Here’s the eighteenth episode of the Writing Talk Podcast.

In this episode of the Writing Talk Podcast, we’re looking at the method I use to format my ebooks and paperback books.

Hope you enjoy listening.

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Show Notes

News

The reason that the podcast is late this week is because I have been busily republishing the books I’ve spent the last couple of weeks formatting.

Following the collapse of my publisher, Booktrope, I have now successfully republished the first book in the Darkeningstone series, Trespass, and my collection of short dark stories, A Dark Assortment. To celebrate their rerelease into an unsuspecting world, I’ve reduced the price of both books so that they are both $.99 or 99p each. That wouldn’t have been such a Herculean task except that it clashed with my planned launch of the second full-length novel in the Darkeningstone series, Outcast. But I persevered, and Outcast is now out for pre-orders at the special price of $1.99 or £1.49. And while I was at it, I decided it was a good time to redesign the cover of Trespass, and so I also redesigned the cover of the free Darkeningstone novella, Breaking Ground, which also got a reformat. So this week, I have published four books in both print and e-book, across just about every e-book publishing platform you can think of.

You can see my work on my Author Page on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Mikey-Campling/e/B00EUVA0GE/

In fact, the print books aren’t quite all there yet, because there are certain demands to producing print books that seem to take an inordinate amount of time.

So that takes is onto this week’s main topic which is producing your books.

Main topic

Let’s start from scratch and work our way upwards. We’ll start looking at e-books, and work through those options, then we’ll have a quick look at paperback books.

When it comes to e-books there are two formats you need to concern yourself with: mobi, and epub. mobi is the format used by Amazon for their Kindle devices, and epub is the format used by all other e-readers and e-book reading apps. In this podcast, I’m going to focus on epub, because Amazon’s Kindle direct publishing platform, or KDP for short, will allow you to upload your e-book as an epub, and the KDP platform will take care of the conversion for you.

How you go about producing your e-books depends on where you’re starting from and how you want to handle modifications. At this point it’s a good idea to stop and think about your future publishing plans. If you are going to produce more than one e-book, it’s a very good idea to establish an effective system from the outset. But even if you’re going to produce only one book, it would be wise to think about how you will handle any modifications that you need to make to your book’s content in the future, e.g. how much work would it create if you needed to change a call to action in your book, or if you found a typo. To cope with these kind of changes, it’s good practice to maintain a single definitive file that you can use as a basis for all your work going forward. So whatever method you choose, make sure that you can keep track of all the different versions of your book.

That said, let’s have a look at some of the solutions for producing e-books.

If your work is in Scrivener, you can compile your epub directly from the program. It isn’t particularly easy, especially on the Windows version of Scrivener, but it can be done. There is a certain amount of detail online about the various settings, and once you get a bunch of settings that you are happy with, you can save it as a template for future use. With this method, the Scrivener file becomes the definitive version of your work, and so it’s relatively easy to keep track of any changes you might make. The process of compiling and e-book from Scrivener is not very user friendly, nor is it intuitive, and there is quite a high degree of automation in the conversion process, referred to as compiling. One of the good things about this method is that Scrivener compiles e-books very quickly, so if it isn’t right the first time, and it probably won’t be, then it’s very easy and quick to repeat the process.

If your work is in Microsoft Word however, and that’s quite likely since editors and proof-readers like to use Word, and its track changes feature is the industry standard, then what happens next depends on how fancy your formatting is going to be. If it’s plain and simple then there’s a website called draft2digital.com that will convert your word file to both epub and mobi formats, and it will even produce a PDF that you can use to produce a paperback. All you need to submit to the website is the .docx document from Word. The conversion is free, and they’ll also handle distribution to all the major e-book platforms, with the notable exception of Amazon. Although draft2digital take a cut of royalties, their terms are very favourable, and I have read online that with some marketplaces, you can actually get better terms from draft2digital than if you went to those marketplaces directly. Terms and conditions do change from time to time, so always check carefully the terms and conditions of any service before you use it.

From draft2digital, you can either take the mobi or the epub and upload it to KDP, or you can go back to your Word document, save it as web page filtered, and upload that file to KDP. The PDF from draft to digital is suitable for use on Amazon’s CreateSpace paperback publishing platform.

