Formatting revisited

Before I get started, I want to thank everyone for answering my questions last week. I’ll be pulling your responses together and posting the results in the next few weeks (assuming real life settles down. It has been “interesting” of late).

Recently, formatting has been a topic of discussion with some of my writer friends. I knew I’d written about it before but was surprised to realize it’s been more than 2 years. So I thought I’d revisit the topic. Much of what I wrote before still holds but, as with anything, there are a few tweaks to the articles I’d like to make.

I’ll start out by saying I’m lazy. When I start a new project, I set up the document so that I have to make minimal formatting changes when it comes to converting it for either print or digital formats. The only real change I have to make is in line spacing. When I write, I have line spacing set at 1.5 o 2 lines. When I convert to digital that gets changed to 1.15 line and print depends on several factors but it, too, is usually around 1.15. But more on that later.

I also write in Word. No, I’m not going to get into a debate about what word processor program is best. I use Word for several reasons. First, it is the one I’m most familiar with. Second, it’s review function is, in my opinion, the best one of the major word processing programs available. Third, old Word Perfect (which rocked) does not convert well into e-books. Yes, there are issues with Word but the advantages outweigh them. But that doesn’t mean you have to use it. My only caveat is that you need to do two things with regard to any program you use. First, you have to make sure you understand the licensing you are agreeing to. Some licenses do not allow you to use the program for commercial purposes. Others restrict where you can use that file for commercial purposes (Apple). You also have to know what sort of licensing you are getting when it comes to the fonts included with the program. So read the boilerplate, even if your eyes start to glaze over.

The second issue is you have to understand that each of these programs have junk code written into them. That code can cause problems when your files are being converted into e-books. There are ways around it, ways that don’t require going old school and hand-coding the html. More on that later.

I’m not going to completely recreate my original post on formatting your document at the writing level. You can find it here. When you are getting started, here are a couple of things to remember. Don’t ever, EVER use “tab” when you start a new paragraph. Set first line indent in your paragraph formatting box. Don’t use two spaces at the end of a sentence. (It is no longer taught in keyboarding classes, so it is an indication you are not “young”. Yes, it can matter.)

Now, another general comment. Most of the online outlets require a table of contents for e-books. Don’t panic. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to manually create one. In fact, I haven’t included a ToC page in a work of fiction in the last five years. Instead, I use what’s called an “Active Table of Contents”. If you use the Headings options in your word processing program, the Active Table of Contents will be automatically generated. That will satisfy Amazon and the other major players. More importantly, it means you don’t have to worry about whether you have put the ToC in the proper place in your book. (Remember, Amazon has now forbidden placement of the ToC at the back of a book because less than ethical authors were doing so to work the system of page turns in Kindle Unlimited.)

Now, for the nitty gritty of formatting. This is all general information and can be tweaked to fit what you like the best. Remember, this is initially for writing the manuscript and for digital conversion.  (Note: I tend to increase the font size on Heading 1. I haven’t done so here because some sites like Smashwords have a font size limit and I can’t remember it off the top of my head.) One other thing to consider. You want your e-book or print book to look as “professional” or “traditional” as what readers are used to. That means you have to do your homework and discover what is standard for your genre. The information below is a starting point and can — and should — be tweaked to make it look the best for your genre and length.

Heading 1 (for section titles or chapter titles)

  • Font — Georgia
  • Size — 14 (you can go to 16 if you want but I wouldn’t recommend going any larger. Remember that a lot of folks read on their phones and a larger font will do odd things on their screen)
  • Special characteristics — Bold Italic
  • Alignment — Centered (Check to make sure first line indent has not be applied.)
  • Spacing — will correspond with what I use for the rest of the book.

Heading 2 (used only if I am using Heading 1 for anything other than chapter headings)

  • Font — Georgia
  • Size — 14
  • Special characteristics — Bold
  • Alignment — Centered (Check to make sure first line indent has not been applied.)
  • Spacing — will correspond with what I use for the rest of the book.

