Amazon’s Kindle Create for Ebooks

Have you heard about Kindle Create from Amazon? It’s a free service for self-publishers to format ebooks and print books to sell on Amazon. It will accept a Word .doc or .docx file and allow the publisher to create a “custom” ebook.

I’ve been fiddling around with it for a while, trying to figure out the best, easiest ways to use the program. There are things about it I like; and things I dislike thoroughly. So first, the pros and cons (in my rarely humble opinion):

PROS
  • Relatively intuitive and user friendly (an 8 out of 10 for ease of use)
  • Allows for some customization
  • Foolproof as far as creating a functioning ebook
  • Help pages are readily available (I give them a 6 out of 10 for usefulness)
CONS
  • It’s a proprietary format that can only be used on Amazon (Big consideration, given that you cannot use your formatted ebook for any purpose other than selling on Amazon. You will have to format an EPUB for other retailers.)
  • Themes are clunky (I don’t think a book designer had a hand in creating the styles. The results aren’t awful, but they don’t look very sophisticated either.)
  • Making batch changes is not possible (that I can figure out)
  • There is a Find function, but no Replace function
  • Uses page view only, rather than an adjustable Web layout view
  • Cannot edit with the Previewer open (Makes proofreading even more tedious.)

Before You Begin

As with any type of format, it’s Garbage In, Garbage Out. Your source document must be in tip-top shape–edited, polished, proofread–and as clean as you can make it against unwanted coding. (I’ve written extensively in this blog about the importance of a clean source doc and how to efficiently get it into shape.) I tried different levels of styling to see what the program will accept and what it won’t. I found that the best way is, in Word, to set up the body text or Normal style as if the doc is formatted for an ebook, but to leave the headings, front matter and back matter unstyled. Place all front and back matter in the order you want for the finished book. (And big pro, don’t worry about the table of contents–Kindle Create will generate it for you.) I also used tags to note where I want page breaks, scene breaks, and special paragraphs (the tags serve as search terms).

Above is a clean doc, styled in Normal, with Heading 1 applied for my own purposes in Word. Kindle Create doesn’t appear to recognize heading styles. And notice, no page or section breaks.

If you want to link to other works (Amazon listings only), your website, blog, social media or Amazon Author Page, create the links in the Word document. (All the hyperlinks I created in the Word doc worked just fine in the KC program.)

Step by Step in Kindle Create

1. When you first open the program a box will appear that asks you what type of project you are creating, and the language (the program supports a multitude of languages).

2. Next, open a Word .doc or .docx file. It will be converted. (If the conversion isn’t successful, that can only mean that you’ve done some damage to the Word doc. You will have to scrub it clean and copy/paste it into a text editor to remove destructive coding.)

Above, the loaded and converted Word doc. Basically no styling. The tag you see == is a search term, my indicator for page break.

3. Now select a theme. KC offers four. (The icon is on the upper right of the screen. Click it for a dropdown menu.)

4. Apply element formatting. In the Text Properties pane on the right side of the screen KC has broken down the “elements” into Common Element (the body of the work); Title Pages; and Book Start and End Pages (front and back matter). In a work that is text-heavy, such as a novel or narrative non-fiction, you will be able to find just about everything you need. (I’d be reluctant to use this program for any non-fiction project that requires sophisticated styling and multiple images.) To apply an element (actually, a style), set your cursor at the beginning of the text and then click on the option you want.

You can modify the “elements” to an extent. On the tool pane to the right click on “Formatting”. Any item that isn’t grayed out can be modified. For instance, if you want more or less space above or below your chapter headings, you can adjust them. Be aware, though, modifying one does NOT modify them all, and it does not change the element styling. So you will have to go through your book and modify each element individually. (Here is where using tags is helpful. Use the tag as a search term in the Find box.) You can also clear the formatting, if you wish, and apply all new formatting. If you make a mistake use Ctrl+z to undo the mistake.

In the above example, I changed the spacing above and below the chapter heading. For the first paragraph, I set a zero indent. (KC does offer a drop cap option. Personally, I hate drop caps in ebooks–don’t actually love them in print either. The option is there if you want it.)

