ePub Formatting: What You Need To Know (Part 2)

If you missed part 1 of Deb Dorchak’s fantastic guest post yesterday, check it out before continuing.

Formatting Your Word Document

To format your Word document, you’re going to have to get used to using the manual procedure instead of the convenience provided by the toolbar. The upside of this is once you have a specific document set up for your manuscript you can save it as a template to use over and over without formatting everything each time you want to write a new novel or chapter.

To start, create a new Word doc file for each section of your book. This includes the front matter (your copyright and publisher information, ISBN), acknowledgements, introduction, prologue and each individual chapter. I mentioned above that ePubs don’t recognize page breaks. eReaders are all about flow and work the same way as a web page. They’ll scroll through a whole file in one long line without any breaks. The only way to get or make a forced break is when the HTML files inside that ePub zip file come to a new HTML file.

Now, with your fresh new Word document opened, you’re going to start putting in the types of formats you need. To do this go to Formats > Styles and Formatting. Click on that and a window will open up. In it you’ll see some basic formats already (Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, etc.)

The “Normal” setting is for the body of your content. This is for all your regular paragraphs. In it you’ll set your paragraph indents, spacing and font style.

Next you want to add formatting for your chapter headings. Since most eReaders disregard fonts and use their own, you can use Heading 1 for your chapter headings. So each time you start a new chapter and give it a title, you will highlight that line of text and then click on Heading 1 in your Styles and Formatting window. The text will automatically change according to your settings.

Now, to create the other basic formats like “Bold” or “Italics“, type out a single line of text and highlight it. Click on the Bold button in the toolbar. You should see a new format show up in your Formatting sidebar. From now on when you want something bolded in your content, you will click on that format to make it so. Continue to do the same for italics, underlines, bullet points if you are using them in your book.

In short, if you’re changing or adding a new format to your document, you want to have a style for it in the sidebar with the other formats and use only that as you write. This is what’s going to keep your Word doc as clean as possible for your designer.

Once you have all your formats set up, save the blank document as a template. On my computer I have it saved as “6x9_trade” because it’s set up with everything I need for doing a trade paperback or hardcover.

Not Just for ePubs

The process of setting up formats and styles in Word docs goes beyond getting them ready for an ePub. Printed novels and PDF ebooks also begin the same way, with just a few differences:

  • Unlimited Fonts: for print and PDF you’re not limited to only web friendly fonts. These are the fonts that come installed with every computer. If your computer does not have a certain type of font, it will substitute the closest one. Print files are bundled with the required font for any given book. The printer installs them on their computer if they don’t have it already and work with the layout files that way. For PDF, the fonts are embedded into the file and therefore show up as they should no matter what computer you open them on.
  • Images: ePubs have a difficult time with inserting images and wrapping text around them. There are a few adjustments needed in the HTML version of the ePub files that need to be made in order to do that and it involves some basic knowledge in coding. Similar to the embedded fonts, a PDF also embeds the images, like text wrapped images, background images and so on. One important point to remember when using images in your print or PDF book is to include the images in hi-resolution as jpgs in a separate folder you send to your designer. Images cannot be pulled from a Word document and set up into an InDesign file. When an image is placed in InDesign, it links to that specific image in the InDesign final bundle. High resolution is important in case your designer has to reduce or enlarge the original image to fit the layout. It’s alright to put the images in the Word doc for placement only (FPO).
  • Interactivity: Many PDFs allow you to click on hyperlinks (live links within the document), or on graphic images to take you to other pages or sites on the web. Right now, hyperlinks are the only form of interactivity you can use in an ePub with any kind of accuracy. Creating live linked images is still labor intensive for the designer and again requires coding knowledge to get them to work in the ePub file. Adobe Acrobat Pro has special tools that make this easy when you’re doing a straight PDF ebook.

Even though you have to go through a few extra steps to format your Word document, the results will be worth it. You will have a clean file ready for your designer to work with and trust me, your designer will thank you.

