Why Your Ebook SHOULD NOT Look Like a Print Book

Blog-Screenshot_2016-05-16-14-37-10I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend of late: Writer/publishers who want their ebooks to look (and act) like print books–and print designers turned formatters who encourage it.

What those who try to force print design into ebooks seem unaware of is WHY readers like ebooks:

  1. Portability. (I can carry hundreds or thousands of books in my purse.)
  2. Availability. If a book is in digital form and offered for sale, then it is always in stock. If you finish a really terrific book and want to read another of the author’s books, just pop over to the retail site, buy the next ebook and keep reading.
  3. Reader-friendliness. If, like me, you have overworked and/or aged eyes, the ability to increase font size and line height is a godsend. If, like me, you enjoy reading outdoors, an eink reader completely eliminates page glare and the resulting eye fatigue. If, like me, you like to read in bed but your partner wants you to turn off the damned light, if you have a tablet or backlit eink reader or smart phone, you can turn off the damned light and keep reading.
  4. Social reading. For those who like being part of a club, you can connect your books to other readers and share highlighted passages and comments.
  5. Price. Unless the ebook is coming from one of the Big5 publishers, it’s probably inexpensive enough to appeal to even the heaviest readers. They are inexpensive to produce, cost nothing to stock and free/cheap to ship. They should be inexpensive. I bet I’m not the only reader who was priced out of the print market and stopped buying new books, but because of ebooks is now back to buying four or five new books a week.

I doubt very much anyone who reads ebooks buy them to admire their looks. A well-designed ebook is a pleasure to read, but ONLY when the design complements and/or enhances the book’s functionality. When the design interferes with the functionality, it can irritate readers to the point where the author or publisher goes on the Do Not Buy list.

Publishers and formatters drop the ball for one of two reasons:

  1. They don’t understand how ebook reading devices work.
  2. Their priorities are skewed.

If you don’t know how reading devices work, you have no business formatting an ebook. Period. It’s not easy keeping up with everything. Trust me, I spend a lot of time keeping up with updates and changing devices and standards. I have four Kindles, an iPhone, and two computers on which I read and/or test ebooks. I use several programs to test out new techniques. My goal with every job is to produce an ebook that can be read on any device. If you don’t know how ereading devices work, you can format an absolutely stunning looking file in Word or InDesign or Scrivener only to have it completely fall apart or turn into an unreadable mess when it’s loaded onto an ereader. If you’re using Calibre to convert commercial ebooks, chances are you’re unaware as to why that’s a bad idea. The truly clueless seem to be the most proud of creating one-size-fits-all formats for print, epub, and mobi.

Priorities. Here are mine:

  1. The writing itself. Properly edited, properly punctuated, properly proofread. A great story can make readers forget a poorly formatted ebook; but no amount of great formatting can overcome a poorly written/edited/proofread book. For my clients, I do a preproduction clean up to make sure their work is professionally punctuated, and if I spot a mistake, I fix it for them. I also encourage proofreading, even going so far as keeping my proofreading charge at a bare minimum, and never charging for inputting proof changes/corrections. I will suggest line-editing if I believe a work merits it. I do my part; writer/publishers have to do theirs.
  2. Functionality. Almost every reading device has user controls for fonts, font sizes, line spacing, margins and background colors. Formatting or conversion that interferes with or disables those user controls results in a broken ebook and annoyed readers. The ebook also has to be readable on varying sizes of reading screens.
  3. Ease of navigation. A functional table of contents, two way internal hyperlinks, a complete and comprehensive internal toc, clearly defined chapter and section starts.
  4. File size. Ebooks work sort of like websites, with each chapter or section much like a web page. I split my html files into individual chapters or sections to make them load faster. If an ebook is image heavy, I rework the images to the smallest size possible. You don’t want readers to experience page lag. Or worse, for them to be unable to load your ebook at all because it’s so bloated. Or crash the ereader. (I’ve had box sets do that and those puppies get deleted without prejudice.)
  5. Design. Functional doesn’t mean unattractive or generic. Each design element, however, has to complement and/or enhance the functionality. Any design element that degrades the functionality has to go–no matter how pretty it might be, or how good it looks in print.

