The Road to Digital Publication – Pt. 2

by Amanda S. Green

In Part 1, I talked about some general manuscript formatting tips to be kept in mind when preparing to convert your manuscript into an e-book.  Before moving on, I want to add one more thing to keep in mind during the writing process — the title of your book. As writers, we’ve been trained to think of our titles as transitory at best. After all, our editor/publisher very well may change it before the book goes to press. Well, that’s well and good if you’re going the traditional route. However, if you are self-publishing, it is something you have to think about.

The title of your book needs to perform the same function as your first paragraphs. It needs to hook the reader and look professional. No, I’m not talking about the font used on the cover. I’m talking about how it looks in that list of hundreds of other e-books released that day.  Here’s a fictional example of what not to do, in my opinion:

BubbaDubba Finds a Dead Woman in the Creek by His House on the Hill (A mystery. Book one of the Bubba mystery series. Professionally edited and formatted with a clickable table of contents.)
mystery, humor, occult
John Doe Publishing
John Doe

Now, before you say I’m making this sort of thing up, go take a look at some of the books and short stories being offered for free on Amazon today. Some have titles and a following description in the title area of the listing that are a full paragraph. Now think about seeing all of that on an e-book cover. More importantly, think about your potential reader trying to sift through more than 200 free offerings for the morning. Most aren’t going to take time to read all the information in the title, much less the subsequent description that follows after the author information. The information inside the parentheses is unnecessary. It’s what should be included in the novel description. Unless John Doe is a well-known author, he needs to change the name of his “publishing company” to something that sounds a bit less like he’s putting it out himself (yes, Virginia, folks do still want at least the fiction that the book they are buying comes from a “publisher”, especially now that there are hundreds of freebies offered each day). The title also needs to be shorter. Remember, this is going on an e-book, not a printed book. So, short, sweet and snappy is the rule of the day.

On to other topics. . . .

I’m going to start this section with a disclaimer. What works for me may not work for you. We all have our preferences and programs we prefer. However, what I will try to do is point you to free programs to help in the conversion and creation process.

So, what programs do I recommend (and please remember, I use Windows so the programs I use are Windows based. However, most, if not all, of them also have Mac counterparts.):

  • a text editor (I use NoteTab Pro. This is the paid version of the program, but there is a free version available. I like NTP because of its interface. However, any text editor will work). You need this in case you have to edit your html code.
  • Sigil (This is one of the best free conversion programs I have found. There is a slight learning curve, but it is well worth it, in my opinion. Sigil will convert from HTML to EPUB)
  • MobiPocket Creator Pro and MobiPocket Reader (Mobi and PRC files)
  • Calibre (This program not only allows you to convert your title into other formats, it also allows for editing of meta tags, etc.)
  • A photo editor program of some sort (I use Gimp and Photoscape. Gimp is the main program I use. Photoscape comes in handy sometimes for lettering.)
  • Adobe Digital Editions
  • Desktop applications for the Kindle and the Nook, even the Sony e-reader and Kobo, if you don’t have the apps downloaded to your tablet or if you don’t own each of those e-readers (These programs, like Adobe Digital Editions, will let you see how your book will look in native settings as well as let you check to make sure your active table of contents, linked table of contents and any other active content you have in the e-book works.)

So, you have your novel finished and are ready to start the conversion process. The first thing I recommend you do is save your edited/proofread file under a new name, something to indicate it is the file for publication. Now add the following pages to it and save again:

  • Title Page
  • Legal Page
  • Dedication Page (optional)
  • Table of Contents (optional and different from your active table of contents)
  • Acknowledgements (optional)
  • Author Bio
  • Other Titles by the Author (optional)
  • Preview (optional)

Things to remember:

  • Keep to standard fonts, even on your title page.
  • Font size is important. Smashwords, and some other e-book outlets, have limitations on the upper size of fonts allowed. So don’t use anything more than 18 pt.
  • Font size for the actual text of the e-book is also important. There are still e-readers out there that don’t allow the reader to change the size of the font. So stick with 12 to 14 pt., preferable 12.
  • Font type is also important. As I noted in the previous post, avoid fancy fonts. They don’t always render properly from e-book reader to e-book reader. Stick to standard fonts like Times New Roman, Georgia, or similar fonts.
  • Your title page is just that: a title page. It has the title, author name, series information and, maybe, publisher name and logo
  • The information to be included on the legal page will vary depending on what outlet you are using to release your e-book. Smashwords has specific language it requires. More on this in the next post.

