Formatting eBook Continued

HTML Code

Image by Marjan Krebelj c/o Flikr Creative Commons

Today I want to talk again about eBook formatting. We touched on this a while ago, but I think it’s timely to revisit the topic.

I’m in the final stages of my upcoming book, The Astrologers and Other Stories, which is set for release on October 23rd. All the editing is done now, and all I need to do is finish the cover and the formatting–so I’m knee deep in HTML right now.

I’m also reading a book (I won’t mention the title), and perhaps because I’m in the throes of formatting, I’m picking up on all sorts of examples as to why correct formatting is important. Things like misplaced or inconsistent italics and the occasionally awkward display of the text on my device really drives it home.

Of course, mistakes like this aren’t intentional–nobody is going to publish a book that way. It’s more likely that they arise from not knowing the process (which is where I’m at now), or not testing the output on various devices. The thing about self publishing eBooks, I’m finding, is that almost all the work is up to you–it’s easy for details like this to get lost in the sheer amount of effort you need to apply to a successful release.

The design of a book “between the covers” is very important, but it’s difficult because the great majority of your readers aren’t going to notice a thing when it’s done right. They’ll only pick up on the things that look somehow off.

All the more reason to go over your release with a fine tooth comb, and test the output several times on different programs. I use Calibre to start because it’s part of the formatting process, then run it through Adobe Digital Editions. Next I upload a “test” copy to both Amazon and Kobo, which will convert it to their specifications and give you a proof to go over before you submit it for publishing. In all four steps, you should be examining your book line by line to make sure it looks the same–and the way you want–across those platforms. When I published Muzak for the Metro, I went through five or six iterations of my final eBook before settling on the one that’s live–which is still imperfect, I think, and needs to go through another revision.

Of course, this should be your very last step. The actual formatting must come first, and this can be simple or time consuming depending on how picky you get.

I output the file as a eBook through Scrivener, and open that ePub file with Sigil. Sigil is a great open source eBook editor–or, more correctly, it allows you to edit with HTML, the language an eBook is written in. While you edit it compiles the opf file, which gathers the information about how your eBook is structured and tells readers how to display it. This is the important part of the process: by editing through HTML, you’re telling the user-end devices how to read your book. If you get it right in Sigil, it should look right across other devices. And, because Sigil is a “What You See Is What You Get” editor, it’s downright simple.

Most of the work you’ll do through Sigil is correcting line spacing, assigning headers (which helps in organizing a working Table of Contents) and making sure hyperlinks (to your webpage, twitter account, etc) are working properly. In my next post, I’ll show you some tricks and tips that will give your eBook a more polished look.

I’m looking for more eBook emulators/readers to test my books on, so if you have any ideas, please leave them in the comments!

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