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DIYday Lesson 12: Manuscript Formatting Part 1

Hey all! Welcome back. Today’s lesson will be on formatting your manuscript for self-publication. I’ll be starting from the beginning and will basically outline Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide. I use this resource book for two reasons. One, it is easy to follow and has screen caps and helpful hints to make the process smooth and a slam dunk every time. Two, since Smashwords is basically a distributor to all major eBook retailers, their formatting guarantees that your book will be error free and ready for publication wherever you want to publish it, whether you want to use Smashwords or not. That’s a good deal in my book.

A warning before we begin, this is only the first of two steps and it is by far the most labor intensive part of self-publishing (besides actually writing the book). It is tedious, and takes a lot of time, and you have to be really careful each step of the way to make sure your book looks exactly the way you want it to once it is finished. If you’re still up for it, read on.

A Few Pointers

LettersBefore you start formatting, there are a few things you should take note of and keep in mind:

1. Don’t use fancy fonts. EReaders let readers set a font for the books they read, which means not only is a fancy font pointless, it might create errors in your final eBook where certain characters won’t display properly.

2. Don’t use special characters. Especially in EPUB format, special characters don’t always translate. It will leave you with question marks for letters and weird breaks in words where there aren’t supposed to be any. As stylistically pretty as a word might be with a weird letter in the middle, figure out something else to make it stand out. Trust me, it will save you a lot of headaches later in the process.

3. Don’t use too many images. This is a guide to creating a novel eBook, not a comic book or instructional manual. The programs I use to convert books to eFormats do not support image conversions and even if they did, it is very difficult to gauge how the image will end up looking on a 6″ eReader screen. If you desperately need images in your eBook (besides a cover page), you might be better off turning to a professional eBook converting service rather than going it alone.

4. Clean up your spaces. Line breaks, tabs, multiple spaces between words, etc. tend to get stripped away or create errors between different eFormats, or they create weird breaks between paragraphs in your books. You can pre-set a lot of things and make those settings global through your eBook. That is the best way to make sure everything looks as it should.

The Nuclear Method

Nothing but text.
Nothing but text.

This is a term Mark Coker uses in his Style Guide. It basically means you strip all the formatting in your document and start all over. Let me tell you, if you do this for a 20,000 word book, it’s a piece of cake. Get above 100,000, though and you start wanting to pull your hair out after a few pages. BUT it is necessary to make sure all your formatting is uniform.

To avoid this, save early and often
To avoid this, save early and often

1. Save a copy of your manuscript and keep it somewhere in case you make a mistake. You don’t want to get halfway through this process and realize you missed something, but you no longer have the original file to retrieve it.

2. Copy and paste everything into Notepad. Copying your entire book onto Notepad strips all formatting, itallics, bolds, headings, page and paragraph breaks, everything. This is because the Notepad program does not support the.  It basically gives you a clean slate of text only to work with.

3. Start from scratch. Open a new Word document and turn off all AutoCorrects and AutoFormats. This is to make sure you only apply the formatting you want and don’t have Word force something else on you.

4. Copy and paste from Notepad. Select All in what you pasted onto Notepad in step 2 and copy it. You will paste it into your fresh new Word document.

5. Type out a Table of Contents. While it is not required for all formats, a Table of Contents is a good thing to have, since certain distributors require it (and yes, distributors will put your book through a gauntlet of tests to make sure you comply with their formatting). It also makes your book more user-friendly. At this point you aren’t hyperlinking anything, just creating a space for your ToC.

6. Reapply small formatting. The first thing you will want to do is choose how to separate your paragraphs. You can do indents on the first line, or a line break between. It is highly recommended you do not do both. Choose whichever one you like more and use that. You can do this once for the entire document by redefining the “Normal” paragraph style (see the Style Guide for more details on how to do this). Then you will want to go through the manuscript and put emphases where they need to be. Again, you can do itallics, or bolds, but you should not do both.

7. Apply big formatting. By this I mean page breaks, scene breaks, chapter headings, etc. Scene breaks should be marked with something besides an empty space. This is a practical point, rather than a stylistic one. Line breaks can get stripped from your eBook during the conversion process and you will lose that distinction. If, however, you put a * or ~ in there, those will stay put no matter what.

Use a Heading style for your chapter headings (see the Style Guide for more on this). I have found while page/line breaks can disappear, Headings remain unchanged. Also, this will make creating a ToC easier. You should insert a page break between the end of one chapter and the beginning of another, and a line break before and after the page break. This is a safety net in case your page break gets stripped, you still have two line breaks in there to at least give your chapter heading some space to breathe.

8. Create a Table of Contents. This is where you go through your manuscript and add bookmarks at each place you want the Table of Contents to go. You can do this for chapters, or different sections. Once you have the bookmarks set, you will go back to your typed up ToC and hyperlink back to the bookmarks. (See the Style Guide on how to do this)

Extra9. Add any extras. This should really be a step 1, but if you get to this point and realize you still need to add stuff, now is the time. You will need a copyright and licensing note somewhere at the beginning. All eBook publishers and distributors use it; it’s not optional. Epigraphs, notes, glossaries, etc. is also something you might want. You will probably also want to have some little About The Author section at the end of your book, with links to your website or more books you have written. Maybe a sneak peek at your next novel? Anything you want in your book, make sure it is on this document you are creating before you move on to converting. One thing that should NOT be there is your cover image. See step 11 below.

10. Save, save, save. Save this file as something that tells you what it is and what it’s for. For example Joe’s Masterpiece Fully Formatted. Save early, save often. I cannot stress this enough. It won’t matter how much work you put into this, or how beautiful it looks, if you accidentally click something wrong and end up losing it all. Yes, I do speak from experience. If I can prevent an author from losing their manuscript due to a computer error and a lack of a back-up, I will die happy. No one should have to experience that. I have (a few times) and it’s not fun.

11. Save in multiple formats. Okay, here’s the scoop. If you want to publish at Smashwords, they will want a Word document format. Which you now have, if you followed all the steps. Awesome. If you want to publish directly on Amazon, they want the file in HTML format. No problem! You can actually use Save As to save your work as a HTML page.

CoverIf you go directly to an eBook store like All Romance eBooks, they will probably expect you to have all the formats you want your book to sell in, because they don’t convert it for you. One of these formats should be PDF for people who don’t have eReaders or those who would like to print your book out to read. You can get that from the Word document, too. If you do save as PDF, this is the only format you create which should have your book cover image on the first page. The file you created (which will be converted to other formats) does not have a cover page. It shouldn’t. There are ways to add it in using a different program which does the hard work of sizing it for you. But PDFs are different and adding a cover page gives you more control over how it looks.

12. Do a happy dance. You are one step closer to putting your book out there for all the world to see. You created something out of nothing, and you polished it to a shine, and now you’re about ready to put a huge red bow on it. It took a lot of work! Pat yourself on the back. You deserve it.


Now that that’s over with, let’s take a little break. Next week I will show you how to convert these files to formats supported by major eReader types using Sigil and Calibre. See you then!

1 thought on “DIYday Lesson 12: Manuscript Formatting Part 1”

  1. Pingback: DIYday Lesson 13: Manuscript Formatting Part 2 | Alianne Donnelly

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