Formatting E-Books Is Like Mud Wrestling

I’ve published four books now, and did the formatting on all of them.  Through repetition, I’ve gotten the hang of it, and even started pre-formatting my drafts so I wouldn’t have to strip it and start over later.  There are also some great guides out there, such as the Smashwords Style Guide.  If you’re looking to format your own books, this is a great place to start.  The basics are the same for everywhere, though some things, such as page breaks, will vary according to website.

Recently, I purchased Legend Maker for Macs, a program that will convert my files to e-books for me.  I must say, I am loving it.  Again, the basics from the Smashwords Guide are still required, and the most significant difference is how to signal a page break.

Here’s the thing, though.  No matter how many times I do it, no matter how many different ways, formatting e-books is like mud wrestling.  It’s tricky and slippery, and no one comes out clean.  It never fails; even if everything in the Word doc looks exactly as it’s supposed to and you’ve followed the directions to the letter, once you hit “convert,” something goes screwy.  Why did my center text move right?  Why is there an extra paragraph space when the scene hasn’t ended?

When I formatted Dreamwalker, I converted it six times before the final version came out looking as it was supposed to.  The first one with Amazon links came out perfect, but the duplicate with B&N links came out funky.  I can’t explain it.  Except to say the computer gremlins came out to throw poo at me.

And that was using Legend Maker.  Despite using Smashwords’s instructions (yes, they’re not infallible), their conversion didn’t recognize my page breaks at all.  And the last time I let Amazon convert my files, the margins ended up squished.

Formatting is dirty, stinky work.  So the next time you’re reading an e-book and something looks off, it’s possible it was an error on the part of the author/formatter.  Or it’s just a little leftover mud from the techno gremlins declaring dominance.  After all, isn’t that how we used to think the world would end—computers taking over?  I know that’s been replaced with the zombie apocalypse, so perhaps our technology is feeling a little slighted.

What tasks, no matter how good you get at them, never go smoothly?  I love hearing from you!

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21 comments on “Formatting E-Books Is Like Mud Wrestling

  1. That is probably the biggest reason that I’m going to try to go traditional – just so I don’t have to format my own ebooks! I’ve tried putting my documents on my Nook, and each paragraph will be a different font, or there will be paragraphs missing. Even when I save as a PDF and it looks fine on my computer >.<

    If I ever decide to self-publish I'll pay you to format my books for me 😉

    • Yup, there’s always something. I wish you all the luck with the trad route, Becka, but if you do end up needing someone to format and convert, I am at your service. Perhaps the tech gremlins and I will come to an arrangement by then. 😉

  2. Susan A. says:

    I admit it. That grimlin is really me crawling through the web and messing up ebooks anywhere I can. I even hit the trad author books sometimes! It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

    🙂 <———– sweet, innocent, angelic face

  3. This is something I’m not looking forward to learning. I might have to call upon my fabulous friends (YOU!) to help out when the time comes. Being the technodork that I am, even reading this post gives me heart palpitations.

    What task never goes smoothly? Parenting. 😉

  4. I’m in awe, Angela. Truly. Like Tameri, I can feel the palpitations begin just thinking about doing that.

    • I think if it was just one version to format and be done, it wouldn’t be so bad. But if you want to send it to multiple retailers directly, you have to convert a version for each. Uy.

  5. Stacy Green says:

    Ugh. I’m going indie with my second book, and I dread this part. I seriously think it’s worth the fee to have a good formatter do it for you. Kudos to you for having the patience to do it yourself!

    • I can’t remember how many hours I spent on my first one. To think that was a little over a year ago! But if it still took me that long, I’d probably want to pay someone else to do it too.

  6. Emma says:

    I hate ebook formatting, especially for Smashwords. I use the tab key constantly so having to back through 50,000 words or so and remove all the instances where I’ve used it is horrible. Moan over 🙂

  7. I’ve been seriously considering self-publishing lately, and so now I’m trying to decide if I’m capable of formatting my own work. I want it to look professional, but it’s so expensive to hire someone else to do it. I may have to pick your brain as the time gets closer. Your ebooks look great, so you must be doing it right even if it takes a few tries.

    • Thanks, Marcy! I’m glad people can tell my ebooks look professional, as I try really hard. I’d be happy to give you tips if you go that route. 🙂 Maybe I should make it a blog post.

  8. Like you, I set the formatting at the beginning based on Smashwords guide but now I use Scrivener for drafting so I’ll have to see how Scrivener effects formatting after compiling the document. I have to agree with Marcy, your eBooks look very professional!

  9. Oh yeah, I know about formatting gremlins. I use InDesign to format my books, but then I still need to open the file up in Sigil to edit the html. It can all be a real headache. Of course I’m just geeky enough to enjoy the work. Lol. Maybe someday it’ll be just an easy click of a button.

  10. […] post by Angela Wallace on how formatting an e-book is like mud wrestling. I’ll definitely think less critically when reading a book on my […]

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