When you have the additional information inserted into your manuscript and you’ve done the usual proofreading, etc., then save your file first as a DOC file. This will be your working file unless you are comfortable editing HTML code. The second thing you do is Save As an HTML filtered file. This file is importable into most conversion programs. Once saved as an HTML filtered file, check it in your browser, make sure everything looks all right. If you see something off, go back and edit it in your DOC file and then save as the HTML filtered and check it again. Once you are satisfied with the HTML filtered file, it is time to move on to the next step, conversion and that is what we will cover in detail starting with the next post.

Now, for those of you who want to do your own HTML coding, after you have your book ready to format, you can do one of two things: you can save as a TXT file and then hand code from there in a text editor or you can insert your HTML tags into your working file (please, after saving a copy in case you mess something up). I prefer the second option because you can actually see where the paragraphs are to insert your <p> and </p> tags, as well as any bold and italics that are used.

Have a list of common tags handy as you work. These include:

  • breaks <br></br>
  • paragraph <p></p>
  • italics <i></i>
  • bold<b></b>
  • Heading 1 <h1></h1>

There are a number of others as well, which is why it’s good to have your cheat sheet close at hand.

As with those who are going straight from a word processing file to the HTML filtered file, you need to check your work in your browser before continuing the conversion process.

A word of warning to everyone now. Just because your book looks good in the browser doesn’t mean it will once converted. You have to be ready to check your work at every step along the way. Otherwise, you are asking for trouble. But, most of your problems can be caught at the HTML level before further conversion. So don’t be afraid to learn a bit of HTML coding.

Now you are ready for the conversion process to begin. In the next post, I’ll discuss some of the different programs in detail, as well as why I use them and the order in which I do. After that, I’ll go over the different ways you can put your e-book up for sale, cover design, pricing and the like.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments, post them in the comment section. That’s the best way to be sure we cover what you want to know or need clarified.

 

12 comments

  1. One thing that “turns me off” from purchasing some ebooks is only the last name of the author given. For that matter, I’ve seen one ebook on B&N that has “author unknown”. If the author doesn’t care about giving his “full name” (or any name), I don’t see a reason to even check it out.

    1. Paul, add to that those book with only the first name of the author given. Unless the author is someone like Madonna or Beyonce or some other pop icon, etc., who goes by only one name, give us the last name. Yes, there are exceptions but they are few and far between.

      I also have the same issue when the title, etc., is all in caps or all lower case.

      1. Additional comment, there’s one “author” that I’ve seen has his first and last name combined in lower case. As if I used the author name “paulhoward” instead of “Paul Howard”.

          1. Internet avatars and usernames run amok!

            However, keep in mind that for first timers, this is a very nerve wracking thing to do. My first submission, I failed to include any contact information. Which realization didn’t help the state of my nerves at all.

            So cut them *some* slack. Even though it’s pretty clear sign of a “Never been published, never submitted anywhere” writer. Definitely want to preview that one before buying.

            1. Pam,

              YOU might, knowing what’s involved. Joe and Jane reader, not a chance. They expect – mostly – an ebook to have the same standard of editing, formatting etc. as they’d expect from a dead tree book by one of the big publishers. You’ve only got to cruise the kindle boards – or look at the reviews that hit someone with formatting etc. that doesn’t make the cut.

            2. Pam, in one way, you are right. We shouldn’t expect writers new to digital publishing to get everything right first time. However, it isn’t unreasonable for them to not do their homework. Besides, you’re assuming that my comments are aimed solely at self-published authors and they aren’t. Some of the “don’ts” I’ve posted about have been committed by legacy publishers, and there is no excuse for that.

  2. One of my complaints about my Nook is that in my Library the book titles are listed without the authors names so that sorting them into my Shelves is a near impossible PITA.

    Maybe there’s a good way to do that, since I’m pretty hopeless with technology, but I keep thinking that if the author’s name was in the title field (perhaps in parentheses) it would help a lot.

    1. Synova, that may be an artifact of the DRM process and additional conversion that Overdrive applies to the books.One way to find out is to download a sample of one of the books from BN and see how it appears on your Nook. My bet is that it will show the author’s name. If that is the case, it wouldn’t hurt to drop Overdrive an email with your concerns about the lack of an author name. (I’m assuming your library uses Overdrive because that is the service ours uses.)

  3. I know you said that you’re going to get into covers later, but I noticed some idiot covers I had to gripe about.

    In the Kindle store, I saw several Public Domain ebooks up with covers that really don’t fit the book.

    The covers were Anime art which had nothing to do with the stories.

    For example http://www.amazon.com/Man-Who-Future-Annotated-ebook/dp/B006YATSQM/ref=sr_1_27?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1326732629&sr=1-27

    What does that cover have to do with the Hamilton story???

    1. Paul, I have yet to figure out some of the covers I’ve seen, especially on some public domain books. But I have to say, the one you linked to ranks in the top ten of the WTF covers I’ve seen of late.

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