I recently had the pleasure of exchanging messages with a lady named Cheryl Bradshaw, and she asked if I would be interested in having her write a guest post for my site, and I said absolutely! When she asked if I had any preferred topics, I suggested “formatting”, and she readily accepted the challenge. This is something that is near and dear to every indie author’s heart, so thank you Cheryl for sharing this with us!
Recently I was sitting in front of my laptop engaged in a mental happy dance. My book was complete, it had been edited, my cover was finished, and I was ready to submit it to Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. My novel had been written in Microsoft Word and looked practically perfect in every way so I was shocked once I loaded it and hit the preview button. Long story short, I wasn’t dancing anymore. As it turned out, my book wasn’t formatted right, and I had no idea what I needed to do to get it that way.
Being the curious person that I am, I wondered if everyone else had imperfect formatting or if it was just me, so I chose about 20 books in the top 100 list on Amazon and downloaded a sample and took a peek. And I was shocked. I noticed all kinds of errors from too many spaces to chapters starting in the middle of a page instead of a new one. I was speechless and on top of that, that week on the Kindle Boards I was nosing around in the reader forums and saw a bunch of threads about how tired readers are of reading poorly formatted books. Yikes!
It seems daunting at first to do it yourself; after all, we are writers, not professional formatters – but it can be done, and it’s easier than you think.
The first step in my process was to get it formatted right. And for that, I recommend using the Smashwords Style Guide. You can use the Smashwords guide to get your manuscript ready for any site, whether it’s B&N or Amazon; it all works pretty much the same with just a few exceptions (which I will get to in a minute), and even if you are not going to use Smashwords to publish, you can still use their guide to format your book on your own.
Before you do that though, I want to let you in on a little secret. You can have your manuscript formatted by someone else for little money and save yourself a lot of hassle. Smashwords has a “master list” of authors who moonlight as formatters, and to give you an idea of the cost, I was quoted a mere $25 for 70K words. At this price point, why do it yourself?
To get the list, send an email to this address: firstname.lastname@example.org and then you can send out individual emails requesting a quote. In your email you will want to give the word count and then also make sure you ask what their time frame is so you don’t get your book back 60 days down the road. At 70K words, it shouldn’t take more than a few days.
Once my book was formatted for Smashwords, I needed to make a few changes to get it ready to post on the other sites.
FOR AMAZON KINDLE…
1. You can keep everything the same EXCEPT if it’s in MS Word, you need to go through the document and place page breaks after the end of the last sentence in EACH chapter. If you don’t do this, your chapters will just start as soon as the previous chapter ends and not on a new page.
2. You want to indent three lines at the beginnings of each chapter – for example after your write “CHAPTER ONE” at the top of the page, indent three spaces below that and then start your written chapter on the fourth line. If you don’t do this, your chapter heading will be smashed up at the top of the Kindle screen.
(You can also have the Smashwords formatters get it ready for Kindle and Nook as well).
FOR BARNES & NOBLE NOOK
Now on to the Nook which is similar to Kindle formatting EXCEPT instead of inserting a page break, you insert a section break at the end of each chapter and you do this below the last line of the chapter and voila – you’re done!
And here’s something great. Lulu now offers eBooks and you can upload on there with NO formatting whatsoever, because it just takes your file and you get to choose the size of it for your readers.
As an end note, I want to add that it’s a royal pain to get help from Amazon or B&N if you need help formatting advice, so don’t even try it. They both have tutorials on their sites – HOWEVER, they offer no form of customer service over the phone. And when I emailed Amazon’s KDP for help with a question, it took them four days to respond and then it was an auto text with no clear answer to my question. Fortunately, there are Kindle Boards and PubIt boards where other writers help each other with the process. So if you get hung up or stressed, never fear – other writers are happy to assist.
One last thing to check out if your book is written in something other than MS Word is Guido Henkel’s series on his blog about the proper way to format your book.
© 2011, Steven R. Drennon. All rights reserved.
Filed under: Guest Posts