I’m reading a self-pubbed novel purely for enjoyment (majority of my reading these days is because of work). I want to read it because it is my mostest, favoritest type of fiction, plus the writer is from a place I love to read about. I am motivated.
The writer is making it very hard.
- The Kindle book is broken. It’s not a bad break. The user control for line spacing doesn’t work. Problem is (for me) I do most of my pleasure reading late at night. My eyes are tired. I need extra white space on the page.
- The styling makes it look like a manuscript, which makes it ugly, which makes me pay even more attention to problem #3.
- Lack of proper proofreading. Not that this book is the worst example I’ve seen, but combined with the manuscript-look, every error I stumble across irks me and takes me out of the story.
I will finish this novel. Unfortunately, for the writer, I doubt I will try another of his ebooks.
So, self-publishers, pay attention. This is VERY important. Your writing deserves respect. Start to finish. You write the best you can. You get the best editorial help you can manage. You package the product as best you can. Even if you are on a very tight budget and are doing most of the production work yourself, that’s still no excuse for sloppy work.
Priority: An ebook that works across devices.
If you are using Word to format your ebooks, download the Smashwords Style Guide by Mark Coker. It’s free. Pay close attention to the sections about using style sheets. The ebook you produce will be rather generic, with zero bells and whistles, but if you pay attention, start with a squeaky clean source file, and follow instructions, your ebook will work.
Word-users, print this out and hang it over your computer:
- NEVER USE TABS, FOR ANYTHING.
- DO NOT JUSTIFY TEXT.
- DO NOT USE ANY FONT OTHER THAN TIMES NEW ROMAN OR GARAMOND.
- DO NOT EVER USE MORE THAN THREE PARAGRAPH RETURNS IN A ROW.
- DO NOT FIDDLE WITH LEADING AND LINE HEIGHT IN THE BODY TEXT.
- DO NOT USE SPECIAL CHARACTERS WITHOUT TESTING THEM.
There are some long, involved reasons for that list. All you really need to know is that doing them will break your ebook.
When it is time to convert your ebook, do not save the document as an html file then convert it in Calibre. Please. Stop doing that. That takes all the junk Word piles on then piles on even more junk. Calibre is not the right tool. It will break your ebook.
Sigil creates EPUB files. There is a learning curve, but the program is fairly intuitive and there is an excellent user guide to walk you through. Caution: Unless you have more than a passing acquaintance with html and css, do not use the EPUB files you make with Sigil to convert into MOBI files for Amazon. There are enough differences in styling that you risk creating a broken ebook.
Amazon will convert Word files when you upload a listing. If, however, you want to view and test your ebook live on a Kindle or other device before you upload, you will need MobiPocket and the Kindle Previewer, which converts your file using KindleGen. I highly recommend viewing and testing. When your Word file is finished, convert it into a prc file in MobiPocket. If there are bad errors, they’ll be caught and you can fix them. You can load the prc file onto your Kindle for live testing. Or you can run it through the KindlePreviewer to make a MOBI file. (Again, do not use Calibre. It’s fine if the ebook is just for you. If you intend to sell it, Calibre is the wrong tool.)
What if you do not have an ereader device? Online previewers are not to be trusted. Find a friend who has a Kindle or Nook and let them test the files. Ask them to toggle all the user controls on and off to see what happens. I do this for friends and friends do it for me (I don’t have a Nook or other EPUB reader). Better you or a friend catches boo-boos before a reader does.
Avoid the “manuscript” look. The best you can hope for, appearance-wise, with a Word format is to basically make it look similar to a mass market paperback. Simple, spare, minimal ornamentation. Go take a look at your book shelves. Simple. Spare. Easy to read.
- Use printer’s punctuation and use it consistently.
- Manage the size of the paragraph indents (not too narrow, not too wide, avoid block paragraphs for fiction)
- Manage your chapter beginnings and scene breaks so readers don’t get confused by what can appear to be random line jumps.
- Let the machine do the work. Ereaders have user preference controls. Readers have preferences. Make it your goal to interfere with those as little as possible. Figure out how the devices work then format to take advantage of their best features.
- Proofread. Did I mention your ebook needs to be proofread. I did? Well, I’ll say it again, proofread the ebook. Your pre-production line-editing should have taken care of most of the typos and word choice mistakes, but trust me, no matter how well a work is line-edited, some errors in the text will remain. PLUS, occasionally errors are introduced in the formatting process. It happens. PLUS, hiccups occur in the format itself. If I had to make a choice between paying someone to format and paying someone to proofread, I’d pay the proofreader. It is that important.
If you’re bogged down by production and don’t know what to do next, email me. If I can’t answer your question, I’ll find someone who can. Help is out there. You have to ask. You have to be willing to work on it. If you need motivation, know that there are readers–like me!–who really, really want to read your stories, but will curse the day you were born if your laziness, sloppiness, or carelessness gets in the way of our reading pleasure.