Normal (used for the body of the text)

  • Font — Georgia (This is my personal preference, but you can use Times New Roman, Garamond or others. My recommendation is to check to see what other books in your genre use.)
  • Size — 12
  • Special characteristics — None
  • Alignment — left
    • First line indent of 0.3 to 0.33
  • Spacing — 1.15

Here are a couple of things to remember:

  • No tabs.
  • No spacing before or after paragraphs.
  • When you have section breaks within a paragraph, use something to denote the break. I use *   *   * to do so. It is centered and, using the paragraph options dialog box, I remove the first line indent. You can use other indicators but, if you use special characters, make sure you have the license to do so.
  • Also in the paragraph dialog box, be sure you turn off the widows and orphan option.
  • Have a “page break” at the end of each chapter. This will make your reader have to “turn the page” to begin the next chapter, thereby making your e-book more like a “real” book. To insert a page break, you can either go to “Insert” at the top of your page and then click on page break or your can simply hit CTRL and Enter at the same time.
  • When showing internal thoughts, most authors use italics. That is what the reader is used to, at least here in the States.
  • I keep my margins and paper size — at this point — at 1 inch all the way around and at 8 1/2 by 11.

Something else I have been doing for some time now is not indenting the first paragraph of each new chapter. That first line is left justified. I then capitalize and italicize the first word to three words. I don’t tend to do more than that because of the varied font sized readers can select on their own. The last thing I want is to cap a long phrase or the entire line and then have it looking weird to my reader because they have increased the font size and the flow of what looked find on my screen now takes up several lines.

They key is that our e-books needs to look as professional and “traditional” as anything our readers might buy. The second key we have to keep in mind is that not everyone reads our e-books on their phones or tablets. Some read on dedicated e-book readers. Despite what some of the so-called studies say, dedicated e-book readers are still popular and will continue to be as the population ages. Why? Because an e-ink screen is better for the eye. There is less reflection off the screen than there is from a tablet screen or even the printed page.

But that means we have to keep in mind that some of the fancy font work we can do for print or for files read on a tablet can’t be done for an e-ink reader. So, if you want that fancy first letter in a chapter, you need to consider doing it as an image instead of font. Why? Because it won’t translate properly to e-ink and your reader can be left with something that looks not only odd but might not even appear. Of course, the downside to using an image is that Amazon charges a transmission fee and the more images you have in a file, the larger the file size and the more that transmission fee will be. So, you find other ways to make the first line to “special”. That’s why I cap and italicize the first few words. I can get fancier with the print version.

If you do all this while writing, you have set yourself up for a very easy road to conversion for your e-book. Better yet, you have very little you will have to change for your print version. Most of those changes will be global search and replace, a few minutes at best.

I know I haven’t gotten into the nitty gritty of the conversion process yet. I’ll save that for next week. In the meantime, if you want to jump ahead, here’s a link to the earlier post about it. Yes, things have changed. But it is a good place to start. Otherwise, I’ll be back next week with an updated version.

Until then, ask any questions you might have, either about today’s post or about what you’d like me to cover next week.

Later!

82 Comments

Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: CRAFT, WRITING: PUBLISHING

82 responses to “Formatting revisited

  1. Luke

    Why not have two spaces after a period?
    Doing so makes blocks of text much easier to read in my opinion/experience.
    Why change something that works and is time-tested?
    (I can live with being old. Now get off my lawn!)

    • It is a remnant of old typesetting and was done away with when computers took over the industry. I, personally, don’t have any issue with it. But it isn’t what younger readers are used to and it glares at them, putting them off, apparently.

      • I suppose you can do the period, double space in your draft; and then do a global search and replace with a period, single space when you’re ready to put in publishable form.

      • TRX

        That, and most early “word processors” simply collapsed the extra spaces into one, probably in some demented quest to keep anyone from formatting tables with tabs instead of their proprietary commands.

        Web browsers typically eat extra spaces as well, and with some of the more-bizarre proportional fonts spaces can be iffy. So I’m guessing it was less of a style change than a “why bother, it probably won’t show up in the end product anyway” thing.

        • From a graphic design standpoint, proportional width fonts look much nicer with the single space, and the proportion changes do clearly indicate where the sentence ends. Fun fact: the double-spacing after the period is a 20th century invention with the widespread adoption of the typewriter and its fixed-width fonts. So we used to have one space (or its printing equivalent), then the double space, and now back to the single space.

        • So many fonts with kerning issues around periods. (and since I see them in use rather than in things I’m setting up I don’t even have names to avoid.)