Customizing the styling works on multiple paragraphs, too. For instance, in the book I was using for practice, I disliked how KC set up the copyright page. So instead I went to the first line, right clicked, and selected “insert a section break”. This put my material on its own page. Then I selected all the text and styled it.

With the text selected, you can see the options for custom formatting in the right hand tool pane. Click “Clear” to remove all formatting.

Now it’s time for last looks. If you used tags, make sure they are all deleted. Scroll through the section list in the left hand pane and make sure you’ve listed all your chapters/sections.

Once all the formatting is done, time to create your table of contents. In the above image you can see all the start pages in each section. Click on a page. The right tool pane displays “Section Properties”. Check the box if you want the section included in the table of contents. You can also customize what shows up in the list of entries. Next, go to the Title Page, right click and select “Insert Table of Contents”. (The ToC itself cannot be edited. So if you goof, or want to make changes, you will have to do so in the ebook itself.)

This is quick and easy–but I heartily dislike that I cannot modify the heading. If you will use this program for a print layout, KC will insert page numbers for you.

Now it’s time to preview your ebook and run it through its paces with various font faces, font sizes, and different devices.

The previewer does a fairly good job with a nice display. It leads to my biggest gripe with the KC program. I’m a huge proponent of proofreading. With every ebook I format, the author gets a chance to proofread it. The best way to proofread an ebook is to load it up on a device and go through it line by line. That way you can catch not only typos, but errors in formatting, too. If there’s a way to generate a proof file from KC, I can’t find it. (I haven’t gone so far as to try publishing my practice books. I’m assuming clicking “Publish” will take you to KDP.) You can use the previewer for proofreading since you can see the formatting, but with the previewer open you cannot do any editing. So it’s open, close, try to remember where you are, on and on and on. Ridiculous. My best suggestion is to have a markup doc (in Word) open as you go through the text in the previewer. Once done, transfer any changes to the ebook in KC.

What About Images?

Inserting images is easy. Place your cursor where you want the image, right click and select “insert image”. By clicking on the image, a tool pane opens that displays Image Properties. You can kind of size your image, position it and add alternative text.

The images I played with scaled pretty well in the previewer. Keep in mind, any image used in the print file must be at least 300 dpi. For the ebook, 96 dpi is sufficient. (Do not insert your cover! That will cause two covers to be displayed and that’s a seriously rookie mistake.)

What about print?

I haven’t messed around with that yet. So that will be in another post.

My Conclusion

For the self-publisher on a tight budget who intends to use KDP Select, this is a reasonable option. It produces a product that will work properly on any Kindle device or app.

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So, Dear Readers, does anyone have a book they formatted with Kindle Create they’d like to link to in the comments?

 

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Creating Custom Templates in MS Word

I have come to the bittersweet conclusion that y’all don’t need my formatting wizardry much anymore. At least not you fiction writers. The good news is the reason why: The major sites for self-publishing have caught up with the tools most commonly in use (mostly, Word), and the conversions are better than ever. You can upload a formatted Word doc to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Direct2Digital and, if you’ve followed the basic best practices for ebook formatting, the results will be professional. You can even use Word to lay out a print edition for Amazon. (And if your version of Word has the capability, you can export a pdf that will work for IngramSpark.)

The biggest problem Do-It-Yourselfers run into isn’t ability, but lack of experience. I do multiple ebook formats and print layouts every week. My routines are down pat. But when you’re only doing one format a year it can be like re-inventing the wheel each time.

The solution? Make custom templates. You can make multiple templates: one for composition; another for editing; one for ebook formatting; another for print layouts. (Don’t be put off by the word “template.” If you are using MS Word, then with every new document you create you are using a template–Word’s template.)

For an ebook it’s super easy to make a boilerplate template that includes your standard front and back matter. When you’re ready to format, all you have to do is fill in the blanks, update whatever needs updating, import your text, style the headings and such. Boom. Twenty minutes. Ready to go.

