Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Formatting A Novel

You've written the next great novel. Now what? If you're self-publishing, as I do, you have a lot more work to do. I've already talked about covers, so now I'll say a bit about formatting. If you're looking for a how-to-format post, this ain't it. There are plenty of places to learn about formatting (though I highly recommend you stop by Smashwords and read their formatting guide). I'm going to talk about my experience formatting my latest novel, Norton Road.

When I published The Night Train in 2012, I formatted my e-books using Calibre.It worked well, and I recommend it if you are converting from a Microsoft Word file. This time around, however, I wrote my novel using Scrivener. The reasons I recommend Scrivener are too numerous to mention here without detracting from the subject at hand. Let's just say I love it and, since it has a compile tool to generate all sorts of file types (including Doc, PDF, EPub, MOBI), I decided to give its formatting feature a try.

Generating the MOBI file I uploaded to Amazon was seamless. I prefer to upload a MOBI to Amazon instead of a Doc file because I can test the file on my Kindle before uploading. Amazon just makes the process of publishing your e-book easy. Now for Barnes and Noble.

The EPub file I generated using Scrivener looked great in the reader I have on my Macbook Pro (I don't have a Nook), but when I uploaded it to B&N and previewed it, the text was all centered, except for the title page, which was weirdly centered at the left margin. I tried every combination of tweaking Scrivener settings I could imagine without success. I even googled the problem, but learned nothing other than a lot of readers are complaining that the books they download to their Nooks have centered text. Every response I saw blamed it on improper formatting by the publisher (me, in my case). Not a word about how to resolve the issue if the EPub file you are uploading looks perfect BEFORE you upload it.

To make matters worse, when I opened the EPub file in the online editor, it looked perfect. No centered text except where it belonged. So how do you "fix" the file when it looks correct before you upload it, and afterwards in the online editor? My hunch was that the problem was just in the online viewer, and that it would look correct on the Nook, but my googling efforts disabused me of that hope. So I went back to Scrivener.

I checked a setting in the compile wizard to remove trailing white space. It looked no different in my offline viewer, but when I uploaded and looked in the online viewer the text was aligned as it should be, except for the title page. My solution for that was to open the online editor and delete the three lines on my title page and retype them. That worked. When you are doing it all yourself, sometimes you just have to put your shoulder to it until you get it right.

My third stop for the day was Smashwords. I compiled (from Scrivener) to a Doc file, added in the Smashwords edition blurb, and sent it on its way. Easy. Do you hear that, NookPress? Amazon and Smashwords didn't give me an ulcer.

Formatting my paperback edition was a matter of opening my final Doc file from The Night Train and replacing the contents (a chapter at a time) with the contents from Norton Road. Why? Because I had spent a lot of time getting The Night Train formatted the way I wanted it so it looked good in print, and I didn't want to have to try and remember all the changes I made to their template (I made several). It was time-consuming, but I hope I can get to the finished product with a single proof order. I'll know if I succeeded Thursday when the proof copy arrives.

One of the problems with formatting is that by the time I get the next novel written I've forgotten most of what I knew about it. It's almost like starting over. Thankfully, tools like Scrivener and Calibre make it possible for someone like me who hates reading help files.

Tell me your formatting stories.

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