    • As I understand it, at some point since the turn of the century, computer word processors have started making the space immediately following a period double-width. When I took keyboarding in the 90s, the double space was still being taught. When I worked as a copyeditor for an e-learning place c.2009, the double space was “wrong.”

    • Josh Griffing

      Hear, hear! I’ll set an automatic paragraph tab on the ruler (instead of whacking the “Tab” key), and have done so since WP 5.1 in high school. I may be a “millennial” (leading edge of that set: my class ring says Y2K on it), but I double-space after sentences and colons unrepentantly, even in text messaging unless cramped by a character limit. It throws off my reading to see a too-small gap between sentences on a page, unless the ENTIRE page has been formatted thus.

      I’m fully with Amanda on the font choice, though: Georgia looks far better, 90% of the time, than either Arial/Helvetica or TNR.

  2. paladin3001

    Well, it looks like I won’t be needing to go through and change much that I have currently. I wonder how Libre Office will convert out. Can afford much with other word processors so that’s the one I am currently using.

    • It should do fine. I’ll tell you what I tell everyone. Convert to the appropriate format before uploading to the sales site. Then you can check it for errors. Of course, after uploading, you still want to download from the site and check again to make sure nothing happened during that process. There is more on that next week.

      • Mike Houst

        Excellent point. Check the product through the entire system from you to the prospective buyer’s receipt.

        • Mike, I learned the hard way all the things that can go wrong if you don’t check it each step along the way. When I was still using Smashwords, I had half my book suddenly become italicized. It hadn’t done that anywhere else. Just in Smashwords and not immediately after they converted it, nor in all their formats. Only in some.

          I’ve also had changes happen on uploads to both Amazon and ePub sites even though I uploaded their native programs. So, yeah, I now check every file before allowing it to go live.

          • Mike Houst

            Heh. I ran head on into the problem when I was doing my master’s thesis. My three reviewers, the college file transfer site, and my mentor all had problems with formatting from when it left my system to when they got it on their own systems. the real poser was when I submitted a good file from my computer to the file transfer site, then downloaded it back to my system, the darn thing was changed, even though nobody had done anything to it. I forget what weird control character elimination I had to do to fix that one.

            • Heh. See below. I managed to find the one (and, so far as I know, still the only) specific sequence of bytes that broke all of the popular LZH decompression implementations. THAT was fun, especially when the offending file had already been burned onto over a hundred CDs and sent out to customers…

          • One step further, here – even after everything else, I buy it from Amazon as a very final check. (Or, since it’s in KU, I borrow it.)

            Being an old developer, I’m a paranoid that way – if I know that anything has touched a file since I last validated it, I assume it has gone bad somehow; Murphy has this thing about electrons and magnetic dots…

            • I don’t usually buy it from Amazon but I do make sure to download the “converted” file once they finish doing their bit to it. Then I check it to make sure there’s no problem. I will admit, however, after the mess up last year with one of my books where the so-called converted file looked great but by the time it went live off of pre-order a different title had been attached, I do tend to check everything doubly carefully.

    • I use LibreOffice because the price is right. Unfortunately, while most conversions work fine, there can be quirks. Always review a converted document, if possible.

    • Convert out to what format? I’ve had no issues with the ‘export to pdf’ function, since that’s what seems to be easiest for Lulu (though, IIRC, Lulu also accepts .odt)

      I have to format for both print and e-book, and oh, I get frustrated at how tedious it is. *sigh* Oh well.

  3. Here is the bad thing that happens to me. At the end of a chapter I put in a page break. I type up a table of contents and use hyperlinks to reach my table of contents. The hyperlink never takes me to the chapter header but to the last page of the preceding chapter. It’s close enough that I’ve given up on it, but is there a fix?

    • Sigh. *to reach the chapter headers.* (not to reach the TOC).

    • Laura, turn on the show/hide function. In Word, it looks like the symbol for a paragraph on your ribbon. Then look at the page before your new chapter. My guess, is you have the heading showing up there without knowing it. Usually, the easiest way to fix it is to be sure you have one line return after your last paragraph in the chapter. Then do your page break. See if that works. If not, let me know and I’ll see what else I can think up.

      • I thought I’d tried the return before, and thought I remembered it helping. I just checked and there is a hard return, but the hyperlink takes me to the end of the page right before the chapter header. Also, IIRC, on my latest WIP, I’m pretty sure I’m using a friend’s formatting, so it seems to be not just me.