Deb Dorchak, the co-owner and Lead Designer of Blue Sun Studio, Inc./Sirius Graphix. Deb’s been a graphic designer for more than 25 years and an artist since she could hold a crayon. She’s worked in the graphics industry doing everything from newspaper and glossy magazine layout, to animation in Las Vegas’ largest and oldest sign company. Deb got her start in Illustration, and her passion for telling stories through images hasn’t wavered yet. She and her business partner, Wendi Kelly, have finished their first novel Bonds of Blood & Spirit: Loyalties, due to release late October 2010.

You can find more of Deb’s articles on design, writing, and publishing at Sirius Graphix, or follow her @SiriusGraphix on Twitter. If you’re an author who needs a new site, or book for print, PDF or ePub designed, send her and the team an email at info@bluesunstudio-inc.com.

ePub Formatting: What You Need To Know (Part 1)

Self publishing is a hot topic these days. Everywhere you look you’ll see the ongoing debate over which is better, print or digital. When it comes right down to it, only you can choose which media fits your needs.

Before you get to the point of publication, regardless of the medium, you have to know how to format your files properly. Formatting files is much more than writing out your novel in a Word document.

There’s a common misconception that a Word document can be easily converted to PDF or HTML file. What you don’t see when you do that kind of conversion is all the extra code Word adds to the invisible back end.

You may have experienced this effect if you’ve ever copy/pasted a post from Word into a WordPress site. If you open up a new post and paste a Word document into the Visual view you may notice some odd things happening to your text. Maybe the font changed, or the bullets aren’t lining up right, or you have breaks and indents where you don’t want them.

Switch over to the HTML view and you’ll see why. In that view you’ll see all the extra garbage Word adds to the document.

This extra code is what often makes book designers tear their hair out and why it’s so important that you format your Word document properly before handing it over to your designer – or attempting to do your own book layout.

Styles and Formats

Chances are your designer will be using a program like Adobe’s InDesign to layout your book. This is a high end program created specifically for laying out files for print, whether it’s a book, pamphlet or glossy magazine. It is also created for digital layouts the designer can convert to PDF or ePub (electronic publications).

When it comes to ePub, everything is reduced down to it’s most simplistic form. The media is still in it’s infancy, so incorporating things like images and interactivity still have a lot of bugs and don’t always transfer well when converted to the many ePub formats (Kindle, iPad, Sony, Nook, etc.).

The simplicity begins with your Word document and for this you are going to become very familiar with your “Styles and Formatting” (SF) button.

Usually when we write a Word document we don’t give SF a lot of thought. Want a bolded line of text? Click the “B” button in the toolbar. Want italics or indents? There are buttons for those, too.

Each time you click on one of those buttons, you’re creating a new style or format. Start to add bullet points, pull quotes, colored text or numbered lists, each with their own bold or italics, and the styles begin to add up.

By the time your designer gets this single file, there could be anywhere between a dozen to a hundred different styles and formats wrapped up in one Word doc.

Designer Meltdown

After the designer receives your Word doc, they will import the file into InDesign. When this is done, every single format and style you unwittingly created shows up in a style sheet within InDesign.

It’s meant to be a help, but when you’re dealing with ePubs, it’s a huge time sucker.

Here’s the thing I’ve discovered about ePubs: Less is more. Only a quarter of the formatting we have available to us in a Word document is used in a final ePub file. ePubs are far from the fancy, image laden PDFs we’ve been used to in the past. An ePub is the hybrid child of an HTML website, CSS and word processing.

The ePub files are delicate, picky creatures. Each ePub file is actually a type of Zip file, comprised of many separate HTML files like the different pages on a website. They don’t recognize a lot of spacing formats, like paragraph breaks and indents. They don’t like numbered lists, graphics or fancy pull quotes. Anything the ePub file doesn’t like, it will ignore or override in the reader. And above all, ePub files don’t recognize page breaks.

This is where making your Word document formatting as clean and basic as possible will help your designer and save you money on layout expenses. The less the designer has to strip out and clean up just to start, the more time they’ll have on laying out your pages.