Print elements that tend to fascinate writer/publishers and wreck their ebooks:

  1. Fonts. Fonts and licenses are cheap. Fonts are easy as can be to embed in ebooks. Fancy fonts can add elegance and visual interest to chapter headers and limited blocks of text. But ninety-nine times out of a hundred, embedding a font for the body text is a bad idea. Fonts suitable for body text add greatly to the file size. Not every font is suitable for ebooks. Special characters can turn into question marks or black boxes on a device. What looks terrific in print can render into something less than desirable on a Kindle or Nook or smart phone screen. Leave font choice up to the readers.
  2. Widows/orphans. I had a client complain to me about a single word ending up on a “page” at the end of a chapter. I told him to change the font size–I wasn’t being a smart aleck. That’s how ebooks work. The text flows to fit the screen. Sometimes you end up with orphaned text that would never be allowed in a print book. Every attempt that’s made to “fix” the text means risking breaking the ebook. Live with it. Readers don’t notice, or care. They are used to it.
  3. Justification. Ereading devices do a shit job of justification. The alternative is worse. (The way my Kindle tablet hyphenates text makes me want to go after somebody’s knuckles with a wooden ruler.) If you absolutely cannot stand the way devices justify text, then left align it. It will jar some readers initially, but if the writing is good, they’ll get used to it. If you are using InDesign, Word or Scrivener to format your ebook, DO NOT justify the text. It’ll disable line spacing and/or margin width controls on many devices.
  4. Drop-caps. They’re pretty, I get it. Unless you are a pro and willing to teBlog-screenshot_2016_05_16T20_52_30+0000st your coding across a multitude of devices, delegate drop-caps to the print version. And don’t forget to test in landscape mode. The results can be… disconcerting.
  5. Text-wrapping around images. This is another element that can seriously bite you in the butt. It can work, but only if you know exactly what you are doing (and just because you can do it in Word or InDesign doesn’t mean you know how to do it in an ebook). Consider the many, many, many readers who use their smart phones as ereaders. What happens on an iPhone as it struggles to fit everything on the screen would be laughable if it weren’t so annoying to the reader. It can be pretty nasty when readers need a larger font size, too.
  6. Graphics with text. I have two words for that: Smart Phones. Those beautiful flow charts become unreadable on a small screen. That caption on your photo becomes unreadable on a small screen. Adjust, compromise, get used to the way text flows–even though the graphics look perfect in the print version and you really want to use them in the ebook.

Writer/publishers, do yourselves and your readers a big favor and forget about trying to force your ebook to look like print. Respect what it is your readers want. What YOU want is for the readers to not consciously notice the design at all, but instead to fall in love with your words and keep coming back for more.



Tables of Contents in Ebooks: Yes!

There’s a big brouhaha going on now with Amazon. Scammers and other crooks have flooded Kindle Unlimited. Amazon is making one of their sweeps in an attempt to root them out. As per usual, when automation is unleashed, innocents get caught up in the net–sometimes with very expensive consequences.

One of the ways publishers are being dinged has to do with the tables of contents. Crooks are manipulating them to game the Kindle Unlimited page reads, so Amazon is going after ebooks that lack a standard (in form and in placement) ToC. Amazon highly recommends that every ebook has an active (publisher generated) table of contents, and requires an internal table of contents (this is what you see when you use the Go To feature on a Kindle). For more information on Amazon’s policies, start here and don’t forget to read this.

ToC Blog 1

The two most common arguments I get against building a Table of Contents in an ebook are (1) It’s a novel. It’s stupid to put a table of contents in a novel. And (2) A long list of chapters eats up the sample/Look Inside features at Amazon and hurts my chances at a sale.

My answer to #1 is: Novels don’t need tables of contents, but ebooks do. A reader can’t just open a book to the middle and leaf through a few pages to find Chapter 9. They have to navigate. An ebook without a ToC requires endless paging through to navigate and that’s no fun. As a reader, an ebook without a useful navigation guide is a broken ebook, and it’s irritating. For those who point out that the internal ToC is the navigation guide, my answer is that not every Kindle device (or other reading devices) displays the internal guide. Instead the device points to the user generated table of contents and if there isn’t one, the link is grayed out–useless.

