Thursday, May 22, 2014

Formatting an eBook: The Value and Vulnerability of DIY

I took a short, but necessary break from the blog to begin formatting my book for publication as an ebook.  What was supposed to just be a weekend long break ended up with me sick and feeling rundown by Sunday.  It probably has something to do with the early mornings and late nights I spent working out all of the kinks for formatting the book.  Probably. Even so, I can't admit that my wife is right and that I've worked myself into the ground.  Again.  Note: as you read this post, I am probably sleeping on the couch tonight.  I'll likely delude myself into believing that I'm sacrificing for the sake of my craft. I can live with that.

What I can't live with is mediocrity.  No one should.  This is especially true when it comes to publishing one's own book.  Whether you view your carefully crafted manuscript as your child or just another beloved possession, at the end of the day it's something you created after a lot of hard work.  Regardless, there's still plenty of hard work ahead of you in order to put your story in front of your readers.  If you're planning to publish your book for a digital audience, that means your manuscript is going to have to be formatted.  There are two trains of thought when it comes to formatting: do it yourself (DIY), or pay someone else (i.e. a professional) to do it for you.

The value behind anything that's a DIY is threefold: the internal satisfaction of having accomplished something yourself; the new skill sets and/or knowledge you inevitably acquire (usually from making mistakes); and the potential savings in terms of costs and/or labor.  Fixing or building something yourself is a rewarding experience in itself and, let's face it, tends to instill a sense of pride in one's work.  Think about anytime you've built that deck addition to your back porch, sewed a costume for Halloween, or were able to make a major repair to something in the house.  You may have hated it while you were in the thick of the project, yet felt great about having accomplished it in the end.  It's the same thing with formatting an ebook.  It's not fun, it can be very frustrating, but looking at that first "preview" of the formatted text feels amazing.

Another thing to keep in mind if you decide to go DIY with ebook formatting is that you will learn a lot about the process.  For some folks, especially those with a background in HTML coding, the process will likely come a bit more easily than those of us (read: me) who've barely got a rudimentary background in coding.  Fortunately and unfortunately, there's a wealth of information online about how to format an ebook for the various platforms (i.e. Kindle and non-Kindle) for those writing their manuscript in Word.  For example, just about every blog and resource out there drives home the message that extra "hard returns" and failing to use page breaks will play havoc with the formatting.  However, when it comes to figuring out how to properly format the indentation for the first line of a new paragraphs, things can get very confusing very fast.  After following a few online blogs on the subject, I thought everything was formatted perfectly: wrong.  My first line (left side) indents were running into the middle of the page when I checked the formatted manuscript through the previewer.  After some trial and error, I realized the following: highlight the text you're currently working with; select "Normal" for styles to strip all of the extra formatting in Word; right click and select "Paragraph"; leave the alignment to "left"; under "indentation," leave left and right at zero, under "special" select "first line."  At this point you'll want to play around with the numbers: generally something between .3 and .4 seem to work fine.   If you add numbers to the "left" field immediately underneath "indentation," your indents will run halfway across the page.

By formatting your ebook yourself, you will likely save yourself several hundred dollars.  Formatting ebooks for indie authors has become a thriving business over the years and there are several great companies out there.  Most of the companies do a good job of giving you an upfront idea of how much formatting will cost.  If you're running on a small budget or none at all, professional ebook formatting might not be an option.  This means, then, that you'll have to be committed to learning the ins and outs of formatting and put in the time and effort to ensure your book is properly formatted.  If you're on a limited budget, you'll have to make the call: spend the money on copy editing or formatting?

The question is, then, what is the real benefit to using a professional formatting service?  Arguably it gives you peace of mind in knowing that the job was done right.  My wife would probably argue that it: would have freed up my Saturday and Sunday; kept me from getting sick; guaranteed that I would have had more posts on the blog; started working on the framework to the sequel for "Of Murder and Monsters," and taken her out to dinner.  She's probably right.  The fact that she says this all with a wink and a smile is reassurance enough that she gets what I'm trying to do.  Prior to trying to tacking the formatting myself, going with a professional formatting service seemed like the only way to go.  Now I realize that it's an option that is available, which means I get to make the choice on which way to go with a particular project.  Maybe next time I'm under a serious time crunch and just can't put in the time to format the next book myself.  Then a professional service would absolutely make sense.  Otherwise, if you've got the time and feel comfortable enough to hold back publishing until you're convinced you've formatted your book properly, the DIY route can be a rewarding project.  

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