Below is a custom template I made for a friend:

STEP BY STEP TO CREATE A TEMPLATE

  1. Open a new blank doc in Word.
  2. Save As into a .dotx file and give it a name such as Ebook Template.dotx
    Word will place the file into a folder called Custom Office Templates. (You can, if you wish, create your own  template folder, and then copy/paste your template into that.)
  3. Open the Styles pane and click “Manage Styles”
    In the toolbox:
    Check the box for “New documents based on this template”
    Hide or delete any styles you do not want showing in your template
    Click Okay.
  4. In the Styles pane click “Options…”
    Check the boxes that best fit how you work.
  5. Modify and/or create new styles for use in this template.
    NOTE: It’s unnecessary to do more than the basics that you will require in a bare bones format. If you need additional styles for a project it’s super easy to add them to your working document. Or, you can update the template itself.

The sample above is a template I created for markup documents to provide to my clients when they are proofreading their ebooks. It has only four paragraph styles and two character styles. The navigation guide is created automatically when I use Heading styles. Super simple.

USING YOUR TEMPLATE

To use the template to create a new document:

  1. Open the template
  2. Save As into a .docx file with a new name (MyOpusMagnus.docx)
  3. Start typing (Normal will be the default style. Apply other styles as necessary.)

To use the template for existing text (requires some prep work):

  1. Open the doc containing the text you want to use
  2. Save As with a new file name to preserve the original
  3. Tag the italics; make sure all scene breaks are clearly marked; make sure all deliberate blank lines are clearly marked (such as stanza breaks in poems)
  4. Delete all tabs; convert any soft returns into hard returns*
  5. Copy the text and paste it into a text editor (such as Notepad on a PC)
  6. Clean up the text to remove extraneous formatting, extra spaces and unneeded blank lines
  7. In Word, open the template
  8. Save As into a .docx file with your document name
  9. Copy the cleaned up text in the text editor and paste it into your new doc (everything will be styled as Normal)
  10. Restore the italics
  11. Go through the doc and apply styles where necessary
  • *Quick way to delete tabs with Find/Replace. In the Find field type ^t and leave the Replace field blank. Click Replace All.
  • Convert soft returns with Find/Replace: In the Find field type ^l and in the Replace field type ^p. Click Replace All.

Crafting a template for a print layout is a little trickier. It’ll probably take another blog post. The same principles apply. It’s all about styles. If you all want a post about print layouts, say the word and I’ll get on it.

By the way, if your do-it-yourselfing needs a bit of a jumpstart, I’m more than happy to create a custom ebook template for you. It’ll cost you ten to twenty-five bucks, depending on the complexity, but you’ll be able to use it over and over again for stellar results every time. Contact me at jayewmanus at gmail dot com.

Two Quick, Easy No-Cost Ways to Convert a PDF into a Word Doc

There are two types of PDF files that concern writers and from which writers would like to extract editable text.

The first is created by exporting a text document from a word processor or publishing program into a PDF file. The second type is created by scanning printed material and producing a PDF file.

(The second type, the scan, is actually an image file that requires further conversion via OCR (optical character recognition). OCR conversion requires special software, and it falls into the category of “you get what you pay for” and will be the subject of another blog post.)

This post concerns the first type of PDF. A common request I get is: “I had someone do a print layout for my book and it’s been edited and updated, but it’s in a PDF and I need a final copy as a Word doc. Can you help?”  No problem. It takes just a minute, so I don’t charge people to do it. (I do, however, charge an arm and a leg to clean up conversions. Just kidding, only an arm.)

The good news: Converting a PDF file into a Word doc is easier than ever and the results are better, too. And, you probably have the tools on your computer already.

The bad news: Conversion is always a mixed bag—some results are vastly superior and some will make you tear your hair out.

The good news about the bad news is that if you know what is happening, you can fix it without ending up in a weepy, shivering, fetal ball. Or sending people like me an anxious email saying, “I’ve spent months trying to fix this fripping’ Word doc and I’ve torn all my hair out and can you please, please, please help meeeeee!” Then wondering what is wrong with you when in a couple of hours I send you a fully restored Word doc—nothing wrong with you, but I’ve recovered millions of words from PDF files and pretty much know what I’m doing. 😉

Use MS Word to Convert the PDF

If you have a version of MS Word that is capable of exporting a PDF file then it is capable of importing a PDF file. How to know? Open a doc in Word and click Save As. In the tool box is a dropdown menu of different file types: .doc, .docx, .rtf,. txt, and a bunch of others. If the list includes PDF, you’re golden. Conversion is as easy as opening a document.