Deb Dorchak, the co-owner and Lead Designer of Blue Sun Studio, Inc./Sirius Graphix. Deb’s been a graphic designer for more than 25 years and an artist since she could hold a crayon. She’s worked in the graphics industry doing everything from newspaper and glossy magazine layout, to animation in Las Vegas’ largest and oldest sign company. Deb got her start in Illustration, and her passion for telling stories through images hasn’t wavered yet. She and her business partner, Wendi Kelly, have finished their first novel Bonds of Blood & Spirit: Loyalties, due to release late October 2010.

You can find more of Deb’s articles on design, writing, and publishing at Sirius Graphix, or follow her @SiriusGraphix on Twitter. If you’re an author who needs a new site, or book for print, PDF or ePub designed, send her and the team an email at info@bluesunstudio-inc.com.

Editor’s Note: Deb shares more fantastic insights into formatting files for electronic publishing. Stay tuned for part two tomorrow. Subscribe right now so you don’t miss out.

Word Count: Murdering Your Darlings and King’s 10% Rule

Murder Your Darlings ~ Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” ~ Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1914)

First drafts tend to be unusually long winded. We write at length because it is the surest way to express those thoughts and impressions most profound. We over-describe. We add chatter. We include thinking words. In the process of writing a first draft we write with a freedom of expression that is uncensored and unfettered.

A first draft is NOT a final draft.

Recently, a client emailed me with a request to edit the first chapter of their first draft. I don’t recommend hiring an editor for your first draft. The story has barely begun to be formed after your first pass and it requires at least one (preferably two) more drafts before it should be handled by others. In this case, the fact that it was a first draft wasn’t the issue. The fact that it was an 11,000 word count first chapter was.

There are no hard and fast rules about how long a story should be. Even the standard guides aren’t concrete. A story is as long as it takes to tell the story. But there are conventions that we tend to follow to increase our odds of being read. Very few readers will be comfortable facing such lengthy chapters.

When Writing Long Is Writing Long-Winded

The best way to handle the obesity of that first draft is to follow Stephen King’s Ten Percent Rule. In 1966, when King was still in high school he received a rejection slip that offered profound advice for the young writer.1

“Not bad but puffy,” the editor wrote. “You need to review for length.”

That wise editor gave King a winning formula:

“2nd Draft = 1st draft – 10%”
~ Stephen King (2002)

But you’ve got lots of darlings in your first draft. How do you really know where to cut the fat and prune the weeds? Which words are fat? Which words are weeds? Each story is different but there are some words we use in modern language that are unnecessary when writing fiction.

Words You Should Search And Destroy

When you examine a draft for superfluous words or seek ways to be more concise you can sharpen the language of the manuscript and reduce the word count. There are a selection of words you can almost always cut without changing the meaning of a sentence. The first five words you can cut are:

  1. Just: The only time this word is actually a word is when you use it to mean, “guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness”.2 There are other meanings but the word is cruelly misused so when it appears in your manuscript odds are it can be obliterated.
  2. Really: I would “really” like to obliterate the word “really”. This is an adverb that is always underwhelming. It has no substance or measure. If you feel inclined toward hyperbole find a more distinct and effective word and no, “totally” doesn’t count.
  3. Quite: This word often feels like it is trying to justify its existence. It is timid and quiet which is perhaps why the word “quite” often gets misspelled as “quiet”. The words in your story should be empowered and confident.
  4. Perhaps: Sometimes your characters may use this to indicate uncertainty. The trouble is, “perhaps” reflects uncertainty to the reader too so use it with care and only in dialogue.
  5. That: This word needs careful consideration. It’s not always one that can be cut without thought like the four above. In that sentence, and this one, the word “that” is used to define the subject of the sentence. But sometimes, even when used in this way, it is not necessary.

A Sixth Word To Cut

  1. So: My personal pet-peeve word is “so”. I believe this word can be obliterated in every single instance. Prove me wrong! If you can think of a sentence that requires the word “so” to make sense, share it in the comments. Until you can, search and destroy “so” in all of your writing.

What other words do you feel should be obliterated from fiction and what other ways do you reduce the word count of your first draft by ten percent?