The answer to #2 is not so easy. For non-fiction, it’s a no-brainer. A comprehensive table of contents IS a sell point. Readers want to see what they are getting and a solid ToC in the sample/Look Inside can often tell them everything they need to know.

ToC Blog 2

For novels, especially with a lot of chapters, it does get trickier. I’ve read ebooks with up to ten “pages” of chapter lists. Endless Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3… This does eat up the sample/Look Inside. It’s useful once the reader has purchased the ebook, but for tempting them into buying in the first place, it can be harmful. The temptation is strong to forego the ToC altogether or to move it into the backmatter. Normally, I’d recommend putting the ToC in the back of the book, but with the current Amazon crackdown, I would say that for any ebook enrolled in Kindle Select/Kindle Unlimited, DO NOT DO THAT. Any perception that you are somehow gaming the system or bending the rules can cause you to run afoul of Amazon’s policies.

Let’s explore some practical options.

The Internal ToC (required by Amazon)

If you’re building your ebook from scratch, you will hand-build your internal ToC (tocncx). It will look something like this:

Blog ToC 4

This produces the NCX view/Go To list, along with giving a strict order to display the sections of your book. (If you want to learn how to do this, which will allow you to create more sophisticated and better ebooks, check out The eBook Design and Development Guide, by Paul Salvette.)

For those of you formatting in Word, onsite conversion will build your internal ToC. The conversion seeks out sections based on styles and/or chapter headings (It picks up “Chapter” for instance). For a full explanation, look here. The easiest way to do this is to use Word’s built in heading styles: Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, etc. Apply these to the chapter/section starts. Conversion will do the rest.

The Publisher-Generated (active) Table of Contents
(highly recommended by Amazon)

If you have up to thirty entries in your ToC it’s not going to eat up too much of the sample/Look Inside (about two “pages” worth). I would build a standard ToC and call it a day, having done due diligence. Where to put it? As long as it’s in the front matter, it’s up to you. (My personal preference is to have the title page be the start page, so I generally place the ToC before that.)

What if you have thirty+ entries? A simple solution is to put all the entries in a block.

Blog ToC 3

The above example is for a seventy chapter ebook, and the ToC takes up one “page”. This can also work well with non-fiction that contains a large number of sub-entries:

Blog ToC 5

In Word, if you use the built-in Heading styles, all you have to do is style your table of contents to look the way you want it, then use the automatically generated bookmarks to link to the entries.

Blog ToC 6

Don’t forget to test all your links–no matter how you build your ebook. It’s easy to mis-link an entry, but even easier to fix it. So test, test, test.

A Word for those who are Dead Set against a Chapter List

There are those who just cannot bring themselves to include a ToC that contains a list of chapters. If you are one of them, include, at least, a truncated ToC. It can be very short. For example:

Title Page
The Story
About the Author

It won’t be very useful for your readers, but it will put you in compliance with Amazon.



Working for Readers, Always

QuinnPrincessI signed up for a subscription to Kindle Unlimited. In hopes, no doubt, that it’ll keep me from busting my budget. (Yeah, right.) On the plus side, I’m discovering new authors I greatly enjoy. On the down side, I’m seeing a lot of piss-poorly produced ebooks.

When I’m shelling out the cash POS, I shop carefully, reading samples so I can avoid the formatting atrocities that disrupt my reading pleasure.  With KU, if I read a description that catches my interest, I download it and give it a try. Why not? My money is already in the pot. Have to tell you, my DNF (Did Not Finish) rate is running almost 60%.

To be fair, my DNF rate has always been on the high side. I’m not one of those readers who feels compelled to finish every story I start, no matter how much I pay for it. Either a story grabs me or it doesn’t. No big deal. What’s been frustrating lately is that there have been many stories I would have liked to finish because I liked the plot, ideas and/or characters, but the ebooks themselves are so poorly produced I can’t get past their ugliness to immerse myself in the story.

There you go again, Jaye, being an ebook snob.

Here I can state in all honesty, Not Guilty. It is true, I work very hard to make ebooks as beautiful as I know how. I enjoy the challenge of seeing how far I can push the medium. I try all kinds of tricks and hacks, sometimes just because I can, but usually because I believe they make my ebooks better. Here is something that many of my clients do not realize: Everything I do is for the readers. If a client wants something I know will break the ebook or make it difficult to read, I won’t do it. If the writer insists, they can find another formatter. If I do my job right, no reader will notice what I’ve done behind the scenes. They’ll have read a good book and are happy for it.

