Sunday, 5 April 2015

Formatting Woes

This last month I've taken a break from creative writing, and oh, how I miss it! But it's time for a massive pre-publishing work up and so I've been doing the proofing/editing/more proofing/formatting cycle that every writer needs to do before their book is ready.

Here, dear reader is a very brief summary of this painful process...

Proofing and Editing

Proofing and editing is one of those dreary-but-important tasks that every writer has to do. In brief, it involves going over and over and over your manuscript, refining the words. Making them tighter, more effective. Saying more with less. I lose between twenty and thirty percent of my word count in the edit phase.

If you have decided to self-publish your work, after the editing phase comes the formatting phase. Formatting is involves the final design, the layout of your manuscript and a final check for errors. It's a crucial step.


If you have a traditional publisher, they will take care of all formatting, although they might send you a final proof for you to do a quick check on before it hits the printers. Tip One: SAVE A COPY of that a word version of that proof.  Because one day your rights might be returned, and then you will be pleased you have an easy-to-format version.

I hate formatting. I am not very good at it, and it takes me ages. But just in case you're struggling too, here's what I do to make the process bearable. (This process only works if you write adult fiction without footnotes and very few illustrations. Formatting is quite different if you write picture books, graphic novels or illustrated non-fiction.)

First, I put a good music track onto iTunes. Then, following the Smashwords Style Guide I do the following:
  1. copy and paste the entire manuscript from word into TextEdit (or the PC equivalent). This strips all the formatting out of the document. 
  2. Then I reinsert the formatting. 

Yep! first I take it out, then I put it back in. Insane or what?

No , the reason is that Word is really buggy. It gets little glitches in it and then it doesn't seem to convert to other file formats very easily. So doing this properly at the beginning actually saves me time later on.  (I've tried doing it the other way, too. Like, not cleaning it up first. Big mistake.)

Formatting includes:
  1. double check for errors
  2. first paragraph no indents
  3. section breaks at the end of each chapter
  4. chapter headings
  5. re-insert all italics
  6. insert any images 
  7. write the back matter (that's the 'About this book' section that you might want to include at the end of the book)
  8. write the front matter (dedication, map etc)
  9. insert hyperlinks in the back matter 
  10. check all spelling is US
  11. insert table of contents (if required)
  12. check spacing around any poems is correct and that all lines of poetry have no indent
  13. check the spacing around the dinkus (asterix breaks) is correct
  14. remove all page numbers
This is my Master File

If I'm doing a print version of my book, I also: 
  1. insert page headers (I follow the templates on Amazon, but I've customised them a little, so they look a little smarter)
  2. insert page numbers
  3. remove the table of contents
I save this as my Print File.

This takes Ages!

I've covered this really really quickly. This whole process takes me at least a week, sometimes longer.  You can find details on how to do all this in the Style Guide (but be warned, the Style Guide is set out for PC. Plus, it's very colloquial. I prefer a recipe book-type instruction with screen shots, but No. The SG is all friendly and tells you about chickens and stuff. Plus, if, like me, you work on a mac, you'll find it a bit more complicated).

I do all the above in word, and then convert the files to a pdf for print on demand or to epub/mobi for e books. 

File Conversion:

Conversion to epub or mobi can be tricky. I've tried two ways of doing this, but I know of three.  These ways are:

  1. Pay someone to do it. I've used Ebook Launch and they're really good, very professional, very fast. The downside is, you can't insert the hyperlinks or make changes easily to the final file. So if you suddenly spot a typo, you need to pay to get it changed. 
  2. Use a conversion software, like Jutoh or write in inDesign and export as an ePub or mobi. Downside with this is you have to buy the conversion software, and you have to learn how to use it. Personally, my life is too short to use inDesign, although if you know the software, I would definitely give it a go, as people who do use it rave about it.
  3. Run it through an online conversion tool. I use the one on Draft 2 Digital. Then I have a mobi and ePub file generated relatively easily (although not always, the last one I did was really buggy and I'm still sorting it out) and once I'm ready, it's very easy to upload it through to the various vendors.
Tip Two: Do not believe any website that tells you formatting is easy. "in three easy steps upload your book now!" It is not.  Unless, I guess, you're a programmer or something.

From Dilbert

So there you have the summary of an awful lot of learning. It's not immediately obvious when you read this blog post, probably, but an enormous amount of heart-wrenching time and effort went into the knowledge set out here. 

I am now a lot better at managing a large document. I can clean out most errors from a word file. But still, I struggle. So just be warned, if you do go down the self-publishing route, you will spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen.

And Remember:

Tip Three: make sure you back up everything. 

And Tip Four: get the best and largest computer screen you can afford!

And finally: 

The difference between success and failure as a self-published author is your proofing, your editing and your formatting.

 Because no-one will read your work if it is full of errors.

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