Susan Kaye Quinn’s Self-Pub Basics (Part Three of Four): Formatting, The Hard Way

She’s back, WG2E-Land!!!

Here’s the fabulous Susan Kaye Quinn with Part Three of her superb Self Pub Basics Series. In case you missed them, take a peek at Parts One and Two as well:

Take it away, Susan…

Self-Pub Basics (3 of 4): Formatting, The Hard Way
by Susan Kaye Quinn

Thank you D.D. for having me on WG2E!

This is a continuation of my series earlier in the month about self-publishing basics – nuts and bolts like Where to Publish and Formatting (the Easy, the Hard, and the iTunes). Hopefully this will help smooth the kinks in the process and get you on your way! Today I’m talking about The Hard Way to Format.

The Harder Way – Why do it?
You can pay someone to format for you (easiest) or you can simply upload a Word document to Amazon, B&N, and Smash (easy). So why would anyone choose The Hard Way?

When you pay someone to format, you lose the ability to easily make changes (typos, changes to front/back matter, links). If you don’t plan to make changes, and you’re pinched for time, this could well be your best option. You can format your books The Easy Way, but they will have plain fonts and titles, and a prettier book reflects well on you.

Plain (text only, plain fonts) and Fancy (images, fancy fonts)

I use The Hard Way because I like fancy fonts, titles, and pictures in my ebooks. And I like the flexibility to change things, update backmatter, or create quick-epubs that are still pretty (like when I handed out sneak peeks of the first chapter of my new book before it was released). Once you know how to use the tool, your creativity can kick in to try new things. With ebooks being our trade, I think this is a skill you would do well to invest in eventually, even if you start out with The Easy Way.


The Hard Way

If you want to format The Hard Way, it will help if you understand (or learn) some basic HTML:

If reading that HTML made you cringe, then you might want to stick with The Easy Ways.

Programs You’ll Need (all free except Word)
Word: I’m assuming you are starting with your MS in Word.
Sigil: this is an Epub editing program
Adobe Digital Editions: will allow you to view your Epub
Calibre: will allow you to convert your epub (nook format) to Mobi (kindle format)
Kindle Previewer: to preview your mobi file

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. Clean up your MS using Smashwords Style guide; add in front/back matter (copyrights, acknowledgments, etc.). Make sure any retailer links go to Amazon (we can change this later, but we’re focusing on Kindle first – you’ll see why in a moment).
2. Save your Word doc, then save again in Web page, filtered format (this is a Save As… option with an *.htm extension)
3. Create any images you want to use (chapter header fonts, scene separation symbols, pictures). I download free fonts from the interwebs, install on Word, create the headers I want, screencap it, and paste it into Paint. Do whatever works for you. Save in jpg format (takes up less space, which means less distribution charges from Amazon, if you have a lot of images).

you can play around with more than just chapter headers
example scene separator

4. Import your HTML filtered format MS into Sigil (see Sigil FAQ, Users Guide, and Tips).
5. Format in Sigil and fix up any errors (this is where your HTML programming skillz will come in handy)

  • Insert page breaks in Sigil, fixing any stray formatting problems, etc.
  • Insert all your images/chapter headings/etc
  • Include a cover (instructions).
  • Build a Table of Contents (instructions scroll down).
  • Hard-code your ellipses (…) and em-dashes (—) so they will always look nice (instructions).
  • Learn about style sheets, to make your life easier (instructions)
  • Set Title, Author, Language, Copyright, Publication Date, Description, and ISBN if there is one, in Metadata. This is a good place to add descriptors to your metadata such as “young adult science fiction” that can be picked up search engines.
  • Set your first text file (where the book will open) as Semantic type Text (right click on htm file, choose “Semantics”).
  • Run the “Check” to compile; fix any errors (this may be where you have to edit the HTML) – pay particular attention to having your styles consistent throughout your ebook, which is best viewed in the HTML screen
  • Save file as an Epub

HINT: Calibre has a plugin that will allow you to merge multiple epubs, in case you want to combine books into a box set or collection. I recommend merging first, then tidying up in Sigil. (secret squirrel hint: before you merge, make sure all your file names are unique and ordered, so that the files won’t get mixed up when you merge.)

6. Convert to Mobi: open your Epub into Calibre. Convert (individually) to Mobi format (see Calibre FAQ). (Note: You can also use Kindle Previewer to convert to Mobi, but you will not preserve your Table of Contents). Use the “Save to Disk” option to save your Mobi converted file.

