Saturday, July 6, 2013

Formatting Your Ebook for Publishing - A Step-by-step Guide

Once you have your wonderful masterpiece finished, edited and ready to publish, you will need to get your book digitally formatted for Publishing.  Formatting your book is an important part of self-publishing – as important as writing and hitting the publish button.  If your book is not correctly formatted you will NOT get the desired results.  This post is going to deal with the technical side of formatting an ebook, and because there is so much technical jargon, I have had my wonderful assistant – my husband, Bevan Findlay – to write the rest of this post.  Take it away Bevan!
Generally, there are two routes you are most likely to take with formatting an ebook: starting with a Microsoft Word (or other) document and converting it, or creating the book in HTML and converting that.  A third option exists, which is to build an entire ebook file from scratch, but that's probably beyond most of the readers of this post, and not necessary for most writers.  Which way you go depends mostly on the book's content, or, more specifically, how much you care about image placement.  For a picture-less novel, a Word document is probably easier (but, save as DOC, not DOCX), whereas for a fixed-format picture book, you will want to use raw HTML as it is closer to the ebook formats and gives you more control – conversions from a Word doc can give unpredictable results.  For a story with a few pictures, HTML is probably better, but Word might work.
Most ebook stores provide publishing guides – unless you want to have someone else do the technical leg-work for you, you must become very familiar with the guide from where you are wanting to sell:
Images can be the bane of ebook creation.  Because of the way ebooks allow text to “re-flow”, rather than remaining fixed to pages (there are no pages in an ebook), you never quite know where an image is going to appear.  Fixed-format ebooks (kids' stories, comics, graphic novels) will only really be achievable by making a whole page into a single image, text and all – attempting to overlay text on an image is beyond the capabilities of most current ebook formats.
In terms of image placement, assume that your only options are left, right or centre, and to either have the text flow around the (rectangular edge of the) image or drop below it.  In theory, more complicated layouts are possible, but if you achieve this reliably on all devices, you're doing better than me!
Getting used to how HTML scales images will be very helpful, as will knowing the likely resolutions of the devices viewing your stories: too small, and your images won't fill the page, or will look blocky.  However, most ebook stores have maximum file sizes for images, which limits how big (and nice) you can make them – for example, Amazon's KDP images can only be 127 kiB – or, in technical photography terms, stuff all!  This is why you will often see children's ebooks with an image followed by plain text beneath it (image aspect ratios are important here if you want both to show on the same page).  Joy Findlay's Pixie Courage is an example of having to make this compromise: look closely at the images and you can see “noise” around some of the edges, and that's after we excluded the text from the image.
Getting this resolution-quality-filesize balance right can be tricky, and you will want someone who knows how to use decent image editing software (GIMP is a free option if you can't afford Photoshop).  Trial-and-error is your friend, but if you assume a screen resolution (“page size” for full-page images) of around 1280 × 800 pixels, you should be able to get a reasonable balance between looking good and fitting in the filesize limit.  Savvy readers will notice that this isn't going to take advantage of something like an iPad 3's retina display or other high-end devices, but you simply cannot get a 127 kiB image that scale without horrible amounts of compression artefacts – until Amazon changes that limit, we'll just have to deal with it.
If you create a fixed-format ebook and include the text in the image itself, then you should include “alt” text to the image; this is what shows if an image doesn't load, but in this case is more about making the book's content searchable.  Adding alt text can be done in both HTML and Word.
Then What?
Once you have a completed file, you need to convert it into the output format(s).  This varies between bookstores, but a couple of examples: Smashwords is simply to upload your Doc file, and Amazon is to use their "KindleGen" software.  KindleGen is run from the command line (don't panic!) and converts a few formats into Kindle's .MOBI ebook format.
Being able to view your ebooks before you upload them is a necessity: if you haven't checked what it looks like, it's probably wrong.  Amazon have a program called Kindle Previewer, which is great for their ebooks, as you can see what your book will look like on various devices.  Other viewers to consider are Kindle for PC or Calibre, but if you're publishing with someone other than Amazon, see if they supply viewer software as viewing something “natively” is always best.  Loading your ebook on to a tablet or phone for viewing is a good idea too (Google “How to sideload [format] ebooks to [device]”; e.g. “sideload Kindle ebooks to Android tablet”).
Even if you get someone else to digitally format your ebook for you, having a viewer is still important.  You will want to check that what you get back is what you want, as invariably things appear differently than how you expected.
Findlay Books Digital Formatting Services
All too complex?  It took us quite a lot of trial-and-error to get our books right – and helped that Bevan knows HTML and used to work as a programmer.  This doesn't mean you need to be a programmer, as the spec is relatively straight-forward, but if you get confused, having help is worthwhile.  Doing my best to not sound like an ad, we can format ebooks for you – have a look at our Digital Format Services page for prices.  Alternatively, we are happy to answer questions if you need help.
What Information is Needed to Publish an Ebook?
  • Book document: the actual content – your manuscript.
  • Metadata: information about your ebook, e.g. author, illustrator and cover artist names; other contributors, date of creation, etc.
  • Cover image: we cover this in a separate post, but this makes the difference between a book selling or falling flat.
  • Description: a couple of paragraphs or so that explain what the book is and try to “sell” it; try and hook your audience.
  • Contributors: obviously you as the author, but think about illustrators, editors, whoever wrote the foreword...
  • Categories, key words, price, selling territories: where are you going to sell your ebook, and for how much?  How are people going to find it?  If you get an ebook in the wrong categories, it simply will not sell, so this is very important.
Clear as Mud?
It may sound daunting with so much technical detail to take in, but if you have a careful read of the documentation it's usually fairly straight-forward.  Google and forums are a good place to go if you're having trouble (KDP has a great forum).  Writing the book is only half the work of being an author, so if you want your work to do well, getting the technical bits right will really pay off.  And, if in doubt, ask for help.
 ~ Bevan Findlay.

No comments:

Post a Comment