Formatting for e-books

Having written the book back in the mists of time when I had an 80 386 processor running Wordstar, my formatting was a little unusual and I had to strip it all out using OpenOffice (I thoroughly recommend this free software if you live with a LINUX geek and aren’t allowed Windows on your machine – or have Windows, but can’t afford Office). I’d also recommend GIMP image manipulation programme or INKSCAPE vector image programme for doing the covers. They’re just as powerful as photoshop, if a little awkward to get the hang of – and free.

When I started reading up about this, there were a lot of references to people who can do the formatting for you for a price, but I decided to do it myself. It wasn’t that bad, although I did have to re-load the book a few times to get SMASHWORDS to accept it.

I opened the documents as text, copied & pasted into OpenOffice, then used the “Find and Replace” function to strip out tabs (^t), double line breaks (^n^n), and double spaces. You’d have to do this anyway, as SMASHWORDS in particular is very picky about what formatting it will allow. Don’t use fancy headings or different fonts, or font sizes over 18 points for E-books. You can have a page break, and use the “Heading 1” style option for chapter headings, and use the “Justify” button to centre some of your text, but that’s about it.

When I wrote the books, I naively used tabs for the paragraphs – that’s a big no-no, apparently. If you set the paragraphs up properly from the Format Menu in Word or OpenOffice, they’ll appear nicely every time you his “Enter” as if by magic. If you’re writing for the first time, make sure you do this, and save yourself a lot of grief later.

Having sorted out the formatting, I had to add a specific license agreement text for SMASHWORDS, which i then had to remember to alter for the CREATEWORDS and KDP sites. Awfully bad form to forget!

SMASHWORDS needs a cover image of 500 x 800 pixels, which is easily achieved using “Image scale” and “Crop to selection” features in GIMP. I used two photos and the functions “Colourise” followed by “Colour to Alpha” to get the effect where Lillith’s face is a ghostly blue superimposed on the galaxy. It’s not the same as having a graphic designer to magic something up for you, but GIMP lets you make a cover that’s better than most of the 1960s Science Fiction anthologies on my bookshelf. You don’t need a particularly good camera either, since the number of pixels is so low – any phone camera from the last 2 years or so should be fine in decent light. Careful not to use stock photos that could get you in trouble with the artist!

Having done all that work for SMASHWORDS, KDP was a walk in the park. “Save As – HTML” is your friend.

Setting up the print copy for CREATESPACE, I used the HTML format I had just done for KDP. Createspace suggests you set up your book as 6″ x 9″ which means that you need to change your print size to A5. This isn’t quite the same, but is close enough that the proof looks fine.
OpenOffice has an option to “EXPORT AS.. PDF” which is handy. I did initially try to upload the PDF I had for SMASHWORDs, but remembered in time that the license agreement would be all wrong. You don’t want to be referring to an ebook in a print edition.

CREATESPACE also has a nifty cover generator, which looked easier than trying to get the spine in the right place. It was a bit clunky but much better than nothing. I was able to use the image I’d prepared on GIMP and fuss it into the right size for the template. If you keep the “Layers” dialogue box open and make sure you save everything you do as “xcf” before you export it to JPEG, you should still be able to move things around, which means you can get a lot of different images from your original two photos and tweak them into different sizes for different audiences.


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