When I started writing about book editing I never thought my posts would be so viral. I quickly realized why. Nobody was talking about the stage of self-publishing between finishing your Word manuscript and uploading it to an e-book conversion system such as the auto-conversion at Createspace or Smashwords.
Instead, self-publishers have to roam the Internet and download a million guides to try and figure out why text is not appearing as it should, why margins are wonky, and why paragraphs are moving all over the place when they upload their document to make a digital copies. These problems have not been properly addressed in the self-publishing world, and the reason is because there is no simple automated process to prepare a book for the conversion process.
Self-publishers have been resigned to the fact they have had to depend on conversion services, and the mystery behind the conversion process itself remains a disparate tour of web tips and advice sites hinting at all the problems and issues one can run into during this delicate stage of the operation.
It shouldn’t really be a thing, should it? We should be able to upload a perfectly good Word doc and it should become an e-book. But it does not.
As usual, authors get frustrated and blame their tools. But as the old adage says, it’s very much a case of passing the blame onto perfectly good resources instead of learning how to use them properly.
What do I mean by this? I mean the fact that Word is thoroughly ubiquitous and 100% able to produce an e-book without any conversion “magic.” I mention Joel Friedlander’s savvy interior templates as one way of dealing with this, but there’s also a shift in thinking that needs to occur to get this right.
Word does not behave in the same way a typewriter does. You cannot bang enter several times to make spacing between sections, as digital books cannot view the space and deduct you meant you wanted blank space. You cannot tab happily along to create indents, as digital books cannot read these keys. In order to create digital documents, you have to learn to type differently. You have to learn that a digital book carries not one file, but two, one that contains your text and one that contains your styling. Both must make sense in order for your e-book to work properly.
In the same way I spent the “noughties” advising my SEO clients in London to “build from nothing up” to encompass the vast amount of good practice techniques needed to create a marketing-buoyant web portal to attract conversions and sales, I am now advising book creators to do the same. Retro-fitting is so over, people.
What I mean by retro-fitting is going back over your document and changing everything to account for how an e-book is processed and displayed. This is annoying, and boring. It takes time.
When we write books nowadays, I propose we write in a digital way, because your main seller, like it or not, will be the e-book version. This means following styling rules set out very kindly by the people at Microsoft Office in Word, and setting paragraphs and formats. Word even has a really quick way of setting your linkable Table of Contents.
I wrote this 101 guide to help you out in these “between two chairs” moments when you find yourself clamoring for information. It’s all there in under 100 pages, plus a handy quick-zip grammar guide for a speedy edit. I included the most common mistakes over the years so that you can double check your work before publishing it. I’ve included a really cheatsheet-sized version of digital editing in Word, too, which, although I obviously would not recommend you skip paying a professional, you can use to self-edit your work before releasing it to the reading world.
Remember Amazon is a privately-owned shop, and if you want to practice good quality assurance and guarantee higher results in ranking and search, having a well-formed product is one of the keys that Amazon has said it uses when displaying products to customers.
I hope to write another book soon about ranking and sales algorithms. Let me know in comments if you have any requests!