What makes me give up on an ebook?

#1: The ebook is broken

The main reason I prefer ebooks over print is because they’re much easier on my eyes. I can adjust the font, font size and line spacing to suit me. When I can’t because the producer was either too ignorant or too lazy to properly format the ebook, DNF. There’s no excuse for this. There is too much information on the internet, too many good tools/programs available — many of them at low or no cost — for anyone to put out an ebook that disables device controls.

#2 Manuscript punctuation

I read for a living. When I’m reading a doc/manuscript, I’m working. When I’m reading for pleasure and the story has manuscript punctuation, my Inner Editor comes roaring out of the shadows, waving her red pen like a sword and puts me to work. I can’t enjoy a story when I’m looking for typos and mentally fixing the text. It also annoys me because it says to me that the Writer Does Not Care enough about my reading pleasure to sell me a finished product. If you don’t know the difference between manuscript punctuation and printer punctuation, then look it up and figure it out. (FYI, one of the first things I do when I’m prepping a client’s text for formatting is I change manuscript punctuation to print punctuation. Always.)

#3 Weird-ass paragraphs

I made it through a whole chapter of an ebook by one of my favorite authors because I like him so much I thought I could tolerate no paragraph indents. Not block paragraphs, with a space between, just everything running together. I couldn’t do it. Book removed from device and that author went back on the check out from the library, if I remember list. I gave up on a fun book last night because of poorly done block paragraphs with double returns between most of the paragraphs, and an occasional indented paragraph. The story is okay and the characters are amusing, and if the weird format weren’t so distracting, I might have kept reading, but it finally tipped me over the annoyance threshold. Paragraphs with super deep indents drive me crazy, too — looks like a manuscript. Super narrow indents are difficult to read. The worst part about weird-ass paragraphs is that it tells me the producer just doesn’t care about my reading pleasure. That makes me far more critical about the text and far more likely to give up on the book altogether.

#4 No proofreading

Regular readers know this is a big deal to me. I encourage every single writer who hires me to either proofread themselves or hire the job out. To further encourage the practice, I do not charge extra to input corrections into the ebook file. As a reader, I KNOW when nobody proofread the ebook. I’m not talking about occasional typos or gremlins that sneak in and get missed. That stuff happens — in print as often as in ebooks. I’m talking about sheer sloppiness, laziness, and yes, disrespect for the readers who pay in money and time. If nothing else, loading an ebook onto a device and proofreading it will tell you if the ebook is broken.

Today’s rant isn’t directed at self-publishers. Overall, trad pubs put out the worst ebooks. It’s directed at everybody. Formatting an ebook isn’t rocket surgery. Anyone with a computer and willingness to learn a few basics can produce one that works properly and doesn’t interfere with the reading experience. Knowing that makes slobby, sloppy, broken, ill-constructed ebooks all the more depressing. It says to me that the creator doesn’t care about the readers. It says they don’t care enough about their own stories to present them in a suitable package.

Let’s do better, people. I’m tired of giving up on otherwise enjoyable books.

Using Sigil as a Proofreading Tool for Ebooks

Proof Blog 2Indulge me a moment… A few months ago I wrote a story. To my regular readers this is no big deal–you write stories in mass quantities and many of you earn your livings doing so, so ho-hum, am I right? But, for reasons I won’t bore you with, it was a big deal to me. I let my friend Julia Barrett read it and she liked it. Then Julia decided to put together an anthology of romance stories with a foodie theme. Knowing how much I like foodie stories (I call it food porn–yum!) she asked me to write a story for the anthology. To which I said, “I don’t write romances any more, so wouldn’t know where to start.” And no sooner had I hit SEND on the email, then I got an IDEA. Punchline: I wrote a foodie romance and Julia included it in the anthology. Heh.

My main job with the anthology was producing the ebook. Producing an anthology, even a large one, is not that much different than doing a novel. Consistency and file size control are the biggest issues. I’ve discussed the importance of those before, so won’t bore you with a repeat.

