Formatting for Smashwords

ImageFormatting your book before sending it up to be chewed and spit out by the meatgrinder at Smashwords takes time, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

I’m new at writing, editing, and formatting, and I freely admit to making sensational mistakes as I try to figure everything out, but as my last three books went up without a hitch, I’m simply going to try to show/tell you what I do that makes surviving the meatgrinder and passing the AutoVetter easy.

The information is only 1300 words, but with the illustrations, it’s quite long, so I didn’t want to put the entire thing in a blog post. It’s in a .pdf file.

If you are formatting a simple book with front matter, a linked table of contents, text with nothing more than bold, italics, underline, etc., and back matter – a simple, straightforward book – then you can use this guide for formatting:

Easy Formatting for Smashwords

You might wonder why I put the time into this. Well, it will make it easier for me in the future. I do get tired of scrolling through the Style Guide on my Nook to find the sections that pertain to formatting my book(s).

Also, my new friend, a fellow Ohioan, Marcus Matherne at Voices in His Head blog, wrote a funny book and paid someone to format it for him. He asked if I had any tips, and I told him I had been thinking about a blog post pertaining to formatting.

So there you have it. Boring blog post, but maybe it will help someone.

Disclaimer: If you follow my formatting instructions and you didn’t back up a copy of your book first, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Whacky Formatting and A Sales Report

When I published my books, I checked crucial formats that came out of Smashwords’ meatgrinder. Everything looked good in html, pdf, and epub. It wasn’t until I later downloaded Kindle for PC that I saw the first book (Sunshine Hunter) in the the mobi format for Kindle was pretty whack. There were quite a few pages in italics and several sections in bold. Even as I go back and look at my formatting, I can’t find these gremlins. The only solution would be to go nuclear by removing all formatting with Notepad and redo the formatting.

Then I would have to REPUBLISH!! I am not sending that book up again. Especially since it’s fine everywhere but the mobi file, and most people would buy that format directly from Amazon anyway.

I didn’t use Smashwords for distribution on Amazon, so the books I uploaded there don’t have any of those irritations. At least one has some crazy big chapter headings, and a few other minor issues, but nothing to warrant republishing.

When I’m finished with my fourth book, I’m going to strip out all the formatting and get rid of any gremlins. I probably won’t need to do it as I think I’m getting better at using Word, but I do NOT want to go running and screaming down that republishing road again. I’d rather take the extra time and make sure everything is right.

On a separate note, we are day three into our ten-day vacation at home … and we are already exhausted. 🙂 We love having our house guest and other visitors, but aren’t used to activity all day long. I’ve tried to sneak a little time away at the computer, but haven’t been very successful. One of our visitors works at a Starbucks in Texas, and I slipped some business cards to her with my first book and my website advertised on them. She said she will make sure to tell her co-workers and friends about the books. Every little bit helps.

It will be a while before I find out if any books have sold at Barnes & Noble. I don’t have any way to know until they report to Smashwords. To my knowledge, since the first book was published on Smashwords and Amazon on May 12, my sales through June have been 38 books. This pleases me because I read where one successful self-publisher had only made about seven dollars in their first six months of self-publishing, and they had more books than I do. Things took off later for them.

I don’t know if my books will ever “take off,” but I like when I see that a purchase is made on the first book, and then a day or two later, purchases show up simultaneously on the second and third. I like to think someone liked the first book and has come back to grab the next two. Hopefully, they will grab the fourth as well.

Recalculating … Republish!

After I found the Smashwords site, I downloaded Mark Coker’s Style Guide. The book “offers simple step-by-step instructions to create, format and publish an ebook.” I took the time to read it front to back.

The night I decided to do the formatting, I sat with the guide opened in my Nook and went page by page until I came to sections that pertained to me. I took their advice and changed the style to first-line indents. I turned on the show/hide for paragraphs and formatting and made a fast pass through the book. I was surprised to see that I had several forced page returns rather than a simple return indicating the end of a paragraph.

It wasn’t noted in the style guide, but after perusing sites regarding formatting, I happened upon a discussion of one space or two after a sentence. The resounding opinion, especially from editors, was one space. My default has always been two, and it’s going to take a long time to break that habit, so I had to do a find/replace on two spaces to one space.

There was one section where it very clearly stated DO NOT USE both first line indents and the block style. It was even repeated and noted as one of the most common errors made. I was good there because I had already set up the first-line indents.

The step-by-step guide to building the linked Table of Contents was great. Even though a bit time-consuming, it was easy and turned out right the first time. After that, it was simple to add the front matter, information about upcoming books at the end, and embed a cover picture at the beginning.

It was time. I was going to publish my first eBook. I filled out all the necessary information, held my breath, and pushed the button. I could see it going through the Smashwords meatgrinder. Everything was great and all conversions made, but the AutoVetter had a problem. My heart sank.

The notice said I used both first-line indents and the block style. If Microsoft Word wasn’t so foreign to me, maybe it would have been easier, but I finally found that I hadn’t changed the after (paragraph) spacing to 0. I made the changes and hit REPUBLISH. Everything was fine now.

Until my husband looked at the sample a few days later and found an error just a few pages in! The word “looked” should have been “look.” A spell-checker wouldn’t have found it, and proofreaders glossed over it as well. REPUBLISH! A week later I found an error in the description for the book. A word in the title was changed, and I forgot to change it in the description. REPUBLISH!

Sunshine Hunter was republished four times before I left the poor thing alone. It finally made its way into the Smashwords premium catalog and is slowly being distributed to their outlets.

Formatting was easier than I thought it would be. I’m grateful Mark Coker put a book out there to assist authors, and I’m especially grateful for the link that reads: Upload New Version.