Sunday, March 26, 2017

5 Reasons to Format Your Own Books

Recently, I've been working long hours, learning to format books. I decided to re-format my old Kiki books myself for a variety of reasons:

1. I wanted the ability to make changes, additions, and corrections immediately--and I didn't want to have to pay for small corrections.

2. I wanted control over the final look of the book, and there are a lot of decisions you can only make by trying one thing and then another. Books are a visual medium. I wanted the chance to see different versions of my books and to experiment with where to place information.

3. I wanted consistency from one book in the series to another.

4. I wanted to save money by using a formatting program that would work both for print and digital. That would also mean I could make one set of corrections to a file instead of having to change two files.

5. I wanted a formatting program that would keep the cost of my print books down. Some formats add a lot of extra pages--and that, in turn, increases the cost of your final book.

There are a lot of tools out there for formatting. I chose a product that promised technical support, but sadly, did not deliver. However, I was determined to slog my way through the program.

The weird part about formatting books is that what you see is NOT what you get. A book might look absolutely fine in MS Word, but not convert properly to mobi (Kindle) or epub (for other e-readers). In addition, a book might look fine on one Amazon device (say a Kindle Paperwhite), but not so good on the new Kindle Fire.

Furthermore, the use of computers has changed many of the accepted rules for formatting.

Here's an example: Back in the Good Old Days, when I took typing in high school, we were taught to hit the space bar twice at the end of a sentence.

Today you hit it once. I've been told that has something to do with computers and spacing, but I can't swear to that. I do think it looks better to have only one space, but maybe that's because I'm now used to one space. Who knows?

Similarly, I've decided to put a space before and after a long dash, even though I was taught not to. Otherwise, e-readers tend to clump the dash and the word together as one unit. Because it's generally a long unit, you get a weird empty gap at the end of a line, and the word plus the dash all clumped together on the next line.

One of my publishers corrected me when I used four dots for an ellipsis at the end of a sentence. (Three dots for the ellipsis and one for the full-stop or period.) Now I just use three dots for an ellipsis at the end of a sentence. Otherwise, those dots go on and on forever.

It used to be that you could hit a key in Word and reveal all the formatting. You can do something like that now, but it's not as clear as it once was. These little embedded commands can really mess things up when you are formatting a book. Sentences get stretched out. Lines jump from page to page. And you wind up pulling your hair out.

But I'm learning to suss out those hidden commands. Bit by bit, I'm conquering my new formatting program. I keep telling myself this is like crafting. You do a little, make a few mistakes, fix them, do a little more, and so on and so on.

Have you ever tried to format a book? What program did you use? Any suggestions?


Alan Schmadtke said...

What programs have you used that you have liked and disliked? You make reference to one but do not name it.

Linda O. Johnston said...

Wow--I admire you. Formatting books sounds challenging, although I gather that once you figure it out it's not so difficult the next time. And I'm still learning those other general punctuation and formatting changes.

Terry Odell said...

I've done most of my formatting since indie publishing started, primarily because there were no formatters around. At the time, it was Smashwords, and I followed their guide. Then the Kindle came along, and I worked with Calibre to convert files. Honestly, now almost all the channels have improved their conversion software to the point that a properly formatted Word doc translates very well.

On a couple of occasions, I've used a formatter, but mostly for final tweaking for the print version of the book--little things that I'm too lazy to learn, such as leaving the headers and page numbers off the first page of a new chapter.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

I use a formatter because she does things I can't do. She lifts the title font from the cover and puts it on the book's title page. She does custom links at the end to each vendor site. In the pdf format, she changes the header when I have an excerpt for another book at the end to reflect that book's title. And she formats and uploads for Apple since I don't have an Apple device. It irks me to have to pay for corrections, but my time is worth more than the money involved in learning all this stuff.

Lesley Diehl said...

I keep telling myself that I should do my own formatting and then I get busy with other tasks. Like Nancy, I think my time is worth more than the money I pay another to do the formatting. When I do get a break from my writing, I like to do...more writing. And honestly? I admire you for learning all this, but I think I'm just too lazy.

Wendy Dingwall said...

I have a professional typesetter for the print books, but do the formatting for all the e-books. I've learned to make corrections in both the formally typeset print PDF and the word document so I don't have to convert the PDF to word which usually causes corruption of some sort or other.

Kudos, Joanna for putting in the time to get it right!

Anonymous said...

I'm in awe. One of the perks of Scrivener is that it will format into the various platforms, but I have to admit, I haven't tested all the formats. Plus, it won't do some of the little things that make a big difference in a finished novel. Kudos. I'll echo Alan's question... what formatting software are you using?

Joanna Slan said...

I'm using Joel Friedland's book formatting program. The pro's are: 1. Very reasonably priced. 2. You can use it repeatedly. (I understand you have to pay each time you use Vellum? But that might be untrue.) 3. It works with MS Word. 4. Once the book is formatted, it's good for print AND for digital use, so that's pretty seamless.

However, I had a few big questions about how to keep the page numbers flowing. Also, I ran into a problem with the headers and footers. I didn't need a lot of help, but a message saying that they'd get back to me in 48 hours was disappointing.

Joanna Slan said...

Linda, I'd say the biggest challenge is the stuff you can't see. Especially re-formatting the Happy Homicides books. Because of the multiple authors, everyone's copy had stuff going on--and some of the commands in MS Word do not show up easily. For example, if you put in a section break at the end of a sentence, there might be two measly little dots to illustrate it. That stinking little section break will spread out the sentence--and it can disrupt your numbering.

Joanna Slan said...

Nancy, you are undoubtedly right--and your formatter sounds like a treasure. I was faced with re-formatting six Kiki books, 35 short stories, and four Happy Homicides books. Also, tracking the corrections is a nightmare. That is, generally, we would wait until we had five or six because of the cost involved.

Joanna Slan said...

Lesley, I resisted it. Honestly, I did. And it is time-consuming, but I would have to review the work if I paid a formatter, right? And there are tons of questions when you upload a book. For example, the key words. And Draft 2 Digital has a new "also by" section. It's hard to delegate all that.

Joanna Slan said...

Wendy, hmmmm. Interesting. See, with the Joel Friedlander (not Friedland, as I wrote earlier) program there's just one file. I like that.

Joanna Slan said...

Micki, I couldn't figure out how Scrivener did it--and from what I've heard, the problem is that the conversions can be a bit wonky. And you KNOW I'm in awe of you.

Joanna Slan said...

Terry, getting the file to leave the headers off on certain pages was the most annoying problem EVER. I know you are very tech-savvy, so I'm sure you are way ahead of me. I have used calibre for conversions too, but I might not need to in the future.