If you want something a little fancier with your formatting, e.g. a nice graphic on each chapter, we want to play with fonts, or if you just want your books to have a specific look and feel then an automated conversion probably won’t be good enough. In this case, you could either pay someone to format your book, or you’ll need to look into the various software that’s available.

Let’s start with a look at the free options. Both Apache OpenOffice, and Libre office, have extensions that allow you to produce epubs. Take care though, because while open source software is great and tends to be updated frequently, the extensions produced by third parties aren’t necessarily maintained. At the time of writing, the Libre office extension that produces epubs hasn’t been updated for a long time. These methods are free though, and since they are based on word processors, the learning curve is relatively shallow.

Then there’s a program called Calibre. This is an amazingly powerful piece of free software that can convert a range of formats back and forth. It can also edit e-books and it has a separate app that makes a great epub previewer. Calibre can produce epubs and mobis from word documents, and it can also convert one type of e-book into another. The problem I had with Calibre, mainly stemmed from the fact that the program is primarily an e-book library manager, rather than a dedicated epub producing piece of software. For instance, it likes to add every e-book you open or create into its library. It treats the new versions of your e-books as duplicates, and that can make it quite difficult to keep track of the different versions of your e-books. This is especially true if you have to repeat the conversion process several times as you tweak your e-book. Even if you’re only producing one e-book, you can’t afford to lose track of which file is the latest and best version. Also, although there are a lot of options to choose from when converting your e-book, there is a certain amount of automation which may cause you some difficulties. Overall, I had the sense that I was constantly fighting with Calibre, and that’s probably because it was designed as an e-book library program rather than as a publishing tool.

Also free is a program called Sigil. Sigil is an open source epub editor. Although it’s pretty powerful, it’s also quite unreliable. The latest version wouldn’t always load on my machine, and I have seen comments in several places online where users have said that older versions of the software was actually much more efficient and reliable. Personally, I was far too frustrated with the program’s inability to behave properly, and I abandoned it.

If you’re prepared to pay a little for some software, then you’ll have some more options open to you. There’s a word processor called Atlantis word processor that can produce epubs without any extensions needed. Atlantis looks and feels like an old version of Word, so the interface may be very familiar to you. It can open existing Word files and because it is a word processor at heart, you should find it easy to make any corrections that you need in the future. There is a free trial on their website, and of course the link is below the show notes. I almost went down this route, but I wanted to be slightly more elaborate with my formatting, and this didn’t feel like quite the right solution for me.

The next program I tried is called Jutoh, and like most software, there’s a free trial on their website. Again the link will be below the show notes. The first time I used Jutoh, I felt like stabbing myself with a fork. But that’s because it is designed and built as an e-book producing piece of software; it isn’t a word processor with an e-book option tacked on, or a library program with extra features. Jutoh is designed to take care of your book publishing needs, and at first it can seem idiosyncratic, but after trying everything else, I came back to Jutoh for several reasons. Firstly, Jutoh can import from a range of file types, for example word, or epub. This was important to me because I already had a nicely formatted epub from my previous publisher, and I was reluctant to lose all the work that had been put into producing it. Some of my other books were in word though so I needed something that could cope with both. Jutoh allowed me to import all the files I needed, and although I had quite a few disasters as I learned how the program works, I caught onto it pretty quickly and that is usually a good sign. The online documentation is not great. It isn’t even good. Appropriately enough, there is an epub version of the manual that you can you can download for free, but I must confess to not having used it, and again, that suggests that you can do a lot intuitively if you’re prepared to explore the software’s features.

Secondly, Jutoh satisfied my requirement for a piece of software that I can use to produce one file to rule them all, i.e. once the content has been imported into Jutoh, that becomes the definitive version of the book. If any changes are needed in the content, they can be done inside the program and then the book can be compiled into the formats needed.

The trick with formatting, no matter which software you’re using, is to understand the concept of styles. The way an e-book displays text depends on the styles that have been applied to it. So you might have one style for chapter headings, one for the first paragraph in a chapter, one style for subsequent paragraphs, and another for back matter. Regardless of your software, it’s very bad practice to use ad hoc formatting in your book, e.g. setting an isolated paragraph to bold, centred, italic.

