Author’s Corner: Formatting Your e-Books

Formatting Your e-Books

A friend asked me earlier this year which company put together the Kindle and Nook versions of my books. When I told him I did it myself, he seemed amazed. “I didn’t know you knew how to do that kind of stuff,” was his response. I smiled and let him think I was a genius.

The truth is, I didn’t know. I had to figure it out.

Author R.L. Herron

Author R.L. Herron

I started the same way I suppose many author wannabes begin. I Googled “self-publishing companies” and looked at the first page of 28.2 million responses. I won’t begin to list all the things I discovered.

While I was certain they were each terrific at what they do, I didn’t use any of them. They all expect to get paid for their services. I suppose it’s a legitimate expectation for the work they do, but I have a background in art, design and printing … and a non-existent budget.

If you’re in that same boat, I’m here to tell you, you can do it yourself just like I did. All you need is a lot of time, a healthy sense of adventure, and the ability to laughingly absorb extreme personal frustration.

How I Went About It

I wrote and edited my stories in MS Word and used two open-source software packages to convert them to e-Books. The first was jEdit, a text editor that strips out the hidden formatting directions MS Word embeds (behind the scenes) and converts the Word document into Hyper Text Markup Language (html) code … a requirement for the e-Book files used by Kindle and Nook.

It takes a bit of getting used to when you first start, because jEdit makes each individual paragraph suddenly become one long line of copy. You have to scroll across your screen to see it all. Plus, you have to be certain you have the proper codes for the beginning and ending of a paragraph. I didn’t know that when I started.

You also need the proper codes for simple things like bold type, italics, quotation marks, apostrophes or ellipses – even chapter headings must be identified in code – since Kindle and Nook e-readers only understand those things in versions of html code.

It was a challenge.

However, I got it done … which tells me most people should be able to do it.

Once the text was in the proper format, I imported it into another piece of open-source software, called Calibre. It converts the html file into the proper mobi files for the Kindle or ePub files for the Nook (and I don’t claim to know the difference).

The mobi files were uploaded to Kindle Direct for the Amazon Kindle, and the ePub files were uploaded to the publishing site for eBooks designed for the Barnes & Noble Nook.

Now, I keep saying it was a simple matter, but the truth is the first time I converted a book this way in my novel (Reichold Street), it was an excruciating ordeal. It often had me checking my wallet and looking – more than once – at the I’ll-do-it-for-you-if-you-pay-me sites.

It sounds like a lot of work and I won’t kid you about it. It was a lot of work. All things considered, if nothing else, being an indie author gives you a healthy respect for the effort a publishing house goes through to prepare an e-book for the public.

Next: Preparing a book for traditional printing

About R.L. Herron

R.L. Herron, the author of multiple works of fiction, including several Readers' Favorite medal winners, lives and writes in Michigan with his lovely wife, an ugly mortgage, and one extremely large cat. His books are all available on Amazon and online with Barnes & Noble. Visit Author R.L. Herron's Website, Broken Glass.

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