      • Ok. I kept playing with it, and now I see how Heading 1 comes alive at the page break. When I click on normal, the chapter Heading 1 setting goes away on the chapter header . I’ll keep at it, but now I have a theory. Thanks.

  4. I’ve mentioned to my indy publisher that it would be really helpful to have a template document formatted so as to make things easy for *her*, especially since I am unfamiliar with how to code one myself. (I learned how to in high school but that’s a couple of decades under the bridge and I have lots of distractions right now.) I suggest that as a good idea for everybody; make your template, then make a copy every time you start a new project. The coding will be as you want it with no further work on your part.

    • Absolutely. Templates are a must. Even if your publisher doesn’t have a template, they should have a style sheet from which you could build your own template.

  5. David Smith

    I had to use Word for submissions to clients starting with WinWord5. I managed to jump off that train after OfficeXP, when none of my old muscle-memory keyboard shortcuts worked, but I do keep a copy of Word2000 working under Wine and use it when I have to. Admittedly, I have a copy of Word 2010 on my MacBook, but only use it when I am forced to deliver something in docx format.

    My habit for as long as I can remember (since giving up my Royal manual) has been to spew and edit text in a text editor – EMACS when possible – with little formatting cues and then, as formatted output is needed, use macros to convert to some version of HTML (for mobi or ebook) or search-and-replace to format in Word. I’ve used different apps to create PDF output over the years, none of them terribly satisfactory, so I usually default to Word.

    Admittedly, I’m so insufferable that collaborative work isn’t really an issue, but when it was ascii text and git worked just fine. Also admittedly, I don’t know anyone under 60 and we all remember when word processors were for processing words, and page formatters were for formatting pages.

    • TRX

      Exactly. I got burned by proprietary formats more than once; now I just use plain ASCII and run convert it if there’s ever any need for it.

      Back when there was more than one word processor, some places were rather picky about what file formats they’d accept. PC Tech Journal kicked back a submission because they only accepted files in the format used by the latest version of WordPerfect. I didn’t find a convertor or the file format anywhere (this being before “the internet”), and a quick check showed that buying a copy of WP would cost more than they generally paid for an article…

    • Well, I’m under 60 (if only barely…). But I remember those days too.

      Probably why I had very little trouble getting into the habit of typing in HTML – all of those days where you inserted the formatting commands in text.

  6. A timely post.I have just started converting a manuscript to an ebook. I’ll follow the links provided, of course, but I’m already well on the way to rolling my own epub book from HTML, and have already begun going through it using Notepad++. Okay, so I’m old school.

    Something to keep in mind about images is that what looks great in color may not be easy to see in black and white. Ran into this with a map I drew. Looked great in color, but in black and white the river was a light gray that was hard to see. Solution: change the color of the river and river name to navy instead of blue. Now it looks blue in color, and black in black and white.

    • TRX

      Tip if you plan to offer something through Lulu or something similar – the process they use doesn’t do grayscale at all well, and black and white images often come out looking like bad photocopies. You might have to fire up your favorite image editor and tweak things a bit to get an image that works well with whatever they’re printing with.

    • Absolutely right about images. That’s something so many authors/publishers tend to forget. It’s too easy to think that everyone reads on their computers or phones or tablets and forget about e-ink readers. Since that is still a good portion of the reading public, you have to keep the limitations in mind.

  7. A note on free software, I was using Open Office for a couple years, before I was badgered by Young Relative into forking over for MS Word.

    Open Office does quite a few weird things. One of them is active quotes. -SOME- quotes will be active, and -SOME- will not. That shows up as a problem when converting to ebooks.

    Open Office will spaz on paragraph setups periodically. I’d be typing along and suddenly lose my font, line spacing and indent. Clearly there was a user error involved, but I never discovered what the error was.

    When I was getting down toward the end of a book, Open Office was taking a very long time to start and a very long time to save. You wouldn’t think that could be an issue on a ~500K text file, given modern computers load megabyte picture files in milliseconds. But, it is a thing.

    Word, so far, does not have these problems except the slow saving. It costs money though, so that can be a problem of its own.