1. Poynter Online, The Ten Percent Solution First Draft by Chip Scanlan
2. Dictionary.com – just (adj.) 1. guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness: We hope to be just in our understanding of such difficult situations.

Photo Credit: 09-18-07 © archives
Photo Credit: 11-27-08 © mark wragg

Why the Client is Always Right

Anyone who’s worked in retail knows the adage, “The customer is always right.” That credo often makes retail workers cringe. I’ve worked in several bookstores and most people wouldn’t believe the customers we had to accept as being “right.”

I can cite hundreds of examples of abused return policies, mis-read signage where the customer received a discount anyway, and complaints where the customer was clearly wrong, but the manager made right. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

The policy is not an excuse to act as a doormat, but it provides a good guideline for knowing when to cut your losses. In other words, is the bad PR worth the money we’ll save by not making the customer happy?

The words “bad PR” make me think of the recent Southwest / Kevin Smith debacle. Director Kevin Smith was kicked off a plane for being “too heavy”, and escorted out of a seat he clearly fit in. He was right; Southwest was wrong. But even if it was a close call — even if he had to struggle to get that armrest down — Southwest would have been smart to let it pass. Smith had been a passenger on the airlines countless times previously, flying with no danger to himself, the other passengers, or the plane as a whole. Southwest, known as the friendly airlines, has spent years and millions of marketing dollars building a good reputation for itself. Was it really worth it not to let Kevin Smith — a customer with a powerful voice and a lot of social networking cache — just be right?

For Freelancers, Clients = Customers

When you are a freelance writer, your clients are your customers. What are some instances in which the client is “right”, even if it may not seem like it?

  • When the editor changes your work in a way you may not approve of, but it is still factually and grammatically correct. Every editor has his own style, and publications typically fit the editor’s style. If the editor changes something, and it’s not how you would have written it, leave it alone. If you want to know the rationale, ask politely. But don’t argue.
  • When the client changes his mind about what he wants, and expects you to do more work as a result. Unless it’s specifically written into your contract (and you should have one for this reason) that you charge for re-writes, you should do the work. The client will appreciate that you went the extra mile, and you’ll get return work. If the client makes a habit of changing his mind after the fact, you may want to consider ending the relationship.
  • When you write to the client’s specifications, but the client just isn’t happy. I know a lot of writers disagree with me on this point, but I like to use this analogy: If I go to a hairdresser and I leave looking like Ronald McDonald, the hairdresser better fix it — for free. If I take my car to a mechanic and it’s not running well when I leave, I want him to make it right — at no charge. Doctors are probably the only professionals who can get away with not doing their job correctly the first time and then charge for repeat visits… but writers don’t have to live in fear of malpractice lawsuits, either.

Contracts Make it Clear
Again, the policy that the customer is always right isn’t designed to force professionals to act like doormats. Having a contract that clearly outlines what you will and won’t do for the given fee prevents misunderstandings, endless re-writes and wasted time. A contract helps ensure the client receives exactly what he paid for.

I don’t charge for rewrites and, in rare cases when a client is not happy, I will re-visit my work until it meets their specifications. I have many repeat clients, including editors I’ve worked with for more than 15 years.

If endless rewrites or complaints become a problem, I simply stop working for the client or publication. .. and I can count on one hand the number of times that has happened. In some cases, because clients know I will rewrite with a smile, whatever the circumstances, they offer to pay me for the additional work. Again, everyone is happy.

As writers, we are service professionals. The number one goal of a service professional is to provide good customer service. That’s at the heart of the “client is always right” philosophy.

What are some instances in which you’ve accepted a client being “right” because it wasn’t going to hurt you, even if you didn’t agree? When have you had to put your foot down?

What is CSS anyway?

A lot of writers I work with are fantastic writers, but they have no idea how to manipulate a webpage. That’s perfect, because writers aren’t always meant to be web designers. There are two different skill-sets involved, two completely opposed frames of mine. Writers are often using their creativity and resort to their logic as needed, while programmers use their logic with occasional bursts of creativity.

In this increasingly web-dependant world we can grow our skills in all sorts of directions. So learning your way around the code behind a webpage rather than just focusing on the text upon it raises your marketability significantly.

