View Full Version : Self-Publishers - Step Four - Format Your Story

04-28-2011, 03:30 PM

I have been writing a step-by-step guide for getting your stories into (digital) print on my blog, but I thought it would be handy to have a primer for AWers who donít know where to start with formatting their stories, so I have copied an edited version of my blog post below. Iím no formatting expert, I only did my first stories yesterday, but I found it straight-forward enough (although I have used HTML before, and I am familiar with cleaning out styles in Word).

Iím sure lots of you guys have lots more experience doing this, and useful tips you can add below, so please feel free, and if there is anything incorrect here, let me know and I will go back and edit it.



All those different e-readers and devices use different software to display e-books, but there are a few industry standard file formats. What we are going to learn today is the digital equivalent of typesetting, known as formatting.

While you are waiting for your final edits or your cover, I recommend that you start learning how to format. You wonít be able to begin on your e-book until you have everything ready, but itís good to get some practice in now.

Formatting 101

E-readers can do things that printed books canít, but these features make formatting a little tricky. For one, e-books have no Ďpagesí as such. Each user has their own default fonts, font sizes, and other display options, and your e-book must be set up so that it all displays correctly on their screen, and that your text flows and wraps correctly when they zoom in and out. If you do it right, it looks really neat, and you can do all sorts of things like add weblinks, photos, even audio and video.

Thereís no easy way to tell you this, but I am going to have to ask you to do something, and you are not going to like it. But if you want to publish your book, there is no way around it. You are going to have to do a teeny tiny bit of computer programming.

Alright. You got me. There is a way around it. You can pay someone to do it. But it will cost you a minimum of $100 per short story to get it done right. And will cost you a minimum of $200 per novel too. Add more if itís non-fiction, and more again if itís super-long, has lots of images, or has any other visual/layout quirks that you want to incorporate. Then, add more again if you are interested in publishing to more than just the Kindle (and you should be).

If you are still thinking about going this route, remember thatís more copies of your book you have to sell to cover your costs, longer time until you break even. And remember, all your costs are sunk costs, once you cover those, everything after that is profit. And you want to get to that point as quickly as possible.

Anyway, we are here to learn. When you get to the point where your time is too valuable, and should be spent writing instead, great, then outsource it. Until that time, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to format.

Guido Henkelís Guide to Formatting

Self-published author Guido Henkel has produced an amazing document on how to format your e-book (http://guidohenkel.com/2010/12/take-pride-in-your-ebook-formatting/), and how to do it well. Itís a nine-part guide (but you get through it quite quickly as most of it is just patient explanation rather than actual steps you have to take).

If you are serious about doing this professionally, you have to go and read it when you are done here. Iíll summarise the key points below, but this summary is not a substitute for reading his guide.

If you donít have a smartphone or e-reader, go to Amazon right now and download Kindle-for-PC (http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=kcp_pc_mkt_lnd?docId=1000426311) (thereís a link at the bottom of that page to download a Kindle reader for all other systems/devices). Itís free, and you will need it anyway to check the formatting on your own stories. Once you have installed it, you can sample Kindle books for free and see how the formatting looks.

The Basics

1. There are no shortcuts. You might hear about shortcuts, and think that I didnít know about them. But if you try, for example, just to export an e-reader-ready file from your manuscript in Microsoft Word it will be an unmitigated disaster. Trust me.

2. There really are no shortcuts. You might also hear about programs which can create the Kindle-ready file straight from your Word file. These can leave problems in your formatting, and wonít give you all the files you need for all the sales channels anyway, so you are just adding an unnecessary step which may cause you problems.

3. Microsoft Word is not your friend. All those bells and whistles they have added over the years, the automatic indenting, the Ďsmartí quotes, and so on, are about to cause you pain.

4. You are going to have to get into some HTML, there is no avoiding it. If you are smart enough to write a book, you are smart enough to do this. Donít fret. Itís not that bad if you take your time and follow the instructions exactly.