7. Check for errors in Kindle Previewer (make sure to view in all the Kindle formats). Fix up any errors in your Epub file in Sigil and reconvert until errors are gone. If you own any Kindles, check your Mobi there too. You can also upload to KDP and test it in the preview screen there (do this!). If all looks good, your Mobi is ready to load up to KDP (Amazon).
8. Prepare for B&N: copy your Epub to a separate file, to prepare for formatting for B&N. Change the links to B&N. View your Epub file in Adobe Digital Editions. Be sure to check all the formats - go back to #5 to fix errors. (In particular, I often have to add non-breaking spaces –
to get the spacing to work correctly on Nooks.) If you own any Nooks, check your Epub there too. You can also upload to PubIt (B&N) and use the previewer there. Your Epub is now ready to load up to PubIt (Barnes & Noble).
9. You’re done. Have a beverage of your choice.
For Kobo – Take your B&N formatted Epub, change the links to Kobo, and you’re ready to upload.

For Apple - Heaven help you. You need a Mac (maybe), ISBNs, and a bunch of other steps. I’ll talk about this tomorrow (there’s a reason I call it Formatting: The Easy, The Hard, and the iTunes).
Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling Mindjack Series, which includes three novels, three novellas, and a trailer. She’s currently writing a steampunk fantasy romance, just for kicks. When that’s out of her system, she has ambitious plans to embark on a series about the Singularity (the time when computers become more intelligent than humans) that should appeal to fans of the Mindjack novels. Or possibly play on Facebook all day. Could go either way.
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  1. Sibel Hodge says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing. I think I have formatting and HTML dyslexia! But for someone who doesn’t that’s a great guide :)

    • Fluency in HTML really is a headache saver, especially when you’re checking for errors. I’ve had friends format The Hard Way who didn’t dive into the HTML, but they ended up more frustrated.

  2. Tamara Ward says:

    Er, wow! You can put metadata into an ebook?! I never knew! I’ve always done the easy way formatting… you’re inspiring to step up! Thanks for this fantastic, detailed post!

    • You are most welcome! It’s a lot of steps and a lot of complexity, but I’ve had a few friends follow them and gain some new skills. Now they’re Formatting Ninjas! Hey! I should have used that as my post title. :)

  3. I’ve been using the easy way until now, but with Smashwords now taking direct upload .epub, perhaps I’ll try to fancy it up with Sigil? Metadata … an interesting carrot. Thanks for sharing!

    • I’ve had hit-n-miss luck with uploading epubs to Smash – some went through fine and some had indiscipherable upload problems. My suggestion is to try it but don’t rely on it.

  4. Great info! The metadata info is invaluable. Thanks for the informative post!

  5. PJ Sharon says:

    Holy smokes! Can I have that beverage now, please?

    I currently use the moderately easy way. My husband and I format my MS Word doc using the Smashwords style guide, then use Calibre to do the conversions to mobi and epub. I find that challenging enough without adding the html. issue. Since I don’t need fancy fonts or images at this point, I’ll probably keep the process as is (after four books, I’m finally getting the hang of it), but it’s nice to know how to do it if I want to step it up and get creative. I’ve avoided the upload to i-tunes, but my husband has a Mac and is encouraging me to do so. I think it’s time. Look forward to your next post. Thanks for the run-down!

    • I encourage you to upload to iTunes too! :) iTunes uploading is easier when you’ve mastered the Hard Way of formatting, but it’s not required, especially if you use Pages on your Mac.

  6. Jim Guigli says:

    I encourage you all to look at Jutoh software. It is inexpensive and allows you to EDIT your ebook. I found it easy to use, certainly easier than learning HTML.

  7. Monica Davis says:

    Susan, this is terrific info…thanks! I found HTML time-consuming, but not all that difficult once you get the hang of it.

  8. Joan Reeves says:

    Great series, Susan!

    I format directly in HTML for Kindle. Since I know how to do it, it’s actually easier for me than anything else I hear about including using Word file to Sigel, etc.

    For iTunes, I’ve had the fabulous Amy Atwell format my books for me since I don’t have a Mac.

    For Smashwords, I distribute through them only for the ones I can’t do directly, and I use a Word file. I’ve been tempted to use an epub file, but I haven’t seen a lot of success by those attempting that.

    Formatting isn’t nearly as hard as most people think. It’s just learning the idiosyncrasies of each platform.

  9. I’m keeping this series in mind for when I need to format. I’ve heard, though, that it’s easier to format with Scrivener than it is with Word, but I haven’t tried it out yet.

  10. Darlene says:

    I’ve formatted two books. And, no, it wasn’t any easier the second time around. I did it the hard way, because, like Susan, I like having the ability to quickly upload a new version if I want to make a change. Also, I used Smashwords for everything except Amazon. As far as I can tell, it’s been successful.

    • I’m glad you’ve had good luck with Smash. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get them to distribute several of my titles, even after a couple months, so I ended up going direct everywhere. Which is also nice when you want to change a price! Thanks for stopping by! :)