In Word, click on File > Open and select the PDF file you want to open. (Be patient. Depending on how fast your computer is and how large the PDF file is, conversion may take several minutes.)

Once it is open on your computer do a SAVE AS into the DOCX file format.

In the example the Show feature is activated so you can see the paragraph returns and other formatting.

What I like about this method:

  • Headers and footers are rendered as headers and footers (for the most part, depending on how the original PDF was created), meaning they can be quickly deleted or safely ignored.
  • It’s not horrible about retaining paragraphs.

The disadvantages:

  • It can hide hyphenation. (Sometimes the hyphenation is there but invisible and Word will not allow a search for them—if this occurs, you’ll need a text editor to clean them up. See below.)
  • If the fonts used in the pdf are not available on your computer, Word will substitute fonts. If Word is unable to read the font, it will insert black boxes, pink boxes or gibberish.
  • Images and other graphics can make the file difficult or impossible to open. This works best for a text-only document.
  • Depending on the source PDF, Word can go into overdrive attempting to retain the formatting. That can result in massive (and slow!) files.

Use Google Drive to Convert the PDF

You may have to create a Google account (gmail account) in order to use Google Drive, but it’s free and widely available.

  1. Go to Google Apps > Drive
  2. Click New > File Upload
  3. Select the PDF file you want to convert
  4. When the box opens saying “1 Upload Complete”, click on the file name
  5. Tell it to “Open with Google Docs”
  6. File > Download As > Microsoft Word (docx)
  7. Open the downloaded file in Word
  8. Save As to make sure the new Word doc is on your computer.

The advantages:

  • The PDF file is editable in Google Docs, so if you don’t have Word or don’t want to use it, you can work on the PDF directly. VERY IMPORTANT!: This version remains on the cloud, not your computer, so if you want it saved on your computer you will have to download it.
  • No real formatting to fight with.
  • It makes very little effort to convert images and graphics during conversion, so it rarely chokes up or crashes because of it.

The disadvantages:

  • Headers and footers will have to be removed manually.
  • Hyphenation will have to be cleaned up manually.
  • Spacing issues.
  • Not fabulous about retaining paragraphs.

Tips for Making Clean Up Merely Mildly Annoying (as opposed to having you curled up in a fetal ball, quietly weeping)

  • Forget trying to retain the formatting from the PDF file. The text is what matters, focus on it.
  • Work in Web Layout view rather than Print Layout view so that you can adjust the width of the screen to approximate the width of the PDF text. This will make checking for and fixing wayward paragraphs easier.
  • Make sure all scene breaks, page breaks and deliberate blank lines are clearly tagged with some kind of marker so you know exactly where they are. Don’t use extra hard returns or actual page breaks to mark them—you’ll regret it.
  • If possible, work with the Word doc and the PDF open on the screen side by side so you can see scene breaks, page breaks, deliberate blank lines and special formatting such as italics.
  • Activate the Show feature (click the pilcrow icon ¶ in the Home Ribbon menu) so you can see such things as paragraph returns, soft returns, tabs and spaces.
  • If Word is having trouble reading a font, you will need to try another method. Contact me (see below) and I’ll see if I can find a solution for you.
  • Clear the formatting. First, make sure all your scene breaks, page breaks and deliberate blank lines are clearly marked. Second, tag your italics (easy way: https://jwmanus.wordpress.com/tag/italics-in-ebooks/). To clear the formatting. Ctrl+a to select all text then click the Clear All Formatting icon in the Home Ribbon. This will leave you with a blank slate, essentially, and remove any unwanted formatting Word has applied. Apply the Normal style to the selected text then modify the style so it suits you. Restore the italics.