5. You will need some new software. Donít worry, itís free and simple to use. In Guido Henkelís guide he recommends TextMate (MAC-only) for the HTML, but if you have a PC, I recommend Notepad++.

The Nitty Gritty

There are various sales channels for your e-book, and to maximise your revenue, you should upload to as many of them as you can. There are some restrictions, and I wonít be able to guide you on exact process of uploading to B&N because they donít let international authors publish their work directly.

Instead, we have to go through Smashwords. But if you can upload direct to B&N, I can at least show you how to produce the file that you will need. Essentially, what you need to produce are three separate documents:
1. MOBI file Ė this is what you need to publish on Amazon
2. EPUB file Ė this is what B&N require (and itís useful for Xinxii).
3. A clean Microsoft Word document for Smashwords (this is the only file kind they accept), which they will then convert themselves into all the files needed for the channels they distribute to.

If you follow Guido Henkelís step-by-step guide, you will end up with the MOBI & EPUB files. It took me a few hours to do a 4,000 word piece, but I can see it going a lot quicker in the future Ė even with much longer work Ė now that I know what I am doing.


The clean Microsoft Word document you will have to do yourself. Itís a frustrating process, essentially about taking out all the styles and formatting that Microsoft puts in automatically, and re-entering them a different way.

If your editor is familiar with the process, this is something they could do for you, or at least get you part of the way along the road. Again, this is something that you will get much quicker at in the future, once you realise how to set up a document in the first place.

Smashwords have a style guide, available free here (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52), to guide you through the process. Read it all. Itís no page-turner, but you can get through it in less than an hour and itís essential to having your documents accepted there for distribution to all channels.

How quickly you can work through the style guide and convert your document will depend on your level of familiarity with Word. My document took me less than an hour, but only because my editor had cleaned a lot of it up. At worst, it will take you a day Ė the first time.
Sales on Smashwords arenít big, but itís the only way to get onto Kobo, Sony, Diesel, and the only easy way to get into the Apple iBookstore, as well as the only way for international authors to get onto B&N. Itís worth the hassle.

Upload Your Work

Now that you have all the documents ready, you should upload your work to the various sites: Amazon, Smashwords, Xinxii (new European site), and PubIT (B&N) if you are in the US. With Smashwords extended distribution channels, this means that your work will be for sale on Kobo, Diesel, Sony, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Xinxii, as well as all of the international Amazon sites.

Your e-book will take a few days to appear across the various sites (Amazon is usually 48-72 hours, Smashwords tends to be longer).

Once your story appears, congratulate yourself, you are now a self-published writer. But, under my motherís definition at least, youíre not an author yet. To earn that title you need to sell some copies.

To do that, you need to let people know itís there. Next up, Iíll put something together on marketing.

As I mentioned above, Guido Henkel has provided this invaluable guide to formatting your story free of charge. If you found it useful, I respectfully suggest that you consider purchasing one of his novels. I just bought the first in the Jason Dark Series, Demonís Night, and it is excellent. Itís only $0.99, and if you follow his steps, he will have saved you hundreds of dollars. At the very least, please leave him a note in the comments on his website thanking him for his work. Spread the love at www.guidohenkel.com.

04-28-2011, 03:52 PM
I've also put a .pdf document on the download page of my website to aid people in converting .doc to .mobi/.epub.

What it comes down to is that Word has too much hidden formatting that you need to remove. To remove the hidden formatting, simply copy your text into Notepad and presto, all formatting is gone.

Except, you don't want ALL formatting to disappear, just the unnecessary formatting. So, what do you do?

In Word, you change all letters with diacritics [ť, ŗ, Ų] to the appropriate html codes. You can find all those codes here:

Make sure you also change all ellipses and m-dashes into html code.

If you want to use smart quotes in your mobi file [and you want to, because trade publishing e-books have smart quotes], you have to enable word to format all your straight quotes into the smart [curly] quotes, then do a search and replace on single and double quotes, so all the quotes in your word file are curly. Then replace them with: ‘ for left single quotes, ’ for right single quotes, “ for left double quotes, and ” for right double quotes.