No. What you do instead is, you set up a style that contains all the necessary formatting and then apply it to the appropriate chunk of text. This becomes very powerful because if you change your mind about your chapter headings, say, all you have to do is change that style and all of your chapter headings will instantly be reformatted. This kind of approach is very hidden in automated conversion programs like Scrivener and Calibre, and although the styles are there in Word, Word doesn’t make it particularly easy to manage your styles, and sometimes hides away style information which can make it very difficult to diagnose any errors in your formatting.

Jutoh, on the other hand, is based around the use of styles and that makes it easier to feel like you’re in control of the formatting. There isn’t time here to go into all of Jutoh’s features – there are a lot of them – but it has some very powerful tools and wizards that can help you do things like build your table of contents, clean up old formatting, and of course, compile to epub etc.

Once I have my epub ready from Jutoh, I check the file in the epub reader that comes bundled with Calibre (not the main Calibre program since I don’t want every version of my book adding to its library) then when I’m satisfied, I upload the epub to KDP and draft2digital. Draft2digital won’t alter your correctly formatted epub, so you get to keep all your precious formatting, but unfortunately, draft2digital can’t produce a PDF for your print book if you upload an epub.

To make my paperbacks, I go back to Jutoh and use its “help with print on demand” wizard. Formatting for print is another ballgame and I can’t go into all the details here, but Jutoh’s wizard guides you through the process and produces a file in the open document format (ODT). I found the best way to tweak that file is to open it up in Libre office and then export it as a PDF. Although word can open an ODT file, I found that word tends to mess up the formatting, and Libre office makes it relatively easy to work with the paragraph styles and page styles that are produced by Jutoh. As you can imagine, this part of the process is not as seamless as epub production, but then there is a lot more to think about when it comes to paperback production, for example orphans and widows and page margins, headers and footers and page numbers.

If you’re interested in trying out the Jutoh program, then you might like to know about the discount code that I found online. The code is tech2blog, but I do recommend that you always make full use of any free trials before you actually purchase software.

Just to finish off, I should mention a couple of other more expensive options. Serif produce a desktop publishing program called PagePlus that can produce epubs, but it’s quite expensive and I haven’t used it for quite a few years.

The industry standard software for producing books is Adobe’s InDesign, but although I have it, I didn’t want to tackle its steep learning curve. Like most Adobe products, in design doesn’t make it easy for you to just pick up the program and use it, and I’ve seen comments online from people saying that the epub is it produces still need tweaking anyway. If you want to try it, I believe it’s quite expensive to buy, but you may be able to get it as part of a subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud.

That’s my two penn’orth as they say where I come from. What’s worked for you? Have you found any particularly wonderful software or services online? Comments are always welcome on the website and you may get a mention in next week’s show. Last week I asked what strange things people had done in the name of research their work, but it looks as though I haven’t had any comments or feedback so no one gets a mention this week. So if you’re listening, and you’re wondering whether to make a comment, you should go ahead because there isn’t a great deal of competition at the moment.

I’m not going to do a separate writer’s toolbox this week because it feels like the whole episode has been one enormous trip through the jumbled toolbox of e-book production. Just round off by saying that I do not have affiliate links or any other relationship with any of the software providers mentioned.

That’s it for this week. I hope you found this episode useful, if you have, please share the podcast with your writer friends, e.g. you could post a link in any writing groups you’re a member of. Also, please consider supporting the podcast by subscribing. The show is on itunes, stitcher, youtube, and spreaker.com or you can subscribe by other methods on the site at writingtalkpodcast.com e.g. you can have new episodes emailed to you.

Thank you very much for listening and for all your support. Until next week, keep writing, keep tapping at the keys, keep scribbling, and above all, keep smiling.

Links:

Jtoh – paid ebook production software: http://www.jutoh.com/

Draft2digital ebook distribution and conversion: https://draft2digital.com/

Free word processor for tweaking ODT files, exporting as pdf and can produce epubs with an extension: https://www.libreoffice.org/

Free software for ebook conversion, editing, previewing: https://calibre-ebook.com/

Free program for editing epubs: https://github.com/Sigil-Ebook/Sigil/releases

Paid word processor that can produce an epub without needing an extension: http://www.atlantiswordprocessor.com/en/

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