Book Design
Ebook Formatting for Indie Authors (and other random people) – Part 1

Ebook Formatting for Indie Authors (and other random people) – Part 1

Hello, and welcome to this quick guide on how to format your ebook without wasting a lot of money for expensive software or paying people that most likely will just do a one-click automatic conversion and call it a day.

First thing we need to know is what types of files we are dealing with and what kind of tools you need.

  • A word processor (anything from Microsoft Word to LibreOffice would do)
  • An ePub converter (we’ll see the options later)
  • Sigil (for the fine tuning, last minute editing, and fixing major issues)

Ebook file format

Any digital file that contains the text of a book can be called an e-Book, but when we are dealing with book distribution there are only a few types of files we need to work with.

In the past, PDFs were all the rage, but now they are a bit unpractical because the fixed layout makes them not very good for reading on different and smaller devices like your phone. That’s why the true ebook standard is the ePub.

Every major ebook distributor works with ePub files, except one. You know who. The big Zon. A company with enough power to impose their own standard. Amazon bought the patent for the mobi/mobipocket format and the ebooks sold on its platform are delivered in a customized version of a mobi called .azw.

The good news is when you go to upload your file, submitting an ePub is still the best option you have. They are basically the same thing. And the change from ePub to mobi still happens with an automatic conversion (more on this later).

That’s why I’ll be focusing on the ePub on my (I hope) quick guide.

What’s an ePub?

It’s an archive of files, based on the xml/xhtml language (The what? Yeah don’t worry about that). You’ll need to know a bit of HTML to understand some of the more advanced things, but don’t be scared, even if you are a complete beginner, it’s not so difficult and I’ll try my best to make it clear.

So, an ePub file is the same as a .zip archive. A bunch of files all packed together in one. I’m not joking. If you take an ePub file, let’s say it’s called MyBook.ePub and you change the name to MyBook.zip you’ll have an archive file that you can easily open with software like Winzip, Winrar, 7-zip etc.

And what’s inside, you ask?

  • A file called mimetype
  • A folder called META INF that contains the container.xml file
  • A folder called OEBPS with all the parts of your book: chapters, images, fonts, stylesheets, etc. and two other important files called content.opf and toc.ncx

But don’t get scared! You won’t have to touch most of this anyway, I was just trying to give an idea of what we are dealing with.

For a more complete overview of what every file does you can hop to the idpf.org website, they’ll explain better than I ever could.

I’ll just say a couple of things that can be useful for this guide:

Content.opf is the most important file of them all because in it it’s specified all the ebook structure, the metadata, and the complete list of all files. If something is not listed here, it won’t show in the book. Title, author name, chapters list, everything. If you open your book and are missing some pieces, or things are out of place, this is where you come looking to fix the issue.

The file named toc.ncx contains the TOC or Table of Contents, the chapter list or index or whatever you call it. This is the file that allows your reading device to navigate the book by chapter.

There is also a Text folder in OEBPS, which contains the actual text of your book. Usually divided by chapters or portions of text. The files have a .xhtml extension and there is one for each part of the book: Title, colophon, TOC, chapter 1, 2, etc.

So, how do you put all of this together?

You could do it manually, generate all the files by yourself, but it would be a very time-consuming task and it’d be very easy to make mistakes and break everything. That’s why there is specific software designed to convert a text file into an ePub with just a few clicks.

BUT, there is always a but. Automatic conversion always leaves some trash behind, be it in the code or in the layout, and there are things that must be fixed manually. And that’s what my guide will be about.

But, again, before talking about conversion, it’s very important to prepare your text file so that’s clean enough to make your life easier.

Since I don’t want these “episodes” to be too long, we’ll talk about that in the next one.

I hope you’ll stick with me for a while 🙂 I’ll be posting also on my Minds account so if you’d like you can jump there and ask questions or leave a comment.

See you soon!

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