Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Writer Wednesday

Today I am continuing my e-publishing series. The next most frequent questions I am asked are about e-book formatting, specifically:
Who does your formatting?
Is it expensive?
Do I need an ISBN number to sell my e-book?

Let me answer those three first.

1.     I do my own formatting. When I was preparing to upload my first Kindle book, I discovered most formatting services would charge me between $150-300. That was my first book, and I couldn’t even afford to pay $50, so I set out to teach myself how to do my own formatting. And now that I know how to do it, I figure why pay someone all that money for something I can do myself for free?
Amazon provides a detailed (70-plus page) formatting guide online. Thankfully, you don’t need to study all 70 pages. All you need to know is contained in the first 25 pages.

Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Press, Smashwords and Kobo also have their guidelines available on their sites.

2.     I promised myself when I decided to write this series that I would be completely honest, and being truthful about formatting means I must say this. It doesn't cost a cent to upload and sell your books on these sites, but formatting an e-book isn’t for the faint of heart. It is not a hard process, but it is precise and can work your last nerve.

Although Amazon, B&N, Kobo and Smashwords do give extensive instructions about formatting, none of these sites offer much assistance when you run into problems. And if your manuscript was created using Microsoft Word, you can run into problems.

All of the retailers allow you to directly upload your Word document, and they convert it for you. Smashwords has what they call the “meatgrinder” which is supposed to take care of the conversion process, but honestly my manuscripts kept coming back as unapproved because it didn’t agree with the meatgrinder. I did everything they told me to do in order to fix the issues to no avail. I finally gave up and decided to pay someone to format my manuscripts for Smashwords.

3.     You do not need an ISBN number to sell on any of these sites. Amazon will assign each book an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number). B&N does the same. Smashwords offers free ISBN numbers but doesn’t require Now, lets talk about the “cleanup” process. If you’re just starting a manuscript, you can avoid this step by creating the Word document with these caveats – no tabs, no fonts over 16 point, no fancy fonts and no hard page breaks, no headers or footers and no page numbers.

Since my first five novels had already been written, I had to go through the additional steps of removing those things. I won’t go into the specifics here. Instead, I’ll direct you to the links below.

I’ve heard some authors say what works best for them is to save their Word documents into Notepad, which strips it of all formatting, then they essentially reformat it. In my mind, it’s easier to go the other way.

Inevitably, you will run into some kind of difficulty, and if you think I’m just being negative, just check out the comments on the KDP forums. It is filled with moaning, crying, screaming authors who’ve run into some freaky glitch they can’t figure out how to fix. Basically, all three sites recommend that you find the answer to your formatting problems on these forums. They don’t want to deal with technical issues, or take the time to hold thousands of authors by the hand and walk them through the problems, and I honestly can’t blame them. The poor customer service reps answering these calls would be subject to the foulest, most vicious language known to mankind!


There is one fabulous source of help with Kindle formatting. It’s a web site called, CJ, whoever he or she is, deserves a medal for creating such a wonderful, helpful site.

The good news is that once you have your manuscript cleaned up, you can use it for all three sites (with a few special changes for Smashwords). 
Some other points to consider before you begin formatting are:

1.     Have your book cover in JPEG format in the exact size required by the site.

2.     Write your book descriptions (one short and one longer) to include in the general info.
3.     Consider the categories your book fits into before you upload and make a list of these. Categories are required for all three sites. A drop-down menu of categories is offered during the uploading process.

4.     Also make a list of tags to be used in describing your book. These are words that describe your story. For instance the tags I used for Have You Seen Her? were: romance, women’s fiction, domestic abuse, Atlantic City, and Santa Barbara. Adding tags helps readers searching for something to read by subject find your book easier.

5.     Another crucial warning – be sure to check each and every single page in the previewer provided before you click “publish.” The reason I say this is because you can upload a book, look at the first few pages and everything looks perfect only to discover that on page 19 or 271 an entire paragraph has shown up in bold. When you look at your Word document, the text is not in bold, or there is a huge chunk of blank space in the middle of a page, or something else really ugly. That’s where CJ’s Easy as Pie comes to the rescue.

The great thing about e-books is that authors can go back at any time and make revisions to their books as many times as necessary.

Just last week I read on one of my indie writer groups that Amazon is sending e-mails to authors about books they deem as needing revision. I suppose finicky readers precipitated this move. Amazon is giving authors time to fix the problems, but warns if the revisions aren’t made the book will be removed from their site. Surely Nook and Smashwords will follow suit.

In conclusion, my advice for those attempting to upload to an e-book for the first time is to take it slow. Don’t wait until the week of release to start the actual uploading process. You can put the book on the site, get all of your details in order and publish it days or weeks later. The book won’t go live until you tell it to. Also, it takes 24-72 hours after a book is uploaded for it to be cleared and get “Live or “On Sale” status. So be aware of that when scheduling your release date.


Simplified formatting guide for Kindle:

Video tutorial for Kindle:

For help with specific Kindle formatting problems:

B&N PubIt! Frequently Asked Questions and formatting instructions: - scroll down to Preparing and Managing Your Projects

How to Publish and Distribute Ebooks with Smashwords:
Smashwords Style Guide (e-book format – Free):

That’s about it. I hope this was helpful. If you think of questions I hav en’t answered, please post in the comments. I’ll try my best to answer them for you.

You can read the next post in this topic here: 



MJKane said...

Very helpful and insightful information. Will be re-reading when I get ready to publish!

Stephanie Williams said...

Great info Chicki! This is a re-read article for sure.

I've known you all this time and I'm just getting around to your blog. But I'm folowwing you now. :)

Chicki said...

Thanks, MJ and Stephanie. I hope the information was useful. And thanks for the follow, Steph!

Anonymous said...

Still seems a bit scary, but I guess I have the time to learn something new.

Dahlia DW said...

Whew! Though I am familiar with coding and formatting and the like, I don't care for the details. However, I would prefer to do it myself and use the time than outlay the cash.