Quick Find/Replace terms useful for clean up:

Get rid of unwanted page breaks:
In the Find field: ^m
In the Replace field: leave blank
Replace All

Get rid of unwanted section breaks:
In the Find field: ^b
In the Replace field: leave blank
Replace All

Turn soft returns into hard returns:
In the Find field: ^l
In the Replace field: ^p
Replace All

To find and delete unwanted hyphens (in most cases, discretionary hyphens that are turned into single dashes have a space after them):
In the Find field: -(hit the space bar once to create a blank space)
In the Replace field: leave blank
Replace All

What if Word has hidden the hyphens?

It’s a common problem. It’s frustrating because you might never know it happened until you format your book as an ebook or send it in an email to someone. To find out if Word has done this, you will need a text editor. On a Windows machine, Notepad works fine. Open a blank document in the text editor. Use Ctrl+a to select all the text in the Word doc. Copy it, then paste it into the text editor. If you see this character ¬ then Word has replaced the hyphenation with “non-characters” that will cause trouble down the line. Word’s Find/Replace won’t do you any good. You will need to tag your italics, copy/paste the entire document into the text editor then use the editor’s Find/Replace function to delete the hyphenation.

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If neither of these conversion methods works for you, feel free to contact me at jayewmanus at gmail.com. I have other tools on hand that can convert difficult files. If the conversion does work for you, but you’re struggling with restoring the text, explain your problem in the comments and let’s figure it out.

 

 

 

 

Kindle Previewer: New and (really!) Improved

I’ve been using Amazon’s Kindle Previewer app ever since I started formatting ebooks. Have to say, I was never much impressed with it. It had some useful features and it was a quick way to convert an epub file into a mobi file, and a sort of quick way to convert a Word doc into a mobi file so I could load it onto a Kindle or tablet. As for viewing a book on the computer? Forget it. It looked awful and the screen size couldn’t be adjusted. For some tasks it was essential, but I never fully trusted it to give me a hundred percent true rendering of my ebooks.

Then I got a brand new computer and when I downloaded the Kindle Previewer, I got the newest version.

And oh my God, Amazon, what have you done?

Look at this!

The display is big and clear and along with the “Kindle” view there are thumbnails of individual page screens.

Along with a much easier, clearer to understand user interface (everything you need is right there in a menu panel on the left side of the screen), it also does some nifty tricks. Like popping up footnotes.

It also gives a great rendering of a smart phone screen. This is essential for checking alignment and making sure such things as headers aren’t so oversized they look stupid on a small screen.

For those of you, my dear readers, with a Do-It-Yourself frame of mind, this version also converts Word docs. No more need for converting the doc first in MobiPocket and then converting the prc file. Click File > Open Book and select a Word doc and the program will convert it into a mobi file. It won’t be a commercial quality ebook and it won’t build the internal navigation guide, but it does allow you to check your styling and the mobi file can be loaded onto your Kindle or tablet for proofreading.

The program no longer automatically creates a mobi file to place on your computer. You have to ask it to export a file. It takes just a second, so it’s no hassle.

The only downside I’ve discovered is that it’s no longer a good tool for what I call bizarre character checks. When I have questions about whether or not a particular character or symbol will render across the board in all devices, the old version of the Kindle Previewer allows me to do that by viewing the file in DX mode. If I see a question mark or gibberish, I know the character is unsafe and I have to find a substitute. There is no DX mode in this new version. I’m keeping the old version on my other computer specifically for that task.

So, thank you, Amazon, for an amazing new tool! As a client of mine said (after I told him how to use it to create a quick review ebook): “It’s like a little piece of magic from the gods.”

 

I’m Baaaack!

I’m back and it’s time to rock ‘n’ roll!3-quinn

First, apologies to those who contacted me for book production services and I had to refer them to other sources. I spent the last few months of 2016 pretty much playing catch up, and I was so swamped I even disabled my service pages just to slow down the flow of queries (Gah, butI hate telling people no!). I have some serious updating to do to this poor neglected blog, but my pages will be going back online soon and I’ll be able to accept new clients in the next month or so.

Second, much gratitude and warm fuzzies for those who offered kind words and MUCH understanding about my husband’s health issues. His treatments seem to be working and he’s slowly, but surely getting back to his normal ornery self. He’ll be back to driving me nuts in no time at all.

