The Great Formatting Conundrum & What To Do About It

I recently received a question over Twitter from someone asking if I provided formatting services. It’s not uncommon since so many independent authors are in need of e-book formatting. I’ve written about this topic in passing before but I decided to cover it in more detail today.

First let me say I do not offer formatting services. I’d be open to in the future if the need arose for more immediate income. However, I’m neither experienced enough yet nor do I have the time to run such a service while publishing my own fiction.

Word Styles

However, having formatted my own short story as an e-book – as well as intending to publish a few more short projects in the future – I do have some insights to offer for newer writers with questions. Most everyone advises that an author farm formatting out to someone who knows how to do it properly. It’s not terribly expensive for a novel and doesn’t require a long turn around time. But for shorter projects you may want to save the money and do the work yourself.

Formatting Resources

In either instance here are some resources for formatting:

  • Want to find formatters? Visit this link by Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, for his list of self-publishing related services. It includes people who offer formatting services with their pricing as well as illustrators and editors.
  • Want to do the work yourself? Download Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide. This includes how to format your e-book so that it’s ready for submitting to Smashwords. I also found it effective for uploading to Amazon.
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Scrivener StylesWith that information in mind here are some tips regarding formatting if you decide to give it a go yourself:

  1. Do not use your original manuscript. Create copy of the manuscript from which to work. This way if you mess it up you have no worries about it and can easily start over.
  2. Start learning with a shorter project. Once you have experience try something longer.
  3. Format correctly from the beginning. Read the Smashwords Style Guide for specific instructions on formatting your work with e-book publishing in mind.
  4. To begin formatting, remove all the bad formatting. Copy all of the content to a text editor like Notepad and then back into your word processor software to remove all the incorrect formatting. Again the style guide has detailed instructions for this process.
  5. Learn about Styles and use them when formatting an e-book. Styles are used in Word and are quick way of using preset formatting for different font styles. You can create Styles for titles, first lines, etc. These are also available in Scrivener. (take screen shots of Word and Scrivener styles)
  6. Create and use internal links. When you are formatting your manuscript to e-book conversion you can create internal links. These are important for use in e-book readers so anyone reading can move throughout the book with ease. One of the best ways to use this is to link your table of contents to each chapter heading or title and then each chapter back to the contents.

Final Thoughts

Many people have an aversion to formatting as if they might ruin their book. As long as you don’t work from the original you are free to play around with the process and learn. Once you’ve formatted even a short e-book you’ve gained valuable skill. Even if you do not want to format your novel you certainly know what to expect with a finished product when paying someone else. In the end it’s up to each person to decide what’s best – hiring out the work or DIY – but learn about the process some as well. Who knows, you may find you like doing it and launch a secondary income stream formatting for other authors. Regardless, I’ll follow up on some of the tips with some future posts on this subject.

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Have you tried formatting an e-book? What keeps you from trying? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. To find out more about my current novel, The Bow of Destiny, click one of the link banners on the sidebar.

IMG_4154-EditAbout the Author

P. H. Solomon lives in the greater Birmingham, AL area where he strongly dislikes yard work and sanding the deck rail. However, he performs these duties to maintain a nice home for his loved ones as well as the family’s German Shepherds. In his spare time, P. H. rides herd as a Computer Whisperer on large computers called servers (harmonica not required). Additionally, he enjoys reading, running, most sports and fantasy football. Having a degree in Anthropology, he also has a wide array of more “serious” interests in addition to working regularly to hone his writing. The Bow of Destiny is his first novel-length title with more soon to come.

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  1. Helpful, thanks. I have been hesitant to turn my work into eBooks (etc), because formatting is so important for attentionally struggling ADD/EFD readers to stay tracked and assimilate content – many of whom might choose to buy my expertise in book form if they could read the darned things.

    Formatting so that they can jump from rock to rock (no long strings of text, lots of white space, indents, bullets, headings etc.) makes for quite the challenge, especially when each form of publication has specific rules and guidelines.

    I appreciate the resources, and your encouragement. The last thing I’m eager to experience is a back-and-forth tussle with an editor who doesn’t understand the needs of my market, but DOES understand standard paragraphing, neurotypical preferences, etc. — similar to most folks, in my experience. 🙂
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

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