Formatting Books: Lessons Learned

My experience with formatting for CreateSpace, Smashwords, and Kindle Direct Publishing

While it sounds like a simple matter, formatting books can become a bad dream. What turns the whole exercise into a nightmare is the knowledge that if your book isn’t formatted well, it can be turn readers off and cost you sales.

Cover of Read Me Before You WriteEarlier this year I finished my second book, Read Me Before You Write. Formatting it was almost harder than writing it.

Before I found some guides (click for my review), I was stuck. I knew I could do the eBook formatting, but CreateSpace was killing me. I just could not make the template work. I wasted a lot of time and had to start over several times.

The guides all advised to forget the template and stay in Word. They were right.

Key to the whole process is making a copy of your manuscript and format it, not the original. As happened to me, I did something that made a mess of my file that I had no idea how to undo. Because I had the backup, I could start over with a fresh copy.

As I was formatting, I found a few typos and other errors in need of correction. Don’t be like me and think you’ll remember all of them and where they are. You won’t. Next time, I’ll keep a log of corrections I make to the copy I’m working with so my original copy can be corrected as well.

The copy is important for another reason. Formatting for a paper version is much different than an eBook. A mistake I made was thinking I could format my book for Create Space, and then use that version for Smashwords. Not a good idea.

What I would do next time is to start by stripping the formatting from my copy. To strip formatting, save the file in Notepad, then bring it back into Word. The reason this is helpful is it gets rid of formatting that creeps in through the Word defaults or by mistake. If your manuscript has been worked on from different computers (like yours and an editor’s), odd formatting can appear that you aren’t even aware of. The stripping process gets rid of all of that stuff that can cause problems later.

Then I would create two copies, one for the hard copy and one for the electronic version, and start with the hard copy version. The reason for this is formatting actual paper books is harder and requires more scrutiny to get it right. It’s more likely I’ll spot stray typos working on the paper version.

Then I’d go back to my copy of Format YOUR Print Book with Createspace …and Lulu, using Microsoft Word. by Tim C. Taylor, which was the most helpful of the guides I used. By following this guide, I was able to format my book with the proper page headers and numbering, following the standard conventions in publishing.

The most tedious part was getting the pages to line up properly. After uploading the file eight times and all my tinkering only made it worse, I contacted the help people at Create Space. They responded promptly and suggested saving my file as a PDF before uploading it. Problem solved.

After that, Kindle Direct Publishing was a breeze. I sent my Create Space file to KDP, and they took care of the rest. Smashwords has an extensive but surprisingly easy to follow formatting guide. I used my second stripped copy, and within a few hours, my Smashwords version was live.

As a disclaimer, my book just had a simple table of contents, no images and no charts. My sense at this point is that I just don’t have the ability to format photos and more complicated features properly for electronic books, and the learning curve to do that properly would be pretty steep. If I ever publish something that includes these items, it will be worth it to me to save the time and headaches and hire a designer.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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