Third, I’ve stopped working on Sundays. I have to force myself to take a day away from the computer or I will go blind or my hair will fall out or something horrible like that. I know, I know, I’m writing this blog on a Sunday, but I have so much work to do next week that this won’t get written unless I do it today. But, the norm will be, I’m offline on Sundays. What this means is that emails that come in late Saturday won’t be answered until Monday. And scheduling will take my days off into account.

The biggest news is that I’m taking on a partner. What, Jaye? A cranky old loner like you? Yep. I’m training him in book production right now, so I’ll introduce him when he’s fully on board, but rest assured, he cares as much about production values as I do. (Plus he’s young and energetic and types really fast.)  We’ll be coming up with plans to keep prices as low as possible so you all can focus on your writing and not have to worry that production costs blowing your budgets. With two of us sharing duties and quality checking each other, we’ll be able to produce more and better books.

So what’s coming up in 2017?

Ebooks (of course). High quality, guaranteed to work across devices, no-hassle updates–that remains the same.

Line-editing. I have a few editing clients and have been hesitant to take on more because of time constraints. That may be changing and it’s possible I’ll be able to expand my client list.

Proofreading. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m a bear about proofreading. When a writer clicks the Publish button, I want for their work to be the very best it can be. Readers deserve no less. There will be some changes in prices and policies coming up, but my intent is to broaden my proofreading services AND keep the cost as low as possible.

Print. Just about all my clients are doing print on demand editions. With fiction I can keep the costs down to where the print version is comparable in price to the digital version. I’ll be posting prices and even some package deals.

Backlist Restoration. Writers who manage to get their rights reverted often end up with a print copy of their book and a heart filled with dismay as to how to go about recovering the text so it can be turned into an ebook or a new print edition. Easy enough to take it to the copy shop and have it scanned, but then what? Converting the scanned text via OCR can result in an unholy mess. I’ve dealt with writers who’ve spent months trying to get text in good enough shape to read. I’m going to boast a little here–I am the Queen of Text Restoration. I have the tools and skills so that I can accomplish in days what might take most people months. So if you have some backlist in need of restoration, we should talk.

2016-11-05-mockup-classic-crime-libraryCovers. Regular readers know I’ve been dabbling in covers for a while. I’m getting pretty good at it. I’m on my way to getting really good at it. I’m more than happy to work with writers on a tight budget to come up with reasonably priced covers that look good and serve their purpose. I can also modify most ebook covers for print and audio editions.

Translations and Foreign Editions: I’ve been doing a lot of German, Italian and Spanish novels here of late. I’ve figured out how to get the best results for digital and print so the books can be sold on Amazon and through other distributors. (I’m not doing Asian editions–yet.) It’s a big world full of hungry readers. If you write in an other than English language or have translated editions of your English books you’d like produced in digital or print, let’s talk.

Marketing and Promotion: Nope, sorry, still won’t/can’t do that for you. My brain just refuses to wander down those paths.

Thanks for dropping by. If you need to contact me now you can reach me at
jayewmanus at gmail dot com

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Do You Need Professional Help to Self-Publish?

A few weeks ago I got this email:

Hi Jaye, [a regular client] said you can help me. I got the rights back to my novel [title] published by [Big 5 house]. I had it scanned and converted it to Word. This was back in October and I’ve been working on it off and on, but it’s getting worse instead of better. I’m ready to just forget the whole thing. Is there anyway you can help…

quinngiveupOf course I could help. It’s what I do. He sent the scan, and 48 hours later I sent him back a Word doc in manuscript format with the text restored well enough for him to proofread. It cost him less than $90.

I’m not telling you this to boast about my mad skills. Restoring text from a scan is just something I happen to be very good at–and I’m fast. The reason I’m good at it is because I’ve restored millions of words and I have applied myself to learning how to do it quickly and efficiently. I’m a pro.

I also happen to be good at making ebooks. I’ve done hundreds. I’ve worked and worked to learn how to do it well and how to do it efficiently. I’m pretty good at laying out print-on-demand books, too. I’m even doing covers.

Book production has become second-nature to me. It’s what I do, day in and day out. Most of what I do is very easy for me. I still run into challenges–hell, I look for challenges–but overall I know what I’m doing and I know how to get the job done with minimal fuss and muss.

