by John Low
So… you have finished writing your book, and now you would like to publish it as an eBook. You have decided that you want to contract out the formatting, but are confused as to exactly what it is that formatting companies need from you. In this article, this will be clarified for you.
What is eBook Formatting?
What, exactly, is eBook formatting? eBook formatting is the process of turning a manuscript file (like a Word document) into a digital format that can be published as an eBook.
The Difference between eBooks and Prints Books
The first thing to understand is that eBooks are different from print books. Understanding these differences will help you to understand what formatting companies need from you in the form of a digital file and why.
The single most important difference is that print books have static layouts, whereas eBooks have dynamic layouts. This is because most eBooks are formatted with “reflowable” text.
Reflowable text has the ability to automatically wrap words in a document to the next line as the user changes the window or screen size. You will have already seen reflowable text at work on websites.
Because the eBook text “flows” to adjust to the size of the screen, eBooks do not have pages per se, as in a print book. Since they do not have pages, they do not have page numbers. As such, one cannot use page numbers as a means of navigating and referencing in a table of contents or index. (Another reason not to use Createspace to generate your eBook file, as Laurie Boris wrote.)
Since an eBook does not have page numbers, there is a table of contents that is hyperlinked to the individual chapters and/or sections of the book. Footnotes, which are found at the bottom of a page in a print book, become “end notes” in an eBook.
To ensure the predictability of placement with reflowable text, images should be in line with the text, and centered. Many eReaders (at this time) do not accept charts, tables and columns, so these must be converted into an image.
In an eBook, in newer models of eReaders, the reader can set the font type and size, as well as the sentence spacing – so long as the font has not been embedded during formatting. For this reason, an eBook should be formatted using only one font type.
This explanation of some of difference between print books and eBooks with reflowable text will help you understand a formatter’s requirements.
Preparing your document for formatting
The next step is to decide where you want to publish. This will decide the type of file you require, as well as the formatting requirements. (Lynne Cantwell covered the different publishing platforms here.)
The following are general guidelines for those submitting their books to a formatter so that they can be formatted to be read on most eReaders. If you are submitting your book to be formatted for a specific eReader model, then the requirements will be more specific, or some of the following may not apply.
Be sure that you send the complete and absolutely final version of your book for formatting. Most formatters do not proofread or edit your book. This file should preferably be a Microsoft Word doc/docx file. Your book should be in one file (i.e., not broken down into separate files for each chapter). Most formatters will accept other file formats, but this should be confirmed with them. Many formatters will not work from PDF files and if they do, there may be an additional cost.
Your book should have a complete title page, with a title, subtitle (if applicable) and author(s) name(s).
The next page should be the copyright page. This page should have, at the minimum, copyright (year), and author(s) name(s).
If your eBook has any “unusual” symbols, they should be exchanged for regular characters, made into images, or removed, because they will possibly become question marks if the eReader device or app does not have them in its “font bank.” At the very least, you should advise the formatter of these symbols.
Depending on the publishing platforms you choose, you may have to remove any references to other eBook retailers (e.g., links to your eBook on Amazon, B&N, etc.). Some publishers/retailers will not accept your book if it has links to other sales outlets.
You may need to submit your cover with your book as some publishers require that the cover be inserted into the file that is to be uploaded to their site.
Check that your chapters headings are correct, consecutive and consistent (e.g., Chapter 1, 2, 3, etc., not Chapter 1, CHAPTER 2, Chapter 4, chapter five, etc.). Inconsistencies become glaringly evident if the eReader displays an NCX. The NCX is the navigation bar that exists “outside” your book, not to be confused with the linked table of contents that exists “inside” your eBook. (Consistency is important, as Melissa Bowersock discusses here.)
Check for “Text Boxes” in your document. If there is text in text boxes, the text should be “cut” from the text box and “pasted” into the text body because many eReaders will not display text in text boxes.
If your book has tables, they may need to be converted to images, as many eReaders do not display tables.
Your text should be black, as coloured text can be difficult or impossible to read on some eReaders.
Self-publishing is a multi-step process. Formatting is just one step in this process. If you hire someone to help you with the formatting, understanding the formatter’s requirements will help the process go smoothly and prevent any surprises.
John Low is the founder of EBook Launch. EBook Launch is an eBook and print on demand formatting and cover design company. You can learn more about them at http://www.eBooklaunch.com