I WILL bore you with the necessity of proofreading ebooks. With this anthology, each writer was responsible for proofreading her own story. That meant I had to provide the ebook and a markup document to each of them.

Proofreading is a Big Deal to me, not because I particularly enjoy proofreading, but because I’m a heavy reader. Nothing irritates me more than realizing the publisher skipped proofreading. I can’t tolerate slobs. When I get a new client, I always encourage proofreading. Sometimes I even do it myself. Because it’s so important to me, I’m always looking for ways to make proofreading easier for the writers I work with.

Proofreading an ebook is not brain surgery or even rocket science. (ooh! Bunny trail–Have you read Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN? Engineer porn–yum.) When I proofread an ebook, I load the ebook on my Kindle and go through it word by word. If I discover a mistake, I make the correction in the html file. Because I do so much of this work it’s easy for me.

It’s not so easy for many of the writers I work with. They can’t make corrections in the ebook itself, and the fact that it looks so different from their original document just throws them. Last year I had a writer who just could not make the mental leap between the markup doc and the ebook, so painstakingly went through the markup document and meticulously styled it to make it look like the ebook. Hurt my head AND my heart. The worst part is, when a writer is that distracted by how something looks, it’s easy for them to miss important things like typos and misplaced punctuation which is the whole point of proofreading in the first place.

Then I made an interesting discovery. There is a program called Sigil. It’s an epub editor. It has some features I find useful, namely being able to root out html goofs quickly and easily. I discovered that if I copy/paste the text into a Word doc, Word will do its best to retain the formatting.

Proof Blog 1The translation isn’t perfect. Images and fonts don’t transfer and Word has a problem with italics (tends to squish them) but overall this creates a pretty close approximation to what the ebook looks like. Real benefit is, the text AND layout are exactly the same. For writer/publishers who are not comfortable with proofreading on a device or with an online previewer such as Calibre or the Kindle Previewer, they can proofread the Word doc (turn on Track Changes and go to town). If they have a concern about the formatting, they can look at the actual ebook. The Word doc can be printed (for those who prefer proofreading with red pencil in hand). For those who hire out proofreading, they can check the styling and formatting in the ebook themselves, then send the Word doc to the proofreader.

How difficult is Sigil? Not very. It has a learning curve, but for this purpose, all you have to do is open your epub in the program then put it in book view. Copy/Paste the sections/chapters into a Word doc and that’s it. You have a markup document that closely resembles your actual ebook. Given that Sigil is a free program, it doesn’t cost you any cash to give it a try.

For those doing anthologies or box sets with multiple writers, it’s a quick and easy way to make individual-specific markup docs for each writer.

What about the rest of the you? Any tips or tricks for making proofreading ebooks easier and/or more efficient?

MS Word, A Primer for Indie Writers: Part II: Scene Breaks, Page Breaks and Sections

From a production point of view, white space in a Word doc can be a problem. It can confuse you or your hired formatter. It can cause goofs in your ebooks, not to mention making extra work for yourself.

I have some simple solutions for you.


Did you mean to hit Enter twice, or is that a scene break? How much time do you spend centering or using the space bar to align asterisks? How often do you forget to add the asterisks, or sometimes use one and other times five? How hard do you make it on yourself (or others) to find scene breaks when your book is in production?

Make it easy. I use a double pound sign (hashtags, for you young’uns).

Word_Styles_4Type them in and drive on. The double pound signs are unique (be very rare to find them within the text) and thus, searchable. When it comes time to produce the ebook or layout a print on demand edition, all I have to do is search for the double pound signs, do a Replace All and scene breaks are taken care of. (By the way, I turned on the Show feature in the sample so you can see the hard returns.)

If using Word to format your ebook or pod book, you can replace the ## with your scene break indicator of choice and style them all in one operation. Here is how:

Create a new style and call it Break or Scene Break. Here is a simple set up.

Word_Styles_5Open the Find/Replace box and do this:

Word_Styles_6Do a Replace All.

Word_Styles_7If you are sending your book to someone else for formatting, tell the formatter that you used ## for your scene breaks and let them know how you’d like them handled.

NOTE: The ## is arbitrary, which I use because it’s easy and unique. You can use any tag that makes sense to you, even typing in SCENE BREAK. As long as it is an easily searchable string, you’re golden.


