Transform Your Manuscript into an eBook Ready to be Sold
To create an eBook is tricky. It’s tough to do it the first time, but it gets easier with experience and practice, and finally, it becomes a snap to do it.
I’ll dissect the process of creating an eBook from a manuscript to a finished eBook with EPUB, PDF and Mobi versions.
All the tools used to create an eBook with this guide are free and available for download. They work with the manuscript in HTML form, but no HTML knowledge is required.
1 — The Manuscript
If you want to create an eBook with minimal hassle, the ideal is to begin writing it (and keep writing it until finished) directly in a text processor that is compatible with Microsoft Word.
Preferably, the text processor will be able to export EPUB, the new industry standard for documents of reading material. In these edition programs there's an option to enable formatting marks.
To see the formatting makes all the difference. I'll give two examples, TextMaker 2016 and WPS Office, two free programs. In WPS Office's Writer (also known as Kingsoft Writer) the feature I'm talking about is called “Show/Hide Editing Marks & Show All Formatting Symbols In The Document”, and it's an icon with arrows, in the Home section of the ribbon menu. In TextMaker 2016 it's a button with a green Pi symbol called “Show Paragraph Breaks, Tabs and Spaces”, near the right extreme of the icons menu.
If you have no problems with the dated interface of TextMarker 2016, I'd recommend you write the whole manuscript directly in that program. TextMaker has a great feature, and that's the option of exporting a structurally-sound EPUB file. Each page break (which you should use at the end of each chapter) functions as an html EoF (end of file), a way EPUB has of organizing a book. You can see this clearly if you decide, once the manuscript is finished, to edit it in an EPUB editor such as Sigil. Doing it is a good idea, to check for errors in the chapter titles. This is seen in a dialog called Book Browser in Sigil, in the left side of the editor's screen.
The way to see if the manuscript has errors in the chapter titles and overall structure I used, was exploring the finished manuscript's table of contents in Sigil. The table of contents should be a dialog in the right side of the screen in Sigil.
Some recommendations. One, don't use many fonts. Use two or three at most. Use common (preferably core) fonts. A sans serif for titles and a serif one for the content. Don't use fantasy fonts. Stick to the tried and proven ones. If this rises a red flag, please read a few articles about eBook fonts and the EPUB format. You want to use a sans serif font for the chapter titles, and a serif one for the chapter’s gloss.
Two, formatting is a great temptation to attend to, but it doesn't make sense to give it importance when you are writing or rewriting the eBook. Why not to give one's best shot at the formatting, because it's not time-efficient. It's an edition task to be left for after the last correction.
Three, use blank space when appropriate. Specially at the start of each chapter. In a book I finished recently, I used seven soft breaks at the beginning of the first page of each chapter.
If you want to use different correction tools, the best way is to write the first draft using minimal formatting. Then, once you parsed the first draft with correction tools, corrected all the errors, and cleaned the formatting errors, apply the final formatting. The reason I'm propounding this way of sequencing the creation of the eBook has a reason. Books are a long kind of document, if your manuscript has a lot of errors, it may become a hassle to fix it manually. When correction tools have automated procedures to fix a manuscript one may want to use them. The catch here is that the tools I'm talking about aren't developed enough as to keep the more sophisticate formatting. Some of them, like for instance Hemingway, may have trouble even to keep the basic formatting. They generally work with plain text only. That's why I say to leave headings, blank space, perfect line and paragraph spacing, emphasis, italics and typesetting characters (like the curly double quotes) for the last thing to do.
Saving a manuscript in plain text is a great way to spot formatting errors. Once it's saved in plain text, the whole manuscript must be checked with any text software that can do word-wrapping. Also, I must repeat something once more. The more correction tools one uses, the plainer the formatting prior to the parsing through those tools. I'd recommend to parse the manuscript with at least three correction tools. First, and easiest, orthographic and vocabulary check with the spell checker of the word processor. Then it should be checked for grammar and style errors with tools that check for things as diverse as idioms, paragraph and sentence length in words, use of passive voice, use of adverbs. A good one is The Hemingway Tool, a fastidious alternative, The Language Tool.
The table of contents. It's not required, but can be generated to check for chapter title errors.
