Ebook Formatting – Part 2 – Prepare Your Manuscript
Now it’s time to get our hands dirty.
Many ebook distributors now allow you to upload your text file directly on their platform and then do an automatic conversion, but this is not a good idea for many reasons.
The main one being it will probably come out wonky or weird or full of errors.
Usually the problem resides in the text file itself, if it’s not properly formatted. There are a lot of hidden things or other tricks that can make or break your file, so I’ll try to help you create the cleanest text possible for a smooth conversion.
You can do this with any word processor of your choice. I tend do use Misocroft Words, but for example LibreOffice is a good and free alternative.
– Just type your text in a new document, use a standard font. You don’t have to bother too much with fonts, margins or page size, since those things will be overwritten by the ePub stylesheet. You can add italics and bold for emphasis and justify the text. You can use center and right alignment if you need it for some parts of text like titles, quotes, etc.
– Don’t use any other fancy things for now. You don’t need weird fonts, images, swirls, etc. Also footer, header, and page numbers are not supported by the ePub format. This is because the ePub doesn’t have a fixed layout and it will be your reading device to take care of these kind of things. We’ll see how to add the fancy stuff later.
– Very important: you must add page breaks to all the sections of your text. A page break is not the same as pressing enter to go to the other page. Most word processors have a specific command to do this, usually the shortcut is pressing the keys Ctrl and Enter at the same time.
Where do you need to add these page breaks?
After your book title page. After your colophon (the page where you write your credits, disclaimers, copyright notes etc,). After your dedication page. After your Forewords, Acknowledgments, etc. At the end of every chapter. Basically every time you have to turn the page in a physical book and start a new one, where the text is not continuous and a new title begins (just to be clear, you don’t have to add a page break to each page of your manuscript, but just at the end of a chapter, the rest of the text will flow accordingly).
– Styles. Those are very useful and most word processors have them. It’s a quick way to apply the same formatting to portions of your text. For a functional ebook conversion you should have at least your headings set. This means you have to apply the style called “header” or “title” to the titles of your chapters and to any other parts of your text you want to show up in the Table of Contents. There can be various levels of headers, usually they are called Header 1, Header 2, Header 3, etc. (Look up your software documentation for instructions on how to apply styles if you are not sure, there are tons of tutorials online :D)
– You don’t need to add a Table of Contents now. It will be generated with your conversion software or I’ll show you how to do it in the next parts.
– I said you should not add images to your text, but if you really have to, go ahead, just keep in mind that there might be some problems of position and size, but we’ll see how to fix those too.
– Don’t add your book cover to the text document. It will be added at some point in the conversion process depending on what you’ll use for generating your book.
– Be sure that your text is correct and clean. Check for double spaces, or spaces in the wrong places (the space goes always after the punctuation and not before) and check you don’t have any extra empty paragraphs at the end of your chapters.
Usually you can check this by pressing the “show all” button on your menu. It looks like a reversed P, this will show you all the hidden characters and you’ll immediately see if something is wrong. Spaces are usually marked with a point while paragraphs with the same reverse P. If you see a symbol like the arrow on the enter key, it means you have a forced line-break that will cause trouble with you layout. Just delete it and use the normal paragraph by pressing enter.
– When you move the text to the right or center and when you indent the first line of your paragraph, make sure you use the proper icon (or from the Paragraph menu) and don’t do it by pressing tab or the spacebar, this will mess up your text and will be very tedious to manually fix. (See image for visual explanation).
– Check also that the Header styles are applied to the titles only and not to any blank paragraphs or you’ll end up with a lot of white pages that you’ll have to remove manually. In Words you can see the structure of you document when you use heading and it will be immediately clear if there are empty titles. Just go over them and apply the “Normal” style.
I think that’s all for now. Let me know if you need further explanations. This was a bit long, but it’s a crucial part of the process so I hope everything went smooth.
Now save your file and next time we’ll see how to convert to ePub!
In case you missed it, here’s the first part of the guide.