of the languages are format picky, but it’s extremely stressful for my daughter-in-law, if we introduce the format view before the “final” editing stages, and she really never reads in the Xcode view, but always in the iBook view.

    • Rik Hall says:

      Judi Fennell says it perfectly.

      Write your story – don’t even think about formatting it. I send authors this:

      I need to know your preferences (you have some when it comes to eBook formatting, but not many). I can do anything you ask, but some of the things I get asked to add to an eBook format will cause the book not to be accepted. These are Kindle and SW and Kobos’ rules, not mine.

      1 -Would you like the text paragraphs indented or would you like them with a space between each paragraph (you cannot have both – it will cause the file to be rejected)
      Indent / No indent but a space after each paragraph

      2 – Chapter Headings – Left side or centered, italics and / or bold

      3 – Would you like a Table of Contents (TOC) Before Chapter One or at the end of the book (Because the person reading moves to the TOC by clicking on a TOC Icon – it does not matter where the TOC resides. It can look “cleaner” if the TOC is at the end of the book – but the decision is yours.

      4 – Don’t forget – did you include:
      About the Author and
      Other Works by the Author

      Once I have the author’s answers – I do the formatting. And please, it is quicker for me to format than for me to “re-format” what the author did.


  5. Ruth Harris says:

    Rik—Hi & thanks for commenting. Thanks, too, for your lucid advice to authors. We all appreciate your time & expertise!

  6. This is so useful! Thanks, Ruth. I’ve wondered if Word files are what formatters wanted or not. Glad to know at least I’ve been doing that right. Thank you for all the info on scanning. I need to get one of my mom’s books into ebook and all I have is the hardback. It will be sad to take off the binding, but worth it.

    • Ruth Harris says:

      Anne—Thanks. They really know what they’re talking about! Super generous of them to share their time and expertise.

      When I’ve had hard cover editions scanners, all sorts of weirdo symbols popped up. You have to be on the lookout for them when you do the proof reading/correx.

      • Judi Fennell says:

        OCR conversion does add a lot of wonky things. It’s imperative that the author proof the book at this point before formatting has begun. As Rik says above, it’s much easier to format than to re-format. When your formatter gives you the final document and you want to make changes, keep a copy of the ORIGINAL file the formatter sent you and a list of the changes you made because if you have problems and want the formatter to fix it, you’ll need to send them the original file and the changes – otherwise it could be a whole new formatting project because we don’t know what code you unknowingly put back in with your changes.

        • Pam Headrick says:

          I insist that the author when doing corrections on a final proof NOT inset those corrections into the doc… But instead utilize Word/Comment … Those lovely balloon comments. This saves a lot of agony in the long run… Of course my clients need to know how to use this feature…. Learn to use Word!

      • LC says:

        OCR almost drove me crazy on a recent project because hyphens at the end of lines in the printed pages showed up in the middle of lines and words in the ebook preview. Finally, did a search and replace as discussed in blog post to eradicate those pesky punctuation marks.

        Another issue I have run into with OCR is “I” becoming “1.” Now I always do a quick search for “1″ and make sure each is supposed to be a numeral.

        Finally, I want to praise Blue Leaf Scanning. Although we can scan in-house, their prices are reasonable, results are excellent, and they are quick too. I find it worth it to pay a little extra for Premium Scanning Service as the cleaner results save me so much time. When I had a question recently, a real person emailed and gave me the info I needed.

  7. Ruth Harris says:

    Hi All, I asked about formatting via apps like Scrivener & Word. Here’s Judi’s comment:

    I haven’t used Scrivener, so I wouldn’t know about that, but with MSWord – the document still needs to be formatted correctly. Coding needs to be removed which you can’t always see in Word. Plus, if you run into problems and dont’ know how to fix them, your formatter can, whereas you could spend a lot of time (and time = money when you’re writing for a living) researching issues. The platforms might be able to convert your .docx to their format, but if there’s miscellaneous code in the ms or the ms isn’t formatted correctly in Word (i.e., tab indents instead of indenting paragraphs), it won’t look right. Nothing screams amateur than an unprofessional looking presentation. You only have one chance to make a good first impression. Readers have LOTS of choices these days.

    Thanks, Judi, for taking the time to reply. Ruth

  8. For Pam’s OCR collection. I worked on a fiftieth class reunion project. OCR changed a classmates granddaughter from “A pom pom girl” into “A porn porn girl.” Grandma had no sense of humor whatsoever.

  9. Pam Headrick says:

    One last thing… Please send ALL parts of the book to be formatted. Don’t send things piecemeal… That just slows down the process. Give me a file with the title page, dedication, copyright, reader letter, book text, bio, and list of your other books… All in one file… Don’t make me guess or bug you for content.

  10. Miriam Joy says:

    I would read a book of those OCR words! (Though OCR is an exam board where I come from, so the term scares me.) It’s like typos — sometimes the smallest letter can change the entire meaning of the sentence.

  11. Ruth Harris says:

    Miriam—Would make a great, if scary, book! Typos are my bane. I never see them! I just read right over them.

  12. Another post for my reference file. Thanks, Ruth!