    • OpenOffice and LibreOffice rely on Java. I have the feeling, not confirmed, that it’s running as an interpreted language. I don’t notice the lag so much on the faster machines, but do on one database of weather info I’ve set up. Since Microsoft Access is now available only as an annual subscription, that means I don’t have much of a choice.

      Anyway, the paragraph issue is part of the conversion issue I’ve run into before. You rock along, everything’s fine, then you find a paragraph formatted incorrectly.

      • Robin Munn

        Java runs as a “Just-In-Time” compiled language, not an interpreted language. Wo the lag you’re noticing is probably from a different source, like that machine having lower RAM (Java tends to be picky about RAM). At least, if the lag persists: with “Just-In-Time” compilation (or JIT), the first time you run any section of a JITted program will be a bit slower as it has to compile that section, but every run after that first one will be fast because it can run the native code that it compiled into. So if you’re noticing the lag on first use, but it goes away after you’ve been using the program for a minute or so, then the issue could be caused by Java’s JIT compiler. But if you’re noticing the lag throughout your usage of the database, it’s not because of the JITted nature of Java code.

        (I work with C# in my day job, which is Just-In-Time compiled just like Java is. So I’ve had to get familiar with the ins and outs of how JIT compilers work.)

    • Remember, if you are actively pursuing your writing, you may be able to write off your software — Word or whatever — as a business expense. Check with your tax pro to be sure.

      • Draven

        yes, you can
        and if you are making income from it, you can write off books, and likely movies
        possibly even games
        and dvds/blu-rays

    • Robin Munn

      Does LibreOffice show the same behavior as OpenOffice? They are not created by the same programming team any more, and LibreOffice has a lot more bug fixes now.

      History: Sun (the original makers of Java) used to own the OpenOffice project as well. It had a LOT of contributors from outside Sun (which I’ll call “open-source contributors”), but the code repositories, mailing lists, etc. were handled by Sun, and Sun employees helped manage the project (e.g., deciding which features to focus on next). When Oracle bought the company in order to own the rights to Java, they also acquired the rights to everything else Sun owned, including OpenOffice. Oracle wasn’t really interested in OpenOffice, so the employees who had been working on OpenOffice either were reassigned or got little support from their own management (I don’t know which). Either way, there was a lot of frustration among the open-source contributors, who did the majority of the work on the project, about the lack of response from Oracle employees to their requests. The project was rudderless and drifting.

      So at that point, seeing little response from Oracle and having a sense that Oracle didn’t care about OpenOffice, the open-source contributors decided to fork the project. Oracle owned the trademark to the name OpenOffice, so the forked project had to change its name, and they came up with LibreOffice. Most of the open-source programmers jumped ship to the LibreOffice project. (The Oracle employees, of course, had to remain with OpenOffice.) A year after that happened, it was already clear that LibreOffice had all the “momentum”: there were a lot more features being worked on, and bugs being fixed, in the LibreOffice project. This being an open-source project, nothing prevented OpenOffice from incorporating the bugfixes and new features being developed in LibreOffice, and that went on for a while, but over time, LibreOffice just started pulling further ahead and the OpenOffice developers, fewer in number, were having trouble keeping up. And so now LibreOffice has more features and fewer bugs than OpenOffice, and I’d recommend LibreOffice instead of OpenOffice for anyone who wants to use either one of those projects.

      TL;DR: If you’re having trouble with OpenOffice, it’s likely that those bugs have been fixed in LibreOffice. Give it a try.

      • This is when I switched from OpenOffice to LibreOffice. It does run better now, but I haven’t looked at the OpenOffice side in so long I don’t know how much better it is from the current version.

        • Robin Munn

          I meant to address this comment (the one about giving LibreOffice a try) to Phantom, not to you — since he only mentioned OpenOffice. Not that I wouldn’t advise you (Kevin) to do the same if you were still using OpenOffice, of course. 🙂

          • ISTR OpenOffice has been spun off as well. (Apache, it appears)

            The biggest problem I have with it is not being able to search and replace special characters, especially whatever it is Notepad uses to force Word Wrap.

  8. I’m at the point where I am seriously considering investing in Vellum to do formatting. I’ve looked at other software, but thus far only Vellum does e-book and print. Yes, I could learn how to import what I need into Word and tinker, but this looks relatively simple and painless.