I don’t use page breaks when I’m composing in Word. It’s unnecessary and just makes extra space I have to scroll through. I use a tag:


That’s two equal signs. I use it because it forms a unique search string. So the text ends up looking something like this:

Copyright Information
Table of Contents
Chapter One
Chapter Two
And so on
Chapter One

My little tag comes in handy while I’m formatting, too, since it allows me to use it as a search term to plug in page breaks and styles. If you want to print your document or you’re formatting an ebook or pod edition, there are two easy ways to insert page breaks.

Number 1: Find and Replace

Word_Styles_8If you want to retain the tag, use ^m== in the Replace field.(You can delete the tags later) Do a Replace All and you have page breaks.

NOTE: ^m is Word’s code for Manual Page Break. You can find other codes in the Special menu you see in the Find/Replace box. Those codes can be used in either the Find or the Replace fields.

Number 2 is to use your Heading 1 style. Modify Heading 1 the way I showed you in Part I. In the modify paragraph box, Line and Page Breaks, check the Page Break Before box. Now Word will insert a page break before every instance of the Heading 1 style.

Word_Styles_9To insert a manual page break in Word. You can use the hot key: CTRL+Enter. Or go to the Insert tool bar. Click on the icon for Page Break.


Sections are a nice feature in Word. They allow you to treat different parts of a large document with different styles, page numbering and first page treatments (no headers or footers on the first page, for instance). For composition, most print documents, or ebooks, you don’t need sections. If you are laying out a print on demand book, sections will save you many headaches and much frustration. The Section Breaks command (with its options for Odd and Even breaks and Next page or Continuous) is found in the Page Layout tool bar.


As noted before, white space can be a problem in Word. Sometimes you want a blank line–to set off a poem or letter, for instance–but it’s not a scene break. What I do is tag the blank line with a single pound sign/hashtag. It looks like this:

Here is my story moving along.
The only problem with
Kittens is that
Kittens grow up to be cats!
And the story continues on (with apologies to Mr. Nash)…

My little tag (which is entirely arbitrary, by the way, you can use anything you like, even type in BLANK LINE if it suits you) is a search term and I also use it to indicate that a section requires special formatting. If you use my single pound sign, remember it is NOT necessarily a unique search string. I make it unique with this string in the Find field ^p#^p. That tells Word to only consider a pound sign if there is a paragraph return before and after it.

There you go, learn a few Word features and use my tips, and white space will never trip you up again.

Part I: Styles
Next Post: Part III: Punctuation and Special Characters

Boast Post: PROTECTORS 2: Heroes –The Biggest Ebook I’ve Done To Date

protectors6It’s been a while since I’ve done a boast post. But this book is extra special. When Tom Pluck asked me if I’d help with PROTECTORS 2: Heroes, the second collection of stories to benefit PROTECT, of course I said yes. The organization PROTECT is devoted to helping kids. As a human being, I’m all for protecting kids from abusers and predators. On a more personal level, it’s the kind of organization that helps the children I’ve fostered and adopted in my efforts to disrupt the cycles of abuse.

PROTECTORS 2: Heroes is a hundred percent volunteer effort. 55 authors and artists contributed stories and illustrations. Many of those authors are my literary idols: Joyce Carol Oates, Andrew Vachss, David Morrell, Charles de Lint, Joe R. Lansdale, and Harlan Ellison, just to name a few. (I confess to a few fangirl squee moments, folks, so sue me…) Tom Pluck, head editor and story contributor, coordinated the effort. Suzanne Dell’Orto designed the cover and the print edition. I line-edited, formatted the ebook, and proofread. It was a massive undertaking. The book is almost 250,000 words and involved months of hard work. Every penny from the sales are going to PROTECT.

I could end this post by urging you to buy the book. (You really should. It’s fantastic and for a worthy cause.) But as with all challenging projects, I learned a few things. With so many indie writers doing box sets and collaborating on anthologies, some of you might benefit from what I’ve learned.

