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Tricks to good eBook formatting on Smashwords


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#1 Robin Breyer

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Posted 21 February 2012 - 05:08 PM

Today my book was accepted in the premium catalog. There is one glitch that I know of, but I will wait to fix it until I have some other corrections to make. Along the way to getting it, I have become an expert on using styles in MS Word (and the clone TextMaker - which is what I did my source file in).

I also bought a Nook (Thanks to a belated birthday giftcard) and I proceeded to download about 8 other Smashword author's books that were priced at free.

I noticed a common issue with them. While the main text is formatted very nicely in each one, the book title, copyright page, dedication, chapter titles, and scene breaks are all badly formatted. Word likes to insist on an indent to everything once you apply it to the normal text style. You have to go back and remove it from the other, or create special paragraph styles for other sections. On a computer screen, it may be hard to see that the indent applies to all the paragraph styles, but on the smaller screen of the Nook, it is glaringly obvious. I noticed this myself because I tested my book before I uploaded it. I exported it as an .html files (oddly, the same thing you have to do for Kindle), and opened it in Sigil (a free epub editor). It took several tried to get the format to come out right, but once it did, when I uploaded the file to Smahswords it came out looking almost exactly like I wanted (save for the glitch I mentioned above).

In the quest to make sure we AQC self-published authors put out the best product, I think we all need to give this area some more attention. This is not a mistake the big publisher will make when they put out an ebook and I think it just adds to our efforts looking amateur. I don't think any of us want that.

Hopefully I have not offended anyone by bringing up this topic. Like cutting apart a query, I am just cutting apart bad formatting to help us all be better.

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#2 Paul Dillon

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Posted 21 February 2012 - 06:10 PM

Today my book was accepted in the premium catalog. There is one glitch that I know of, but I will wait to fix it until I have some other corrections to make. Along the way to getting it, I have become an expert on using styles in MS Word (and the clone TextMaker - which is what I did my source file in).

I also bought a Nook (Thanks to a belated birthday giftcard) and I proceeded to download about 8 other Smashword author's books that were priced at free.

I noticed a common issue with them. While the main text is formatted very nicely in each one, the book title, copyright page, dedication, chapter titles, and scene breaks are all badly formatted. Word likes to insist on an indent to everything once you apply it to the normal text style. You have to go back and remove it from the other, or create special paragraph styles for other sections. On a computer screen, it may be hard to see that the indent applies to all the paragraph styles, but on the smaller screen of the Nook, it is glaringly obvious. I noticed this myself because I tested my book before I uploaded it. I exported it as an .html files (oddly, the same thing you have to do for Kindle), and opened it in Sigil (a free epub editor). It took several tried to get the format to come out right, but once it did, when I uploaded the file to Smahswords it came out looking almost exactly like I wanted (save for the glitch I mentioned above).

In the quest to make sure we AQC self-published authors put out the best product, I think we all need to give this area some more attention. This is not a mistake the big publisher will make when they put out an ebook and I think it just adds to our efforts looking amateur. I don't think any of us want that.

Hopefully I have not offended anyone by bringing up this topic. Like cutting apart a query, I am just cutting apart bad formatting to help us all be better.


HI Robin,

I noticed this issue too. If you read on a phone, the formatting looks even worse.

#3 Darke

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Posted 21 February 2012 - 07:43 PM

Smashwords has a style guide that walks the author through the formatting process. I've read a few books as well where the formatting was buggered. People think it's hard, but honestly, once you know what you're doing, it's easy. Just tedious :happy:

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#4 Robin Breyer

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Posted 22 February 2012 - 11:42 AM

The real problem isn't on Smashwords end, or with their style guide, it is trying to properly implement the style guide in MS Word. Word uses cascading styles, meaning everything is based on one style. Usually that is the normal text style so when you go to add an indent to it, you have to go edit all the styles that are based on that one to remove the indent. Their style guide misses this point and so do most users. I really hate MS Word. I have never understood how it got so popular, there is not logic to it. I used to hear, "Word is so much easier to learn than Word Perfect" but that only applied to the DOS versions. They were equally easy/hard in Windows, and Word is the inferior product. Still it to this day. (sorry, mini-rant about Word... a longstanding hatred)

And Darke, you nailed it. This issue isn't in your ebook. (which is next up on my ebook reading list, right after I finish CT's Viridis)

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#5 Mark Friedlander

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 12:11 PM

Word styles can be counter-productive when they impose unwanted formatting.

On the other hand, Word supports creating your own custom styles. If you're able to work out the correct formatting to apply to the title, copyright page, and so on, you can create your own Smashword copyright style, your own Smashword title style etc and apply those styles to selected text.

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#6 JoeB

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 03:35 PM

I've had similar problems when I upload to Smashwords. The Word document may look great on my computer, but when it is finally accepted the formatting has different styles in several random places. I try to see any style changes that are in the document but are unsuccessful. I'm sure we all would appreciate any pointers.
Thanks for the help. It is very much appreciated!!!
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#7 RC Lewis

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 03:40 PM

I think the only way to truly guarantee clean formatting may be what they term the "nuclear method," which sucks. Change everything to plain-text to wipe out any funky little hidden things, then meticulously enter the styles where needed. (Also means you have to re-italicize anything in the body of the text ... not fun, but hey, worth it to have pristine results, I guess.)

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#8 jwmstudio

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 06:27 PM

RC - Do you do that by pasting everything in something like notepad then re-entering paragraph indents, etc.?
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#9 RC Lewis

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Posted 26 February 2012 - 06:43 PM

Yeah, paste into Notepad (or in my case TextEdit, on a Mac) to remove all formatting, then re-paste into a fresh Word doc. Easiest way then is to set *everything* as the "Normal" style, adjusting Normal to include indents if necessary. Then put in additional styles for chapter headings, centered items (like scene breaks), etc.

