Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Formatting (warning: only for the geeks)

Unless you're just embarking on the process of publishing your e-book for Kindle and, like I was, are bamboozled by the number of hoops to jump through, you may want to skip this one.

Still here? Well, don't say you weren't warned.

My first tentative step into the world of online self-publishing was Shining in the Dark, my non-fiction treatise on four of the classic Stephen King novels and the films they became. It started life as my final year English dissertation at university, and (after a little rewriting) I thought it would be a good test case for trying out Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing program.

No problem: I reckoned it was a three step process:

1) Do a polish on the text
2) Mock up a basic cover
3) Upload it to Amazon.

I hadn't expected that that last step would be the hard work area, but that's the way it turned out.

Because unfortunately, publishing your manuscript as an e-book on Amazon isn't quite as simple as you'd expect. Or perhaps my expectations were a little optimistic, I don't know. I expected you could upload a Word file and that would basically be that. Wrong. Here's what I had to fix:

Step one: Manuscript format to publishable format

Oh yeah, I hadn't thought of this one to begin with. When you write a short story or a novel (or when I do, at any rate), you're generally thinking about having someone professional look over it at some point, whether that's an agent, publisher or commissioning editor at a magazine. That means you have to format your work professionally according to certain accepted standards.

The way I learned to do it means I use 12-point Courier font, double-spaced lines, five spaces indented for each new paragraph, and underlines instead of italics to denote emphasis (I'm guessing because an underlined word is harder for a typesetter to miss than an italicised word). It also means all of my documents have my contact details and a word count on the first page, and numbered pages with  my name and the story title as a header.

That format works fine for submissions, but it doesn't look a lot like what you'll see when you thumb through your average paperback. (If you send something that looks like a nicely formatted published novel as a submission, you may as well scrawl PLEASE THROW IN BIN across the front page in thick green crayon.)

Not a big deal to change all that, though. I removed the extraneous contact information and headers. I hit select all and changed the text to single-spaced and 11-point Arial (Later, I would realise that I didn't even have to change the font. Kindle has its own font which will display no matter what you upload).

The underlines needed to become italics. I shuddered at the process of combing through the document, looking for underlines to change. Wouldn't it be great, I thought, if Word let you do a find-replace on formats as well as words? I Googled it, barely daring to hope, but yes - praise Bill Gates - this was something Word could do.

If you're interested (and as clueless as I was) you do the following:
  • Go to Find/Replace like you would if you were looking for a particular word
  • Click More
  • Click Format
  • Click Font
  • This brings up a 'Find Font' option, which lets you look for any kind of font or formatting you want in the document
  • You can then go through the same steps on the Replace tab in order to switch a given font or highlighting to something else, in my case Find underline, replace with italic.

    I warned you this one was geeky.

    Great, I saved myself half an hour of laboriously combing through the document. All done. Actually, not quite... I needed to add another couple of things to get it to look and feel like a 'real book'.

    I added a title page, a copyright page (as light on the legalese as I could make it), and a table of contents. All done.

    When I uploaded, the document displayed all right on Kindle. The paragraphs looked a little weird though...

    Step two: New paragraphs and indents

    Now, admittedly this one was partly my fault. Up until now, I'd used 5 spaces to indent a new paragraph, because I'd been told to in some magazine's style guide somewhere. I forget which one, maybe Ellery Queen or Weird Tales. Anyway, Kindle refused to recognise my indents, so that instead of looking like this:

    This is the first paragraph.
         This is the second paragraph.
         This is the third paragraph.

    They looked like this:

    This is the first paragraph.
    This is the second paragraph.
    This is the third paragraph.

    It wasn't a huge problem, it was still readable, but it didn't look great.

    I started Googling again. The Amazon KDP community pages were and are a great help to me. They suggested I use Word's paragraph function to automatically indent the first lines of new paragraphs:
    • Go to Format
    • Click on Paragraph
    • Change Indentation to 'First Line' and your desired indent (the default is 1.27cm, I can't seem to get it to display in inches. Perhaps my laptop is French. Anyway, after experimentation I settled on 0.5cm)
    Before I did that, I had to figure out how to remove all of those 5-space indents, without having to go through the entire document line-by-line. Find/Replace came to my rescue again, allowing me to remove any instance of two or more consecutive spaces (by replacing it with nothing, essentially). Like so:
    • Go to Find/Replace
    • Click More
    • Tick the box for 'Use wildcards'
    • In the 'Find' field, hit space once and then type {2,} [so it looks like ' {2,}' in the box: remember the space in front of the curly brackets] - this tells it to look for instances of the 'space' character when there are 2 or more in a row
    • Hit Replace all without putting anything in the 'Replace' field
    • This erases all instances of 2 spaces or more in sequence by replacing them with nothing

      Perfect. I got rid of my old manual indents and added the new 0.5cm standard ones. All done. I tried it out... Most of the indents looked fine. Groups of shorter paragraphs, particularly lines of dialogue, went a bit wonky. Sequences of short paragraphs would indent further than the rest, for no apparent reason. Like so:

      Paragraph 1.
           Paragraph 2.
           Paragraph 3.
                "Short line of dialogue 1," said John.
                "Short line of dialogue 2," said Jane.
           "Longer line of dialogue, displaying correctly, unlike those above" said Mike.

      I went back to the kdp community pages. A good samaritan by the name of jtbigtoad told me what to do, and thank God he did, because there is no way in hell I'd have figured this out by myself:
      • Get your document formatted so it's ready to go
      • Create a new folder called whatever you want - I called mine 'UPLOAD VERSION'
      • Save your document in UPLOAD VERSION as the file format 'Web page, filtered'
      • Right-click and create a zipped (compressed) version of UPLOAD VERSION
      • Upload the zipped UPLOAD VERSION containing the web page version of your document to Amazon
      • Your 0.5cm (or whatever) indents will now display
      I know. Obvious, right?

      Step three: Final touches

      This got the document 99% of the way there, with two minor glitches:
      • Kindle indented ALL paragraphs in the document by 0.5cm, including the first paragaphs in a chapter (which shouldn't be indented) 
      • Kindle no longer recognised my Table of Contents
      From looking at some other published e-books on Kindle, I see that these are glitches most people just decide to live with, but I'm kind of anal, so they bugged me.

      The first glitch I fixed by going to the start of each chapter, highlighting the first paragraph and changing the indent to 0.01cm. This kept Kindle happy, but since we're talking about a hundredth of a centimetre, it looks just like it's not indented at all, which is the way we want it.

      The second, I fixed by going to the Table of Contents and inserting a bookmark called 'TOC', which Kindle can pick up and use in its menu.

      This time, I really was all done. Whew.

      And that was how I formatted my book for Kindle. There might be easier ways to do some of these things, but this is what worked for me. Your own experience may vary.


      1. This solved every single one of the issues I was having with mine. Thank you for posting this.