If you use italics, wrap all your italic phrases and sentences in html code, by using the search and replace function: in the 'find' space you put nothing, but you press CTRL+i so you'll find all italic phrases/sentences; in the 'replace with' space you put the following code: <i>^&</i>; press 'replace all' and all your italics will be wrapped.

Now you have html formatted all the word details that you wanted formatted. If you copy the text into Notepad, all italics will become straight, but the html wrapping and codes remain.

Follow the procedure in my pdf to copy the document into the free html editing program jEdit, and use the free converting program Calibre to convert the html file into .mobi, .epub or other formats.

If you want to see what the files look like after you formatted them, you can download .mobi or .epub versions of Reprobate, the first ten chapters.

04-28-2011, 04:00 PM
Hi Martyn,

Thanks for that.

I use Notepad++ instead of jEdit, and even though I had used jEdit before, I found the interface simpler with Notepad++ - but it doesn't have as many features and the search-and-replace can misbehave sometimes.

One good thing about it is that it seems to preserve ellipses, em dashes, and curly quotes when you dump in the text from the Word file (but not bold or italics).

I finished my first two stories last night, and they look great, all the formatting is perfect.

I only have one problem. As one of my stories is set in the Czech Republic, I have some unusual diacritics like ř and Č. I hand-coded the HTML for those and they show up perfect on the Kindle, but not in the EPUB file where they are replaced with question marks. Do you know a way around this? Is it because I am viewing the EPUB file on Adobe Digital Editions?

The only other thing I couldn't get to work was the Table of Contents. I actually don't want one in the Kindle file as my e-book is short (4000 words) and I want them to get more of the story when they sample, but I would like to know how to do it for longer pieces.


04-29-2011, 12:43 PM
I only have one problem. As one of my stories is set in the Czech Republic, I have some unusual diacritics like ř and Č. I hand-coded the HTML for those and they show up perfect on the Kindle, but not in the EPUB file where they are replaced with question marks. Do you know a way around this? Is it because I am viewing the EPUB file on Adobe Digital Editions?

I don't have an e-pub reader, but I read e-pub files in the viewer of Calibre. One thing to do is to ask someone with an e-pub reader to check your file.

The only other thing I couldn't get to work was the Table of Contents. I actually don't want one in the Kindle file as my e-book is short (4000 words) and I want them to get more of the story when they sample, but I would like to know how to do it for longer pieces.

Reprobate has fifty chapters. What I did first is to call every chapter CHAPTER, then replace it with <H2>CHAPTER<BR>, and the code in the top of the html file would make a page break before every chapter. If you follow my pdf to the Calibre settings, you can define the TOC to include every page that starts with <H2>. If you download the .mobi version of Reprobate chapters 1-10 you can see that on your Kindle. I've renamed every chapter, so the first chapter is called GALLERY, the second NEW YORK, etcetera. Calibre places the TOC at the end of the book, so it doesn't interfere with readers who want to start reading straight away.

Check my pdf and compare it to the .mobi file of Reprobate and you'll see what I mean.

04-29-2011, 12:56 PM
Hi Martyn,

Thanks for the tips on the ToC.

I checked the viewer on Caliber and it DOES display the diacritics, so maybe it's just a problem with Adobe Digial Editions (I had heard before that it can be funny with some characters).

It's only a minor issue because not many people will be seeing my EPUB file anyway as I can't publish direct with B&N and have to go through Smashwords (who generate their own EPUB file from my .doc).

Do you think there will be a problem when the Smashwords Meatgrinder attempts to convert these characters?

I am planning to upload today or tomorrow and I would hate to spend all that time in the queue then get rejected for something like that and have to queue again (I'm trying to coordinate some marketing).

I was looking at your files actually when I was doing my own - thanks for that. One question for you. As a stylistic preference, I don't like to have an indent in the first paragraph of a chapter or after a scene-break, so I wrote my own 'style' and called it something like p.noindent then defined it appropriately and tagged the relevant parts of the document.

