Formatting an e-book for self-publishing

Credit: Adonyi Gabor on pexels

I thought formatting an e-book for self-publishing would be a great way to spend my Sunday afternoon. I’d start small on a single short story – my Hallowe’en giveaway to those who join my mailing list.

But it wasn’t quite the simple task I’d hoped it would be.

Formatting the Word document

After proofing my story several times, I thought I’d better look at fonts. This list on the Indesign Skills website was great – setting out how different fonts relate to different genres.

Trouble was, I didn’t have any of them, just their weird relations.

Not to worry, I thought as I settled for Baskerville Old Face. It looked like the best fit for the mood and style of the story, which is witchy and otherworldly.

Cover image for the short story

I’d already found an image on Creative Commons and somehow came across this attribution generator. The illustration I used is out of copyright, but I like to credit people’s work even once they’re dead.

I fiddled around in Photoshop for too long which was a great lesson in how valuable a professional designer would be.

This is something everyone stresses. I’d thought it was because designers can design, have visual minds etc. Now I realise the other bonus, is they understand the tools, sizes, specs etc.

Formatting my e-book with code

Self-publishing guru, David Gaughran dedicates a whole chapter to formatting and e-book in his e-book Let’s Get Digital. He points out that each device has its own default settings for fonts, font sizes etc and that e-books don’t have pages. So, he recommends choosing from three options:

  • hiring a professional
  • using an automated tool
  • learning to format your own work.

He says the third option is “not for the faint hearted”. I wasn’t faint hearted so which option do you think I tried first?

This is his step-by-step approach for e-book formatting and it’s fantastic. I already know a bit of HTML so I thought it would be easy-peasy. I quickly moved on to the free formatting software.

Reedsy for formatting an e-book

I found Reedsy disappointing.

I’d inserted little witch hats into the Word doc to break up the sections of the story. But in the preview on Reedsy they came out as massive. It also put a chapter heading at the front of the story – which I couldn’t get rid of it. So, I turned to another free one, Draft2Digital.

Using Draft2Digital

This process was much easier to follow and it was clear where I was at every stage. Their website explains what things are, which was very helpful. They add a link to Kindle Preview Installer so you can review your MS.

Again, it added things I couldn’t switch off. A ‘Table of Contents’ with grand announcing initial caps sat on the second page, with a flimsy ‘chapter’ link looking lonely underneath it.

So that’s why so many e-books have a contents listing numbered chapters for the first few pages. Perhaps it’s a good idea to give my novel chapter headings? That way – if I must have contents – I can turn it to my advantage.

A contents page could also be useful for a story collection, though there’s no obvious way to style it.

The pdf version was disappointing. It added an extra page at the end, which is annoying. But it would be fine for academic writing as it made all the links into footnotes. So in the end I made my own pdf for the giveaway by saving the Word document as a pdf.

However, what I really liked about Draft2Digital is it explains things along the way. It takes you through all the rights process for publishing on all the different distributors’ lists. And the process ended with an uplifting ‘e-book success’ message.

I’d definitely use this service again.

Learning about formatting an e-book

My Sunday afternoon turned out to be not at all relaxing, but it was a great experience! And now, I can even add my own tip to all the valuable advice I’ve discovered on self-publishing.

That is, the first time you try formatting for self-publishing, pick something short. Only a few pages. I couldn’t have managed this with 200 pages first time. There’s a lot to take in.

The Hallowe’en giveaway!

Get your free short story!