So just what IS CSS? Why is it important?

CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheet. It’s a pretty name for a page that does some extraordinary work. Your Cascading Style Sheet can be used for any website, not just a blog. Blogs however have become truly remarkable and easily customizable thanks to these precious pages. If you’ve installed a blog theme without CSS you’ll find it challenging to change the look and feel of your page.

Your style sheet is almost always responsible for the colors of your website. It is responsible for the text sizes and fonts. It can alter your images, add interesting backgrounds, and set various segments of your website into their place on the page.

Now I know what it is, how does that help me?

Learning basic CSS can give you an incredible boost in the web industry. HTML (Hyper-text Markup Language) is a boon for bloggers and copywriters but CSS is the cream on a writer’s cap. Indeed, everyone who spends their time working online could benefit from this sort of knowledge.

Unless you’d rather hire an expert to handle it. (Feel free to email me) *winks*

With just a little commitment of time you can learn your way around your CSS page and gain a firmer grasp of your blog or website. You can learn what to look for to make specific changes. If you want to change the way your links are displayed it is a simple change to make if you know where to look and what to look for.

Would you like to learn CSS? Should I cover this topic in more depth with a series tutorial as I expand the Writer’s Round-About into RebeccaLaffarSmith.com and broaden the focus to my other areas of expertise?

Critiquing Your Critics

Critiques and reviews are an important part of every writer’s success. There are many helpful responses readers, writers, editors and agents will give you but along with these you’ll often find much of the feedback you receive will be of no use to you. Some suggestions, if followed, could actually prove problematic for your writing’s success. This occurs for many reasons, so what should you look for when you critique your critics?

1. Accuracy – Firstly of course it’s important to make sure your critic is accurate in his or her comments.

When it comes to suggestions on alternate spelling and grammar, various dialects and locations can differ in opinion. For example, some words when read by an English audience should be spelled differently then they would be if written for American readers. This is important to remember when you are writing for a specific audience but the real rule in this case is to be consistent. You are not incorrect if you use one spelling over the other since both are correct but it is important to maintain the same regional choices throughout your piece.

Some corrections and suggestions readers may make will simply be incorrect. If you’re not sure, always double check in a reliable dictionary or style guide. Check your resources and confirm your facts and your source. It’s better to be sure than to be mistaken.

2. Style and Voice – Some critics will comment on points that are purely personal choice.

Style and Voice are two things that are uniquely you. It’s important when revising the comments of your reviewers that anything relating to areas where opinions will differ greatly should remain true to your own opinion, or the opinion of your primary audience. There is nothing worse than a writer adhering to suggestions in bits and parts of a piece that alter his personal voice. A fluid line of language will quickly become a jumble of multiple personalities that confuse and frustrate readers.

It’s also important to remember that the “you” factor is what makes your writing your own. There is no point listening to the comments of an acclaimed author if your story begins to sound more like their story than your own. Maintain your personal integrity and make changes with your own voice and not the authority of someone else.

3. Motion, Plot and Character – It is important that any suggestions maintain the whole rather than destroy it.

You know your story, plot and characters better than any reader. If you’ve done your job you’ll have given your readers the information they need to fill in all the plot blanks and by the end of your piece you should have answered those pressing questions (and left a few hanging if there will be sequels).

Some critics will pick at points in your story, plot or characters. Much of the time these will be valid and you should pay particular attention to verifying their comments. Decide if you agree with their suggestions and if you make changes ensure they are rounded; follow through with every fact throughout the piece. Consistency is the key to keeping your readers enthralled. Any changes you make need to be maintained by every corroborative scene.

Give Thanks!

Regardless of the value of each critique and review it is important to thank your critic. They have taken the time to read and respond to your writing. Time is a valuable commodity. All feedback enriches your future work. Every review offers you significant insight into the minds of your readers and what they like or dislike. Even if their comments cannot be used with this particular piece you can carry the thoughts into your next story or article. It’s important to acknowledge the efforts of your critics. Besides, you may want them to offer their comments on your next piece.