How to Publish a Book, Part Three (eBook Conversion)

You’ve written your book. The editor has gone through it, your friends have gone through it, you’ve been through it a bazillion times, and you’ve practically rewritten the whole darn thing. It’s finally time to get it published!

This is where you need to make a decision, if you haven’t yet: Will you publish a traditional paperback book, or an eBook?

To me, this is not an either/or question. Why limit yourself to one? Some people prefer eBooks: they are incredibly easy to download, and considering they cost nothing to print, can be sold cheaply. You’d be crazy not to have one. But other people prefer paperbacks, will only get a book when it’s available in that format, and you’d be crazy not to cater to those people too. Plus, nothing beats that very special feeling you get when you hold your very first book in your hands.

So I suggest you do what I did and offer both options. However, you can’t do both at the same time and have to pick one over the other. Which one? The Kindle book. The reason for this is simple: First, Amazon is likely going to be your biggest market, and second, converting your book to Kindle format is fairly straightforward.

Strip the Text

The following instructions assume you are using Microsoft Word. If you typed your book on another platform, these instructions might not be as easy to follow but I assume the basic tenets are the same. However, since the conversion to Kindle seems to work perfectly fine with a Word file, you might want to use it in any case.

Right now you will curse the powers that be for not telling you an important secret much earlier: When you wrote your book, you should have written it in as plain text as possible, without hardly any formatting. Because a lot of that fancy Word formatting goes crazy when you upload your book to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and messes up your entire layout. Instead of formatting all your headings and all your paragraphs just how you want them, you absolutely have to use styles. If you don’t know how to use them, I suggest you treat yourself to a Microsoft Word tutorial of some sort. Or, alternatively, get Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing by Catherine Ryan Howard. She told me all there was to know.

You’ll need a style called “normal” for your paragraphs, single spaced, first line indent of 0.3 or so. You’ll need a second style for your very first paragraph in a section or chapter, in which you don’t indent the first line – this is just an agreed-upon style for most books. Your headings should be Heading 1, 2, and 3, each defined as their own styles, which has the added benefit that you can create a table of contents with them automatically (more on that later). Choose a fairly simple font, like Times Roman size 10 or 11, with larger sizes for the headings. If you want to center the headings, do so via the styles as well. Everything should have a style. For the love of god, stay away from tabs. Also try to stay away from fancy stuff like drop caps or images for the first letter in a chapter, and don’t add an index to your book. It has the potential to drive you crazy, and seeing as you will be driven crazy soon enough when it comes to your paperback and page numbering, do yourself a favor and avoid it at this point. The good news is, you won’t need any page numbers for the Kindle.

Another piece of good news: I immensely enjoyed the formatting, and so might you. Which is a good thing, because otherwise I’d have had to pay someone north of $2,000 to do it for me. On the one side, it’s a fairly mindless process. You don’t have to engage in much differentiated thinking to format your ebook, but it is also a process for which you need all your wits about you, because even one little slip-up can get you sidetracked for hours, if not days. So you best do it when you have big chunks of time ahead of you.

Add Images and Front Matter

If your book has images, reduce them down to a manageable size, like 600 x 400 pixels, and insert them in the appropriate places with the “insert picture” function. I converted mine to black and white, as that is what they will look like on the Kindle, to keep the file size manageable. I’m not sure how images are handled on the Kindle Fire, i.e. whether uploading color images makes them appear in color on the Fire. That is something you might need to explore. My guess is not. Kindle ebooks, I think, look pretty much the same on all the different devices. Also, if the quality of your images is too low, you will be alerted before you publish so that you can change those to higher quality.

If you have a Kindle, I suggest you look inside a few of the books on there and check out the very first page past the cover. It’s called the Front Matter, and it needs a few pieces of information, such as the title, your name, the words “Kindle Edition,” the copyright symbol and publication date, and a copyright notice. I also used the space to list my author website and credit my cover designer and editors. This is what it looks like in Kilimanjaro Diaries:

 

frontmatter

At the end of your book, you might want to add the words THE END. I also added a short “About the author” blurb here and another link to my website, as well as a bibliography and acknowledgements, the part where you get to thank everybody for being such great supporters of you while writing the book (when in truth all you can give them credit for is for staying out of your way while you retreated from the world for a few months).

To get an idea what your Kindle book should more or less look like, you can check out my Kindle ebook Kilimanjaro Diaries on Amazon and  click on the Look Inside button.

Table of Contents

Whether you need a table of contents or not might depend on the type of your book. If it’s a novel, it probably doesn’t need one. But if it’s non-fiction, like mine, I recommend that you have one. If only to let people browse through your book with the “look inside” function to see what’s in there and whether they really want to spend money on it. Creating good chapter headings that inform but also entertain is a skill that takes a little bit of work to develop. I kind of like what I came up with for some of my chapters, like “Day Four: Traffic Jam in the Death zone.” You can actually have fun with this.

If you write an instructive book, it’s good to have a little bit of detail here so that people looking for help in that particular field can see at first glance if the answers they seek will be in there. Let’s say you write a book on weight loss and one of your chapter headings is “3 Steps to Lose 10 Pounds in a Week Guaranteed” then I’m sure you will get some converts just based on that. However, don’t go overboard. Don’t make your table of contents 5 pages long. Why? It’s simple: Amazon selects a certain percentage of your book for the “look inside” function. If you fill all that up with the front matter and table of contents, there won’t be space for any actual content of your book. And I don’t know about you, but to me the single biggest part of convincing me to buy a book is reading a random few pages and deciding whether I like the writing style or not. Whether the book entertains and makes me laugh, and is written well.

What you REALLY have to do is create a live table of contents for your Kindle. This is very easy if you let Word create your table of contents for  you. Go to the page right before the first chapter, and select “table of contents” from the “reference” menu. Select the kind you want, and voila, you got your table of contents. (That is, if you listened to me earlier and used the style menu for your chapter headings; then they will automatically be recognized as chapters for your table of contents. If you didn’t listen to me, well… in that case ask my children; they have great experience with not listening to me.) When you now click on any of the chapter headings in the table of contents, it will be hyperlinked to that chapter in your document.

If you’ve instead typed your table of contents by hand, you need to make it “live.”  This is important, because when people use the “go to” function on the Kindle, you want them to jump directly to the chapter of their choice instead of having to page through. Go to your table of contents in Word, the one you just typed, highlight the first chapter heading, then go to “insert” and “hyperlink.” On the left, select “place in this document” and you should get a list of all your chapter headings. Pick the corresponding one, and repeat for each chapter heading.

Now, pour yourself a glass of wine. You’ve gotten a big part of the work out of the way. Next up, you get to publish! Stay tuned.

P.S.: If all this sounds overwhelming to you, feel free to contact me for a quote to prepare your book for Kindle formatting!

This post is part of the series “How to Publish a Book”. See the entire series:

2 comments

  1. I had to convert a manuscript this way for the e-publisher who bought my latest book. It was a tedious job, and yes, you have to be careful and have lots of time with no interruptions or you go nuts. It also dealt with how they wanted spaces and dashes and that sort of thing, and no extra spaces behind periods at the end of the last sentence of a paragraph. Once you know it, writing your next book is much simpler!

    • I agree Miss Footloose – you absolutely have to write a second book to make use of all the things you learned in the first. It will be so much easier. Kind of like the first crepe in the pan never really comes out so well, and then the second is better and easier to flip:-) I cannot WAIT for that phase to arrive for book #2!

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