    After a dreadful mess using Styles, I tend to eschew any kind of pre-sets other than line spacing and indentation. To make a sob story short, I had to use Styles on my dissertation because of the university converting to D-space just after I finished. When I revised the manuscript for possible publication, the university’s Styles met the press’s formatting software and… four hundred pages of word salad. Never again if I can help it.

    • I haven’t used Vellum because I do most of my work on a PC. One of the folks in my crit group uses it for his wife’s work and swears by it. I did take a look at it today and the one thing that stood out for me — while it might not be as easy to write in as Scrivener, it doesn’t have all the distractions Scrivener has. I’m going to play around with it on my Macbook Air and see how it does — hopefully before next week’s post.

  9. TRX

    >I keep my margins and paper size — at this point — at 1 inch all the way around and at 8 1/2 by 11.

    That may be why I have to rip the text out of some ebooks with Calibre, save as HTML, then hand-edit to get rid of margins.

    The screen on my reader is just under five inches wide. Margins easily suck a third of my viewable screen space, replacing text with… nothing. The reader already *has* a margin; the frame around the display. I don’t need *more* margin.

    • If Amazon did the conversion on those books, they have a problem – they should be stripping out any kind of margin settings (it’s actually in their style guide).

      The books you’re have the problem with, I think, are more likely from those that converted to HTML, and did not strip the excess things when they generated for Kindle. My theory, anyway.

      Myself, I have a standard CSS file that is used for everything Kindle – my macros then convert things like italics to ‘span style=”italic”‘ (and the closing tag).

      I have not had a single formatting problem traceable to either KindleGen or Amazon when I feed them HTML and CSS files. Or links that went to oddball places. (I have had my problems – but every one has landed back on my plate, where I screwed up.)

      • This. I have one CSS to format them all. I haven’t run into problems with the “i” tag for italics, but I also use the “span class=’i'” to prevent possible problems.

        Something I’m about to do now is to use Arachnaphilia to check each html file for anything I’ve missed. I’ve also installed BlueFish for search and replace across files, if necessary. Oddly, since learning of Notepad++, I do most of my HTML coding that way now.

        • Do you also have one manifest to call them all, and in the darkness bind them? :))

          And I just realized that I wrote “style=”. Sigh. Long day. I’m almost afraid to go chop onions for dinner, now…

    • I think Writing Observer might be right about your margin issue. I’ve never had a problem with it in converting from Word to ePub and from there to MOBI. I’d recommend looking at your HTML coding and see if you have margins specified. If you do, that’s where your problem is coming from.

  10. I learned to hate curly quotes when reading slush. Most of the time the open quote just turned into a capital A. The close quote varied between a small square and a couple of lines of garbage. I’ve stuck to straight quotes since.

    • When I inflicted, er submitted most of my manuscripts to slushpile readers, I was careful to have smart quotes, apostrophes, and ellipsis turned off. Now, for indie, I’m careful to have them turned on.

      The problem is that if we’re not careful, those smart quotes, apostrophes, and ellipsis are not translated into HTML Entities, which means ye olde search and replace if going the convert to HTML route. I’m not pushing LibreOffice, but was pleasantly surprised when sending it to HTML output automatically changed all that to HTML entities. For all I know, Word might do this now, too.

    • Oh gawd, I remember what the old Bar used to do with smart quotes. I hated it. Back then, when I’d post snippets for Sarah, I’d spend so much time having to do search and replaces because of all the weirdness that happened. Of course, part of it was she was also using WordPerfect and the old Bar borked on a lot of stuff from it.

      Now that e-book readers/apps have progressed, I have gone back to using smart quotes. Mainly because I think they look better and are more like what the trads use.

    • Robin Munn

      I blame Microsoft for that one. Everywhere else uses UTF-8, but Microsoft has stuck with UTF-16 for backwards compatibility reasons that make less and less sense as time goes on. It was a sensible decision at the time, but now that EVERYONE else uses UTF-8, Microsoft is singlehandedly causing ALL remaining formatting issues. (If a curly quote turns into an accented capital letter, what you’re seeing is UTF-8 being incorrectly translated as UTF-16.)

