Top 10 Things I’ve Learned While Publishing an E-Book, Part 1

I agreed about six months ago to take care of formatting and publishing an eBook for a client of mine. While this is something that I knew nothing about, I’m usually fairly confident that I can figure anything out with the help of logic and the Internet. Plus, I really love this client, and I’m normally willing to do about anything that she asks. As I’m waiting for about the tenth version of the Kindle book to be published and crossing my fingers on the third version for the Nook, I will say that this has been a great learning process but a terrible headache.

First, download the Smashwords Style Guide. It’s incredibly helpful in this process, and while I’m not an expert here, I’d recommend going through your document step by step to make sure you’re not offending any issues. Also, if you’re publishing in iBooks, apply for your iTunesConnect account WAYY ahead of time. I’m about 10 weeks out from my application and have yet to hear back.

Here are a few things that I’ve learned so far that may help other novices who blindly agree to go through this process.

1. Don’t worry about fonts. Seriously. Just Ctrl+A your entire document, convert it all to “Normal” in MS Word, and change it all to Times New Roman. My client wanted Design font (which I talked her out of) as well as Century Gothic, Cambria and Calibri. I carefully went through page by page to make sure each type of font was used as she requested. This is a waste of time. Just change it all to Times New Roman and make sure your bold, italics and underline take care of the heavy lifting in this area instead of using different fonts.

2. Keep the headings only a few points larger than the body font. I learned this from the Smashwords Style Guide, but I don’t think it hurts to share it again. If you go with 12-point font for the body, only do 14 for the Chapter headings. Even 14-point font looks HUGE when you put it on a tiny eReader.

3. The Show/Hide Formatting button in Word is AMAZING for this process. This is where I recommend spending most of your time formatting. Once you show where paragraph returns and spacing are, you can go through each page and make sure there’s nothing unnecessary included. The paragraph return at the end of a page to push it onto a new page doesn’t matter. At all. So if the author of the book added this sort of formatting to make images go onto the next page, chapters start a new page, etc., get rid of them. They will offer you nothing on an eReader except a mess.

4. Use page breaks. At least so far, I think it seems to work. If you want to have each chapter begin on a new page, so far page breaks seem to be a good answer…we’ll see if that’s still the case once the books are published and I can check them for real.

5. For me, the easiest way to convert my Word document into a .MOBI file for Kindle was to save it as a web page then zip the HTML document with the images and upload that to Kindle. For the Nook I converted my Word document into an .rtf file, uploaded it to Calibre (which is totally free), and I used that to convert to an EPUB file. The jury is still out as to whether the Nook version is formatted correctly since I couldn’t use their desktop simulator to check the formatting. I’ll follow up with the mess that Nook has been in Part 2, during which I will only assume I will be angrier and more frustrated.

6. Images can be tricky. Luckily I found this in the Smashwords Style Guide as well, but don’t screw around with images that are wider than 500 pixels. I had it in my head that this would all be formatted as a responsive design sort of book. Wrong. The images will likely not resize as you’d want them to, so just go ahead and scale down anything wider than 500 pixels. Also, just make sure that you didn’t copy and paste your images in, or you’ll be up a creek.

7. Even on the pretty pages at the beginning, it’s worthless to try to style centered text by using paragraph returns. For example, a dedication page or a copyright page will look goofy if you add paragraph returns to make it “take up more space” on the page and look pretty. Just get rid of additional spaces and returns.

8. Don’t mess around with trying to format using tabs. And definitely don’t use extra spaces for formatting something. These are things you need to get rid of when you go through and check for additional paragraph returns and spaces. Ctrl+F “^t” to find any additional tabs, and get rid of them.

9. Don’t try to use fancy symbols like TM and Copyright. It won’t translate, so don’t waste your time.

10. Don’t try to use checkmarks or other fancy bullets. Just use the regular ole dot.

That’s only a beginning, and I’m sure experts in this arena will admit I’m only scratching the surface. I hope that this can help someone else, because this has honestly been the most frustrating project that I’ve worked on. Mostly because I haven’t been able to find answers to most of my questions online. Good luck, and please feel free to email if you have any questions. Who knows, maybe I can answer them.