Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Kindle 7 – Back to basics: unformatting your manuscript.

You should by now have all the text you need for your e-book in some kind of word processed file on your computer, and be fairly happy that it is of a publishable standard. If it’s a previously unpublished project, it will probably still look like the manuscript you would send to your publisher. If it’s a backlist title and extracted from a scan or a pdf file, it will have been formatted by your publisher for the paper book and will look much more like the real thing. The bad news is that neither of these formats is likely to translate well to Kindle.

The first thing you need to do to make your Word file easy for Kindle to digest is remove all the old formatting.

WHAT?! I hear you say.

After all that careful double-spacing and indenting of paragraphs, and adding your name and page numbers to the manuscript in case your editor drops it? After your copy-editor painstakingly formatted the pages so there were no widowed or orphaned words left at the bottom or top of the printed page? After carefully choosing the font and the text size and the spacing for your paper book?

Yes, after all that. And I bet you carefully formatted your front and back matter too, even though I told you not to worry too much. Remember my post on reading Kindle books, and how the reader can choose the way the words look on the screen? ANY formatting you do will interfere with this, and only a few things translate well to the Kindle. So first you need to take out all the stuff that won’t work. And since finding all the bad formatting and taking this out by hand can be fiddly, it’s often easier to go back to basics.

Muse note: From now on, I'll assume you are working in Microsoft Word. Katherine built her e-book of Spellfall from Word 2000, but if you have a later version of Word, or use another form of word processing software, then you should be able to do all the same things with it. If you have a choice of software at this stage, the rumour on the e-streets is that Word 2003 is best for achieving a straightforward conversion.

So now I want you to take a deep breath and do the following…

Turn on Word’s show/hide feature so that you can see all your paragraph marks and any other hidden stuff in your Word file. Paragraph marks look like backward P’s. Spaces show up as dots. Tabs show as little black arrows... hopefully you won’t have used these to position your text on the page, but don’t panic if you have because now at least you can see the things.
(Word 2000: Tools Options View “Formatting Marks” and select ALL.)

Remove all headers, footers, and page numbers. (Word 2000: View “Header and Footer” / Insert “page numbers”)

Take the text out of any tables (and delete the empty tables).

Select the whole manuscript and return it to “normal” style. (In Word, the style shows up on the left of the formatting toolbar next to the font and size.)
Now check to make sure your “normal” style is as simple as possible. You’re looking for default font, default text size, English language, single spacing, no widow/orphan control, no text alignment, nothing else remotely fancy. This will probably get rid of all your paragraph indents, too, but don’t panic! We’ll sort them out next week.
(Word 2000: Format “Style” and select normal from the list).

Then go carefully through your manuscript and remove any tabs (Muse tip: do a find/replace for ^t).

While you’re at it, keep an eye out for extra spaces that have crept in while you were typing – typically before the paragraph returns – and take these out, too. Kindle does unexpected things with extra white space.

For the same reason, remove surplus blank lines (the ones with just paragraph returns on them). If you want a break in your text, it's best to separate sections of text using something that avoids blank lines altogether, perhaps a little image or * or ~ or a combination of these ~~*~~. If you really want a white space between lines that is not a page break, I’ll tell you how to add this next week. As a rule, do not use “enter” for adding blank lines. One or two should not mess things up too badly, but any more than four in a row and you are in trouble because these will be interpreted by Kindle as a blank page.

At the end of each chapter or section, if you haven’t done so already, add a hard page break. (With the show feature turned on, this shows up helpfully in Word 2000 as a dotted line labelled “page break”).

At this stage, your book will be a lot cleaner formatting wise, but will look a bit of a mess in Word, and you might feel as if you’ve just taken five steps backwards. Don’t worry, because in effect you have done exactly that. The Muse is trying to take you to the start of the Kindle road as painlessly as possible, without sending you bashing your way across country and through the HTML undergrowth to get there.

Save your cleaned up text in a new file called kindlebase.doc(or similar), in case you mess things up later and want to return to this stage. We’ll work on formatting this file for Kindle next week.

In the meantime, you might like to read up on formatting tricks for e-books in the Smashwords Style Guide, which is available for free download. This is not aimed specifically at Kindle books, but most of the same principles apply. It also has helpful screen shots showing you where to find all the things I’ve mentioned above among Word’s menus.

Muse Note: Smashwords is a website which will take your Word file and build you a basic e-book in all known formats, including Kindle. If this sounds too good to be true, it is, because by trying to create all e-formats it ends up master of none. Smashwords also do not provide an option for digital rights management. But I mention it here as an alternative route to e-publication if you're happy with a basic looking e-book and/or don't like the idea of being tied exclusively to amazon.

Next Week: Kindle formatting tricks.


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