Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
This is part three of a six-part series.
You’ve got your finished manuscript in Microsoft Word and you’re ready to turn it into an ebook. You need to convert it into MOBI format (for Amazon Kindle) and EPUB (for everywhere else). There are various companies, tools and programs that can convert your file for you, but how can you make sure it ends up looking right? You already know that ebooks behave quite differently from Word documents, so how can you be confident that your carefully crafted file will work as an ebook?
Keep it simple
Don’t forget that most ebooks—unless you’re specifically opting for a fixed format to handle lots of illustrations, charts, tables, etc.—are reflowable, which means that the reader can choose the size of the text and some other elements like font, line spacing and margins. So your careful choice of 12 point Palatino won’t always render exactly as you envisaged. By keeping the formatting as simple as possible, you reduce the risk of introducing anything that will be too distracting to the reader. After all, you want her to focus on what you’ve written, not on what it looks like.
Before you submit your book for conversion, there are a few really basic things you can do within Word to make it look more professional.
Switch on the “Show nonprinting characters” option—click the button that looks like this:
This displays the formatting marks, showing all the formatting you’ve used: spaces, line breaks, paragraph breaks, tabs, page breaks—the works. This makes it easier to see what you’ve done and will help you to strip out extraneous formatting.
Remove rogue spaces from the beginnings and ends of paragraphs. This can be a tedious job, but it’s worth it, because extra spaces often stand out on an e-reader.
Don’t use double spaces after full stops. You can use the “Find and replace” tool to remove them. You might have been taught to use them at school, but in an ebook they make the text look gappy and unprofessional, and professional typesetters don’t use them. If you’re a heavy-handed typist, you might also want to check for the odd accidental triple space—they have been known to occur!
Hyphens & line breaks
Turn hyphenation off and don’t force line breaks. Even if you don’t like where a line breaks, remember that if the reader changes the font size, the line breaks will shift anyway. If you add a hyphen manually, there’s a danger that it will end up stuck in the middle of a line at random, looking like a mistake. Similarly, don’t try to correct widows and orphans.
Don’t include page numbers. Ebook files don’t have universal page numbers, but some devices will allocate page numbers depending on the reader’s settings. E-reader devices usually tell the reader how far along in the book she is—e. g. “Page x out of y” or “43 percent completed.” This also means that page numbers in your table of contents will be irrelevant.
Decide whether you’re going to use block or run-on paragraphs and stick with the same format throughout. Block paragraphs have a line space between them, while run-on paragraphs don’t have any line space between them but have the first line indented instead. If you use run-on paragraphs, remember not to indent the first paragraph of each chapter. And don’t use the tab key to indent your paragraphs; use the “First line indent” tool on Word’s ribbon.
When you want to start a new chapter, insert a page break. Don’t just keep hitting Enter until a new page appears! Use the “Show nonprinting characters” option to help you get rid of extra paragraph returns at the end of each chapter.
Use Word’s Styles palette to organize your chapter headings, subheadings, body text, etc. If you don’t know how to use this, or any other tools within Word, there’s a wealth of information online. Before you submit your manuscript, check that you’ve applied the relevant style to each part of your text.
Out of the ordinary
If you want to use “fancy” formatting—such as headers, footers, borders, special fonts, colored text, multi-column layouts, etc.—you might want to consider opting for a fixed layout ebook rather than a reflowable EPUB. Certain elements, like decorative drop caps, can be inserted as images, but if there are a lot of them, you’re better off getting some professional help with the conversion to make sure you get the result you’re after. You can certainly include images in EPUB and MOBI files, but some e-readers display them in grayscale, so make sure that your images work in grayscale as well as in color.
Use the style guide
This final tip might sound blindingly obvious, but it can make the difference between getting your ebook accepted or rejected by stores: if you’re submitting your document to a site that has a style guide, use it! Sometimes it can look complicated, but take the time to work through it and you will reap the rewards later.
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