Writers, on the other hand, write. Formatting an ebook or making a cover or laying out a print-on-demand version look pretty straightforward on the surface. Why not DIY? It sure saves a lot of money. Right? Right?

Sometimes.

Sometimes getting professional results will be beyond you. Not because you’re too dumb to figure it out, but because you don’t know what you’re doing and you don’t have the hours and hours and hours to figure it out. You’d rather be writing. Sometimes your time is more valuable than money. So let’s answer the question:

Should You Hire a Professional?

  • Do you have an ereader? (a Nook, a Kindle, an Android tablet, an iPad, etc.) Do you read ebooks? If the answer is no to either, I suggest hiring a professional. Unless you have a good idea how ebooks work, you will not be able to create a professional product.
  • Is your project complicated? Most formatting pros won’t tell you this, but I will: Conversion programs have gotten much, much, much better at turning word processing program files into ebooks. If your project is simple, which most fiction is, you can create a professional ebook using Word (and other word processors). You do need to take care and pay attention to details. It helps if you have a good guide to walk you through it. I recommend Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide. If you want to go a little more sophisticated, try Guido Henkel’s Zen of eBook Formatting. You can do it yourself. On the other hand, if your book contains complicated formatting (lists, tables, boxes, nested styles, etc.) hire a pro. Complicated formatting is not for the dabbler.
  • Do you have the time? I get a lot of emails from writers who can’t make their DIY ebooks work properly. Quite often the problem is a simple one. A line of code. Or a messed up ToC or a distorted cover. Sometimes the problem is more severe and my recommendation is for the writer to go back to step one and completely strip, then restyle their book. What I hear back is a variation on: “But I’ve been trying to do this for weeks! And you say I have to start over?” Think about it. How much money are you saving if it’s taking you a month or six weeks to do what a pro can do in a day? Book production requires time spent NOT writing and NOT marketing and NOT promoting. Publishing is a business and knowing when to delegate responsibilities and hire sub-contractors is part of doing business.
  • Do you know what you don’t know? Ebooks are getting better, production-wise. It’s rare these days for me to buy one that’s a total mess (even from the trad publishers). Except for one thing: Either margins and line-spacing that cannot be adjusted for my reading comfort. I know what causes it. The formatter used either Word or InDesign and locked the styles either by justifying the text or messing around with page margins. (This irritation is so common in trad pubbed ebooks that I have to really, really, really want the story and it has to be really, really cheap before I will click to buy.) It boggles my brain that the formatter does not know the ebook is broken. It tells me they do not know enough to load the book on a device and run it through its paces. Ebooks are fairly simple, but there is stuff going on beneath the surface that every formatter (DIY or pro) should know. Do you know the difference between MOBI and EPUB? Do you know the difference between manuscript punctuation and printer punctuation? Do you know how to work with styles? Do you know about bloat? How to validate an EPUB file? If you don’t have the time or inclination to learn these things, hire a pro. [If reading my little list gives you an ‘oh shit’ moment, you might want to hire a pro.]
  • Are you willing to do the work at a professional level? If you want to sell your ebook or trade paperback, then your customers deserve a professional product. DIY self-publishers can produce professional products. The question you have to ask yourself is, can you? Book production is work and it can be frustrating and there’s a ton of conflicting information on the internet when you go looking for answers to sticky problems. If you prefer to put your energy and time elsewhere, there is no shame in that. There is shame, though, in putting a price tag on a sub-par product.

So Where Do You Find a Pro?

I’m not going to recommend anyone (not even myself) because it’s your book and your budget and your schedule. There’s a healthy industry of book production specialists springing up on the internet. Do a Google search for ebook formatting services. Do avoid anything connected to Author Solutions and other vanity publishers. Stay away from “automated” services, too. The only thing they do is convert your Word file–Garbage In-Garbage Out. Kindle Boards is a good place to look, too. Ask other writers. People who are happy with their service providers are usually more than happy to recommend them.

For this post only, if you are a book production specialist, leave a comment with your contact info. I will check you out and if you’re legit, I’ll post your info.