It all shows up perfectly, but I just wanted to check that won't cause any problems I haven't thought of.


04-29-2011, 02:02 PM
I have no idea about smashwords and diacritics - you might want to shoot them an email. I've converted reprobate into .epub and .mobi because those are the most used e-reader files.
I think it's important to have your own e-reader files for download on your own website. I also intend to sell my e-reader files if someone has problems with Amazon or other American websites. So if someone has an .epub e-reader and wants to read my book, I can ask them to transfer the money to my bank account and simply mail them the files.

As to the indent - if you check out professional [trade pub] e-books, they all have indents and curly quotes and I aim to conform my book to resemble the professional standard. Not indenting paragraphs can be confusing or look amateurish to discerning readers.

Calibre standard does no indent, but blank line between paragraphs. If you mark the 'no blank line', it wants to know if you want to indent by 1.5 em. I indent 1.0 em, because a small indent looks better, I think, and it's less intrusive in dialogue filled pages.

I'm not expert at html formatting, so I cannot judge whether your adjustments to the style will give problems...

I was about to upload the Amsterdam Assassin Series when Melissa Singer of Tor Books showed interest in the manuscript, so I'm going to hold off until she decides to commit or reject before I'm going to venture into self-publishing. I sent her the files on Easter Monday, so it might take a month before I know whether to proceed or not.

04-29-2011, 02:25 PM
Hi Martin,

As for the indent - I'm ONLY talking about the first paragraph of the chapter or after a scene break.

(And I agree on the smaller indent - must adjust mine actually, it looks a little large)

Not indenting the first paragraph of a chapter/scene break (the first line I mean) is done in all the trade print books I checked (I'm just looking at Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingfisher for example). I've seen it both ways in e-books (I just checked one Michael Connolly book and one Joe Konrath book and they both don't indent the first line of the chapter, but others do).

But if it is supposed to be standard NOT to do it, please tell me and I will change it.

Congratulations on the interest from TOR, that is AMAZING news. Even if it doesn't work out (and I hope it does), to even get interest from them is a huge step, and should give you confidence that you have something special on your hands.


04-29-2011, 03:03 PM
Congratulations on the interest from TOR, that is AMAZING news. Even if it doesn't work out (and I hope it does), to even get interest from them is a huge step, and should give you confidence that you have something special on your hands.

Thanks, Dave. I don't know if you read the topic I wrote about it [Weird, but wonderful, in Novels], but I was in contact with Ms. Singer in 1998, when they considered an older version of my manuscript. When there was no immediate commitment on their part and with me noticing flaws that I wanted to remedy, I let it go, despite not getting an official rejection.
I've told the story to several people, who told me I was nuts for not persevering. So, after thirteen years, I contacted Ms. Singer Easter Monday, reminded her of our contact in 1998 and told her that I was thinking of self-publishing Reprobate, but not without asking her if she'd mind taking a last look at it to see if she would be interested. She emailed me back immediately with a request to send her the full manuscript in .doc, so I sent her the .doc, .epub, and .mobi file.
That was this week, so I figure I'll have a couple of weeks to go before she will react. However, the fact that she remembered me and requested the full manuscript in .doc [while I remember that Tor only wants printed submissions], does indicate that she's favorably inclined towards me and, hopefully, towards my manuscript.
I put the making of the e-cover on hiatus pending her decision, since I might not need it if Tor commits to publishing Reprobate.
I don't agree with Konrath that trade publishing is dying - if I can get Tor Books behind me on the Amsterdam Assassin Series, I can always self-pub small stuff to keep a foot in both worlds.

04-29-2011, 03:40 PM
Hi Martyn,

That's a wonderful story.

I didn't see the original thread, but for sure you did the right thing.

I think having a foot in both worlds is the IDEAL situation.

Self-publishing is too much in flux for anyone to make hard-and-fast predictions about the future, and I know that you are someone who can manage both worlds without any problems.

Tor are great - the dream publishers for many writers.

Best of luck with it, and be sure to let us all know how it turns out.