Rule Zero of Self-publishing

A while ago, I wrote about the Ten Home Truths of Starting in Self-publishing

It seems I forgot something that is so basic that I more or less assumed that everyone would know this:

Learn how to format a book.

Sub-rule number one:

Learn what the formatting conventions are for your genre. For the basics, you don’t need a course or how-to guide or any other hocus-pocus. All you need is to pull a book off the shelf. Copy its formatting. It’s not that hard, right?

Most specifically:

– A book has indented first paragraphs (fiction) or empty lines between paragraphs (non-fiction). Not both
– Indents are about 5mm. Not 20 or 25 (this is the standard Word provides)
– Paragraphs are left-justified with the ‘fix ragged margins’ option turned on. This provides a neat right-hand margin while keeping sentences with just a couple of words together.

Sub-rule number two:

Pleaseplease get yourself some decent software to do all this stuff. In the previous post, I spoke of investment in your book. This should be your first investment. GET SOME DECENT SOFTWARE! I see people struggling with OpenOffice or other free shit that just can’t handle the demands, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Take note of the second half of that sentence. If you’re a layout whizz or a computer whizz (or willing to spend a lot of time), sure you can get many of the free programs to do the job, because you know what it is supposed to do.

If you don’t, just FFS spend a few bucks and get some software.

Converting manuscripts to ebooks with InDesign CS5.5

The above is what I’ve been doing for the past week or so, and I’d like to post a few pointers about what I’ve learned. Feel free to comment.

1. Start with a really clean document.

Ever since I used earlier versions of Simon Haynes’ yWriter (which only used ASCII text), I’ve appreciated the value of adding no formatting whatsoever in my Word manuscripts. No formatting means no chapter headings, no fonts/spacing/paragraphing/anything other than the default. No tabs. No space before/after. No formatting means no italics. I type my italics _like this_. You’ll see the enormous value of this kinda weird habit later.

2. Do not (on the pain of death) import a document into InDesign.

Copy & paste instead. Yes, InDesign can read RTF and even DOC files. Yes, it even displays your formatting correctly. BUT ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE when you try to convert to EPUB. The tendency of InDesign to crash on this action is not something just I experienced, but something I saw reported all over forums as well. Don’t import these files into your InDesign document. At best, they’ll give you weird formatting each time you use an apostrophe or quote mark.

3. Learn how to use InDesign properly

Define master pages, define text and paragraph styles. Copy and paste your entire document into InDesign (this gets rid of any formatting including italics, so this is where the underscores come in handy). Use the text reflow function to place the text in one long set of threaded frames. If you don’t know how to do these things, learn them.

4. Don’t format anything in InDesign manually

This one is very counter-intuitive, especially if you’ve used the crunch engines at Smashwords or Amazon.
If you want empty lines, do this with the space before/after feature in one of your styles, for example chapter headings. You’ll end up with a few paragraph styles that may look something like this:
body text first line indented
body text first line not indented
asterisks (for the scene breaks; here you can define space before and after)

You’ll also end up with some character styles:
hypertext (blue and underlined)

Now go through the text using the search & replace functions to convert the text between the underscores into italics using the above character style and get rid of the underscores.

5. Two tables of contents

Use the InDesign menu to create a table of contents, using the Heading style (or whatever you called it) to be included in the TOC. If you define the TOC style and save it, you can then tick a box in the EPUB generation process that will make a nice TOC in the side panel. EPUB will ignore the InDesign-generated TOC if you place it in the text itself.

To get a TOC in the text intself (for devices like phones that don’t have a side screen capability), you will need to create the TOC, place it somewhere on a dummy page, delete it using control-X, and then copy it into the text frame series at the spot where you want it. Now you have just a plain text, unlinked TOC, and you have to play with the hyperlinks feature in the InDesign file to link headings and TOC entries. This works much as it does in Word.

6. No spaces in the file name

Some ereader devices won’t open file names with spaces, so don’t add any.

7. DRM

If you tick ‘copyrighted’ in the EPUB generation, the file will have DRM. Up to you to decide how many people you want to annoy. Stanza won’t read your file if you have DRM. Also be sure to un-tick the ‘include embeddable fonts’ box.

8. Cover image

Add your cover image at the front on a separate page not linked to the text. As well, add the cover image file name in the EPUB creation process. For Kindle, you’ll have to delete the image in the file itself. If you’re doing your cover image yourself you can read this for some pointers.

9. Kindle

Amazon distributes an InDesign plugin to make MOBI files. It seems to work kinda-OK from my perspective, testing with the Kindle viewer and Kindle for PC. I’ve never been able to get the ncx view to work, not even in my Amazon-generated files. I’m not sure what this feature adds. ETA: I’ve managed to make NCX view work, but I’m still not sure what it adds.

10. Stanza (= beware your file may not work everywhere)

There are entire forums dedicated to EPUB creation for this seriously dumbwitted piece of software. In theory, a normal EPUB should work. In practice, a file will display beautifully in Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions and a host of other devices and programs, but will refuse to work in Stanza. Fixes suggest editing the code manually. An EPUB file is a zipped collection of XHTML files, so if you give the file a .ZIP extension, you can open it in Notepad and change the code, re-zip and rename to EPUB. By which time ADE won’t read it anymore. So yeah, the creation of ebooks has a long way yet to go before it reaches any kind of consensus about standards.

Anyway, the file I’ve been making, my free short story collection, can be downloaded here. I’d love people to test them, because it’s impossible to test every device.