WORK FLOW. Big projects can easily spiral out of control. The best way to prevent that is to come up with a plan and stick to it. Because we were doing digital and print, it was easiest and most efficient to do the ebook first, then the print. Ebooks are easy to modify and update; print can be trickier. So by doing the ebook first we could get the text in tip-top shape, edited and proofread and in order. Then when I sent the final text (lifted from the ebook) to the print formatter, any minor issues found during the final proofread were easily fixed in the ebook. Our work flow looked like this:
Tom: Copy edit individual stories; create the table of contents
Jaye: Compile the individual files into one Word doc and line edit
Tom: Approve line edit, adjust the ToC, make final decision about front and back matter
Jaye: Format ebook. Send proof copy to Tom so he can make any further modifications to the layout. Meanwhile, proofread the ebook.
Tom: Approve ebook. Upload Pre-order to Amazon.
Jaye: Recover text from the ebook files, compile into a Word doc, and send that to the print designer.
Tom: Go over print proofs. Send Jaye final corrections.
Jaye: Produce final ebook.

This work flow ensured that we were not tripping over each other and, more importantly, we were all on the same page and working off the same text.

TREAT THE PROJECT AS A WHOLE: This might seem self-evident, but judging by some of the box sets and anthologies I’ve purchased, it’s a point that seems to escape many. As a reader it annoys me no end when a collection is a mish-mosh of styles–they can’t even match the paragraph indents. Tom dealt with the individual contributors, so he had to work with individual files. Once he gave me the green light, I compiled all those files into one document and from then on treated it as a whole. While line editing I standardized the punctuation and spelling. The formatting was done with the same CSS stylesheets.


MANAGE THE FILE SIZE: We knew going in that this was going to be a big ebook. Not only word count, but there were illustrations, too. Part of my job was to keep the finished ebook at a manageable size. I cannot emphasize this enough. Screen lag is always a problem in big ebooks. That must be minimized. Other problems are more serious. One is Amazon’s delivery fee, which is charged back against the publisher. $.15 per MB doesn’t sound like much, but it can add up and eat up the commissions. I’ve bought (and returned) box sets that failed to load. I had one that crashed my Kindle. (I had to reboot it and that did NOT make me happy in the least.)  I manage file size by formatting in html which is very streamlined and allows me to break up the book into bite-sized chunks. I resized the images to make them as small as possible. I strongly advise anyone deciding to do a large anthology or box set to NOT format it in Word (or any word processor), Scrivener or InDesign. Those programs add sometimes fatal bloat.


NAVIGATION: I’m always obsessing about how to make navigating ebooks easier. In this case I did a two-tier table of contents. Click the story title and the reader is taken to the story. Click the author and they are sent to the author’s bio. In the bio section, clicking on the author name takes them to the story. I did it that way because when I buy anthologies, it’s usually because of the authors. I want to know who wrote what and don’t want to page through the ebook in order to find what I want. (And yes, I have bought ebooks that required me to do that because the ToC was useless or non-existent.)


[Box set tables of contents are trickier and I should do a post discussing the problems and solutions.]

FRONT AND BACK MATTER: Big books often have big tables of contents. This is good, since readers are interested in who the authors are, and I consider it a strong sell point. The downside is, it can eat up space in the sample and Amazon’s Look Inside feature. For that reason Tom and I decided to move all the legal notices and copyright information to the back of the book. I put a simple notice on the title page and added a link to the copyright information.

protectors7protectors3Overall, doing a big ebook has its challenges, but with a good plan, some thought and organization, it doesn’t have to mean you’re ripping your hair out or disappointing readers.

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More Power to the Do-It-Yourselfers

quinnremoteSo I got an email last week from a friend. She asked about justification and hyphenation in ebooks, and my opinion about what should be the standard. Then in a PS, she added:

PS I now have a system for making Scrivener create an ebook for me that is rather fancy, but doesn’t require any hand work. There’s a post about it on my blog, if you care to look. A tiny bit of hand manipulation of the final epub + Kindlegen even gives me indented right margins for my epigraphs. I have learned so much from you and your posts – but I do have a different system which works for me with NO hand cleaning of the source code, and just a few tweaks to the templates. So I can say my Scrivener ebooks look good on the epub and mobi readers I’ve tried, and I’ll test them on everything I have access to before even uploading. You did say to tell you if people had a system that worked for them.”