      P.S. If this comment made no sense to you, don’t worry about it. There’s lots of technical details I could explain if anyone is interested (email me at (first name) dot (last name) courtesy of Gmail if anyone really does want that explanation), but it all boils down to “Letters aren’t actually letters in a computer, they’re numbers, and the conversion from numbers to letters only works right if everyone agrees on how to do the conversion. And at this point, everyone EXCEPT for Microsoft has agreed on how to do it, so it’s only Microsoft products that will produce screwed-up text.”

      • No, everybody should ditch UTF and go back to good old ASCII.

        • Robin Munn

          While I’m pretty sure you already know this, I’ll mention for anyone else who doesn’t know that one of the many advantages of UTF-8 is how it’s 100% backwards compatible with good old ASCII. Any ASCII text file is valid UTF-8, with no changes: that was one of the design principles behind the format.

  11. I prefer format c: /p:2. But format c: /q will do if you’re in a hurry.

  12. elainethomp

    Something I’ve seen that hasn’t been mentioned yet: The book reads fine on one Kindle (keyboard version), mostly ok on an old paperwhite, but not on the newest paperwhite – the spaces between sections disappeared.

    That was a year or so ago. Maybe Amazon has fixed whatever caused it. But that’s another thing to be alert for: if you or or friends have an assortment of e-readers it may be worth experimenting with all of the models before going live.

    • How does it look on Amazon’s free reader that lets you select devices to emulate? Does that give a reliable post-conversion check?

      • elainethomp

        I think it behaved itself in my Kindle App, which is what I think you’re talking about, but I don’t remember being able to set it to emulate anything….pokes at the app on the PC … That particular problem book seems to behave itself in the app as if on the Kindle keyboard e-reader. (IOW section spacing exists.) But I don’t see a place to tell it to emulate a device to check conversion issues.

  13. I strongly believe in separating content from formatting: indeed, until my students wore me down, I used to write papers in LaTeX (a typesetting markup language) rather than Microschrott Wurst.
    That said, if you’re a Mac user and want to convert a Word or other word processing format to a cleanly formatted eBook with minimal effort, have a look at Vellum: http://www.vellum.pub. The free trial is fully featured except for generating the final Kindle, ePub, or CreateSpace-ready PDF — you can preview on all sorts of simulated devices.

    • As I said, I’m lazy. So I do as much of the formatting in the original document as possible. However, there is some I leave off until I’m ready for conversion.

  14. Jesse Thorson

    OK. I am not a writer. I am however a reader. I have three comments that are strictly from a readers point of view.
    1. Use a serif font. As my friend, the former university grammar professor, said. It helps grouping. That is, words are all those letters that are connected by the serif. I absolutely hate Arial. I really believe it was invented when computers wrote letters by positioning an electron beam on a screen with a lot of lines of code. (I did that for the CDC 7600 back a long time ago. It took a lot of memory [which wasn’t cheap back then]).
    2. Use “Strunk & White” for grammar. It’s short, cheap, and easy to read, and my friend used it as the text book for his classes. Typos, bad grammar, and misplaced or misspelled words have cost more than one author a star in an Amazon review that I’ve written. And, I’m pretty OK with most of those grammar issues (being guilty of them all).
    3. Don’t do your own editing, especially the final draft. This has to do with the fact that you know what the sentence is supposed to say. Your brain will read offending sentence structure, and misplaced and misspelled words correctly because of that. This is related to 2 above. This is especially important if you have an English degree or teach English (as one author bio said that cost him a star). My recommendation is the final edit should be someone who hasn’t read any of the previous drafts.
    All that said, I really don’t want anyone to point out grammar issues with this little essay, unless they’re humorous.

  15. Stanley Miller

    A problem that I have seen in several recent e-books from Amazon in my Android Kindle app is that while they look fine with a white background, if you switch to one of the color options or black suddenly swatches of text become very hard to read. I have seen both the background and text colors being corrupted.

    Something else that bugs me but isn’t exactly a formatting issue is that the pretty chapter heading graphics look fine with a white background but feel like you are staring into a flashlight on a black background.

    It will only take a few minutes to scan a book for the text/background issue and less to look at your chosen graphics in different color modes.

  16. I ran across a really tricky bug. You know how you’re supposed to mark your start point with an anchor link? If you have a slash inside that it breaks the “Look inside” previewer. I ended up with me entire preview center justified like the section title. Nothing else has a problem, just that.