Part of the Indie Author Series
When I first decided to self-publish, one of the decisions that tied my stomach into the most knots was how to format my ebook. I had a meager budget, and I’ll be honest—I’m not exactly a technological wiz kid. I still use an ancient cell phone with no internet capabilities, and I get heart palpitations every time my computer hiccups.
But what I realized was that ebook formatting isn’t nearly as scary as I thought. In fact, I actually fell a little in love with the process. We have a lot of options, which means we can all find the one that works best for us, for our book, and for our budget.
Hire a Professional
This is by far the easiest option, but it’s also the most expensive. That said, you’d be surprised at how affordable it is to simply have someone take care of this for you. The average cost to format a novel is $100. Non-fiction books can be a touch more pricy depending on how many images, tables, and other frills you want to include.
The biggest drawback to hiring someone to format your ebook for you is that, every time you find a typo or want to update the links in the back, you need to depend on someone else to do it. That can mean additional delays and costs.
Before hiring someone, make sure they’ll be hand coding your book rather than running it through an automated converter. If they’re just going to convert it automatically from a Word document, you can do that yourself for less.
If you’re interested in hiring a pro, check out Streetlight Graphics, BB eBooks, or Dellaster Design.
Learn to Code Them Yourself
This is the path I ended up taking (which surprised even me). Part of what appealed to me most about indie publishing was the control. I didn’t want to depend on someone else whenever I wanted to make a change to my books. I also wanted the freedom to experiment with the look of my ebooks and to customize them to my personal taste.
Beyond the freedom and control, a hand-coded ebook composed of individual HTML files creates a cleaner, more compact file. In other words, it has fewer glitches, downloads faster to e-readers, and results in lower delivery fees from Amazon.
If you want to learn to code your own ebooks, you need a good eye for detail and a little bit of patience. That’s about it. I found I enjoy it.
I bought Paul Salvette’sThe eBook Design and Development Guide. For less than $7, it walked me through everything I needed to know, and when I hit any confusing part, the author answered my questions quickly and clearly via email.
Along with being a great tool for writing, Scrivener also has the ability to turn your manuscript into an ebook. The file it puts out will be less compact than if you hand coded it, but if my gushing about HTML and CSS makes you reach for a paper bag, this could be a great option for you. You’ll have more control than if you hired someone, and you’ll end up with a better product than if you go with automated conversion from a Word doc using either the Smashwordsmeatgrinder or Kindle Direct Publishing’s system.
You can buy a copy of Scrivener from www.literatureandlatte.com for $40.
If you decide to go this route, I strongly recommend that you also get a copy of Ed Ditto’s How to Format Your Novel for Kindle, Nook, the iBookstore, Smashwords, and CreateSpace…In One Afternoon. He shows you how to make the most of Scrivener’s abilities to produce a high quality ebook.
(Unfortunately, this book only addresses creating an ebook using the Mac version of Scrivener, but Ed also has great free resources on his website. He plans to release a PC version of his book soon, and when I asked him, he said that with a little tinkering, you could figure out how to use the instructions in the current book to create an ebook using Scrivener for PC.)
Use the SmashwordsMeatgrinder (Or Other Word-Doc-to-Ebook Conversion Services)
Using the Smashwords“meatgrinder” to convert a Word document to an ebook is one of the most common methods used by self-published authors, but in my humble opinion, one of the least optimal.
Converting a Word document to an ebook gives you the least amount of control over formatting, takes more time to work out the bugs than using the methods I described above, and results in a bigger file (so slower downloads and higher delivery costs). If you use Smashwords, you also have to include “Smashwords Edition” on your title page. The biggest reason not to go this route, however, is you’re not supposed to take the files Smashwords produces and directly upload them anywhere else. It ties you to Smashwords, and limits your ability to participate in special offers that online distributers only offer if you upload directly through them.
Since Smashwords now allows you to upload an .epub rather than using their meatgrinder, you can still use Smashwords for distribution even if you use another method for ebook formatting.
If you’d like to try formatting your ebook via Smashwords, you’ll need to read through the Smashwords Style Guide.
What methods have you used to format your ebook? What did you like/dislike about them? Would you try something different next time?
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About How to Write Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide
In How to Write Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide you’ll learn how to format your dialogue, how to add variety to your dialogue so it’s not always “on the nose,” when you should use dialogue and when you shouldn’t, how to convey information through dialogue without falling prey to As-You-Know-Bob Syndrome, how to write dialogue unique to each of your characters, how to add tension to your dialogue, whether it’s ever okay to start a chapter with dialogue, ways to handle contractions (or the lack thereof) in science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction, tricks for handling dialect, and much more!
Each book in the Busy Writer’s Guides series is intended to give you enough theory so that you can understand why things work and why they don’t, but also enough examples to see how that theory looks in practice. In addition, they provide tips and exercises to help you take it to the pages of your own story with an editor's-eye view.