They lay it out pretty well in the Smashwords Style Guide, although I found the guide a little tedious ... they spend too much time giving background information on everything I already know instead of just what to do, boom-boom-boom. :tongue:

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#10 Robin Breyer

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 12:53 AM

The nuclear option is the best for cleaning out a document created in word. I was able to avoid doing that and thus able to avoid having to redo all my italics (for an SF writer with lots of ship names, that is a lot of work), but it does work. Word is especially bad about random strange formatting. There really isn't a format that just preserves italics, underline, and bold, without also preserving all the strange oddities that make the nuclear option necessary. One way to find all the italics (if you have a lot of them) is to save your document as an html file (pre-nuking it) and search for the <i> html tag then search for that same text in your nuked file and fix it.

One problem with Smashwords is that their process is automatic. I noticed some strange errors in how they processed my file, even though there are no strange codes in my document. Some errors you have to find an alternate way to format. I had one section inexplicably not have an extra return above it and the only way to fix that is to remove the extra returns and change the paragraph style to have additional space before it.

Each error is different and has different solutions (that you can try before the nuclear option). It just depends on what it is and what the code is behind it. Sometimes you might just need to do the nuclear option to a small portion rather than your entire document.

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#11 Darke

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 08:14 AM

I 'nuked' my novel, just to be on the safe side. I have Word 10 and it's just different enough that the Smashwords guide is a little difficult to use. I had no problem uploading to Smashwords.

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#12 Robin Breyer

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 10:47 AM

Probably a safe bet, Darke. With the way I create my book files, I shouldn't have to go that route, but I am prepared should the need arise. I consider it a personal challenge to be able to prepare my upload file without having to do that. But then, I don't use MS Word (the actual software) at all and I blame Word itself for the need to have a nuclear option in place.

Besides the nuclear option, Ctrl-A is the next most powerful way to clear out odd coding and make your document uniform. But you have to be careful. That will eliminate your bold, underline, and italics just as easily as the nuclear option if you mess with the wrong thing. It's good for making the typeface uniform and the size uniform, but if you mess with the paragraph styles or some of the other font options you might as well do the nuclear option.

One thing I wanted to bring up was the scene break marker - * * *, or whatever you use. This needs to be properly centered. The best way to do that is to give it a special centered paragraph style (making sure it does not have any indenting). But that can be annoying to replace one at a time. Fortunately you can search and replace and set it to replace with the same text but with a different paragraph style. And remember, that once something is set to a paragraph style, if it doesn't look right, all you have to do is edit the style, not every occurrence of it.

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#13 Caterina

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 03:16 PM

I'm already a victim of formatting error because of conversion from MS Word. I fixed it when my mom saw and pointed it out to me. I wanted to die. I do hope I caught all the damn formatting errors, but honestly I'm scared people are going to be pissed for buying my book. =(

#14 RC Lewis

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 03:19 PM

Anyone who downloads the free anthology Spring Fevers from Smashwords, please let me know what you notice about formatting--good, bad, or ugly. It was my first time working with Smashwords and the meat-grinder. (I think in the future I'll use a slightly smaller indent ... what we went with looks a little large on my phone, but maybe on full-size readers it looks okay.)

:blush:

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#15 Caterina

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 03:26 PM

Anyone who downloads the free anthology Spring Fevers from Smashwords, please let me know what you notice about formatting--good, bad, or ugly. It was my first time working with Smashwords and the meat-grinder. (I think in the future I'll use a slightly smaller indent ... what we went with looks a little large on my phone, but maybe on full-size readers it looks okay.)

:blush:


RC - I'll keep an eye out.
Please anyone keep an eye out for errors on mine too.

#16 Caterina

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 04:02 PM

omg another thing. i found this on other ebooks i have downloaded, so i know i am not alone.
but for some reason there will be short small areas that had indented two or three paragraphs and then goes back to regular.

ARRRG

#17 RC Lewis

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 04:29 PM

Caterina, I had something similar happen as I was testing files. (Especially since I was getting source files from almost a dozen different people.) In my case, it was because there were places that had tabs instead of first-line indents.

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#18 Robin Breyer

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 05:29 PM

Anyone who downloads the free anthology Spring Fevers from Smashwords, please let me know what you notice about formatting--good, bad, or ugly. It was my first time working with Smashwords and the meat-grinder. (I think in the future I'll use a slightly smaller indent ... what we went with looks a little large on my phone, but maybe on full-size readers it looks okay.)

:blush:

I downloaded it and scrolled threw it and nothing out of the ordinary caught my attention. Though from the assembled writers, I must read this book. So many familiar names.

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#19 RC Lewis

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 05:33 PM

I downloaded it and scrolled threw it and nothing out of the ordinary caught my attention. Though from the assembled writers, I must read this book. So many familiar names.


I'm looking forward to finally taking the time to read it myself. :blush: Snippets have scrolled past my eyes dozens of times as I did the formatting, but I haven't read any stories all the way through yet (except BBC's, which I gave her feedback on before she submitted).

Oh, and Robin, what file format did you look at it on, just for the record? Thanks. :smile:

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#20 Caterina

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Posted 27 February 2012 - 07:21 PM

Caterina, I had something similar happen as I was testing files. (Especially since I was getting source files from almost a dozen different people.) In my case, it was because there were places that had tabs instead of first-line indents.


Oh ok. I'm going to have to look into that. I'm not really sure how to fix the tabs and make then first-line indents.




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