Check that each chapter title has a header HTML tag assigned, and use that tag only for the titles of the chapters. The h1 tag is too big and we need it for sections of the eBook like title page. Each chapter title should use h2, and each subsection of a chapter h3. Online eBook sales portals accept a reduced quantity of header levels. Lulu for instance accepts only h1, h2 and h3.
Creating an eBook directly in an eBook creator like Sigil or BlueGriffon has a great disadvantage. You can't see formatting marks with them. They are great for those with knowledge of CSS and HTML. But for others that lack that knowledge all the cleaning up of the formatting has to be done in a text processor that can show them. Still, you should keep Sigil to check for EPUB errors.
The important marks that the word processor must show to check the formatting are:
- Soft Line Break (new line mark)
- Hard Line Break (new paragraph mark)
The eBook can have indented or block paragraph formatting. Block paragraphs is the method with more chances of working in any text processor.
Guide for Block Paragraphs Formatting:
- Lines of the front and end matters: can have combination of hard soft breaks and use headers
- Chapter Titles: hard break, h2
- Chapter Section: hard break, h3
- Paragraph: hard break, normal
- Empty line between paragraphs: soft break
A good and free text processor that can show the editing marks is Kingsoft Writer. It's a button in the home ribbon that looks like two enter signs or arrows.
Other than fonts, headers, page breaks, italics, emphasis and paragraph style your manuscript shouldn't have any formatting.
Linked (or page-numbered) Table of Contents
Direct formatting (creating blank space or page breaks with, hard breaks, tabs and/or spaces)
Once the manuscript is clean and tight, it can be copied to a program like Sigil and check for errors in the EPUB structure, like I already explained.
2 — The Creation of The Table of Contents (optional)
If you are planning to create an EPUB that you can upload to eBook market portals like Lulu and SmashWords, then the eBook shouldn't have a ToC. It can have one, but it must not have links or page numbers.
First off, auto-generate a table of contents to spot any errors. The ToC has to have the same quantity of items as the book has chapters. If it has more, you used your chosen title h tag for something else other than chapter titles, and if it has less or none, it’s because you haven’t tagged all your chapter’s titles with the same h tag. Goes without saying that any piece of content that comes before the chapters must have a different h tag.
The auto-generated table of contents may have links or page numbers. In that case, copy to a plain text editor to remove all the formatting. Delete page numbers if any. Replace the ToC in the manuscript.
3 —The Placing of Front and End Matters
As you may know by now, EPUB, the contemporary eBook standard, doesn’t carry embedded fonts like PDF did. Every formatting niceties and emphasis must be achieved by header tags, font size, italics, and bold emphasis.
Read a guide on the web on how to write the front matter of your eBook, it’s all the content that comes before the main content.
If you think it’s too much work or you can’t find one, then get five paper books and study the first pages, you’ll see a more or less rigid pattern to it. Follow it as it is, don’t get creative with the front matter. Copy it, changing the content of the title of the book, the author’s name, and the rest of the front matter content.
The same goes for any additional content that is not the manuscript but the supplementary matter that you decided to put in the last pages, like bibliography, notes, appendixes.
4 — The Cover, The Spine and The Back Cover
Since this is just an eBook, we aren’t concerned with creating a spine cover. Also, I’ve seen many eBooks to have a cover but lack a back cover, I personally won’t go that far. It’s nice for an eBook to have a back cover, even if only for aesthetic reasons. Like the unlinked ToC.
Use a vectors program like Inkscape to design the cover. But first, you need a picture and the typography. Source an image by either designing it, shooting it yourself, buying it from a stock photography silo or getting it from Creative Commons (if you want a free image), and resize it to at least 1400 pixels wide to comply with most of the eBook markets.
Conventional book cover fonts to use are:
There are free imitations of these fonts that you can use without having to buy them.
Create also the back cover (generally a summary of the book and/or the writer’s bio) in the vector design program.
Export the images from the vector design software in a high definition format like .TIFF.
Embed the cover and back cover in the eBook. Save or Export as EPUB.
Presto! You created an eBook!
It’s time to go to Amazon, Lulu and Smaswords and begin selling it!
© Martin Wensley 2019
Photo Credit: Javier Candeira