It probably doesn’t make good business sense for me to encourage Do-It-Yourself ebook production. Except, I think DIY is wonderful and I not only encourage it, I highly approve of anyone who wants to give it a shot. In fact, I am of the opinion that anyone who wants to make a career out of self-publishing to at least try formatting an ebook. If you’re an independent writer, you’re ALSO a publisher. A publisher needs to know how things work. They need to know what the people they hire are doing and if they are doing a good job and earning their keep.

There are many, many resources available to the DIYer. Both Amazon and Smashwords have tons of information about how to make an ebook. It is possible to make a quality ebook using readily available tools such as MS Word or Scrivener. Here is a recommendation I made to Alicia:

I haven’t used Scrivener since I had a computer die on me, [two plus years ago] and I haven’t reloaded it. I imagine it’s improved quite a bit. Even so, were I using it, I’d skip using their [built-in] KindleGen, run an epub then convert that using the Kindle Previewer. I’d use the resulting MOBI file for proofing and adjusting, then run a fresh epub and load that to Amazon. That will greatly lessen chances of conversion goofs.

I’ve said it many times in many blog posts that the keys to a quality ebook are clean text going in and then careful testing/proofreading of the ebook before it is uploaded to a retailer. How exactly you go from the clean text stage to the proofread stage is up to you. I prefer html and css to build an ebook from the ground up because it’s efficient and I have a lot of control and I can do some very sophisticated styling without breaking the resulting ebook.

If you are comfortable using a word processor or Scrivener or even InDesign, here are the tips I gave Alicia:

[This is a problem] Using multiple, but not embedded fonts. I encourage people to stick with Times New Roman, not because it’s easy to read or because it will show up in ebooks, but because its character sets are stable and every conversion program knows how to “read” it. It’s foolproof as far as conversion is concerned. When people use multiple fonts that are not properly embedded, what will happen is that sometimes during the conversion the program decides to “help” out. I don’t know if you’ve ever read an ebook where all the sudden a word is super-sized or teeny-tiny or characters are replaced by black diamonds or boxes with question marks. That is a result of inappropriate fonts.

Justifying the text. Across the board, this will break a Kindle book.
[Justified text is the default in most Kindle devices, so even if your Word or Scrivener file is ragged right, the ebook will justify the text. If you justify the text, the program will code based on margins and print commands. They can lock. So what happens when it’s converted to an ebook is that the Kindle will not/can not override those locking codes, and users will not be able to adjust margins or line spacing. This is a bad thing.]

Micro-managing line spacing. This can cause big problems in Kindle books. Broken paragraphs, squished text, weird blank “pages” and so on. Set your spacing at “single” and leave it alone. Problem solved.

Hyphenating text. For the most part, Kindles ignore discretionary hyphens. Sometimes they don’t. So you end up with words in the middle of a sentence with a discretionary hyphen character (looks like a hyphen with a hook). It doesn’t break the ebook, but it does look sloppy and unprofessional. In html I [sometimes] use a soft hyphen character. Several of my clients are medical professionals and they use some extra long terms, so I manually insert soft hyphens. I don’t know if there is an equivalent in Scrivener.

Two more tips for you:

  • Remember that what you SEE in your word processor or Scrivener is not necessarily what you will get in your ebook. So don’t get all worked up about spacing and widows/orphans. Let your text flow, which is what it is supposed to do in the ebook.
  • Use styles. Use one style for the main body text (not tabs or hard returns or extra spaces) and another for headers and even a style for centering text. If you don’t know how to use styles, take 30 minutes and figure it out. It will save you time and headaches, and result in a much better quality ebook.

Finally, a word about Amazon’s Look Inside feature. This is a chronic headache for me because most people don’t realize they aren’t seeing the actual ebook. What Amazon is showing is a sample that is specially converted for the Look Inside. Sometimes they justify the text as the default, sometimes they default to ragged right. Sometimes they ignore margins. In other words, if you want to see what the ebook actually looks like, you have to download a sample. Why does Amazon do this? I don’t know. It’s a pain in the ass and I get tired of explaining to clients how it works, but that’s how it is. So my advice to you is if you want to see how your ebook looks “live” do NOT depend on the Look Inside. If you don’t have a Kindle, then download the Kindle Previewer and open up your book with that. You will get a much clearer picture.