"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Guest Helen Hanson shows you how it's done

I've been hosting horror writers and paranormal writers and it's been so much fun, being scared and abnormal, that when I met thriller writer Helen Hanson, I thought, "Cool! She'll tell me how to thrill people!"

Helen had other ideas, though, and wanted to talk about formatting your beautifully written, wonderfully edited, soon-to-be best-selling manuscript into the various e-book formats. This is a great idea, since I've never given any instructions on anything - only my (big fat) opinions.

So, let's give a warm welcome to Helen Hanson!

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An Ebook Formatting Primer - See Jane Format. Format, Jane, Format.

As indie writers, we’re inherently do-it-yourselfers. But between time, talent, and resources, it’s nice to farm some jobs out to experts. In my case, I was quick to offer happy cash to a talented artist for my cover. But formatting my novel, 3 Lies, for the Kindle, Nook, and iBooks platform was as natural for me as fetching was to Spot.

As Gayle’s guest blogger for the day, I’m here to provide a primer on the main ebook formats, the process, and the tools used to format ebooks for the dominant self-publishing sites. After reading this, you may decide you want to format your own ebook, or you may decide that you’d rather remove your own spleen. If the latter, at least you can feel good about the money you spend on a professional.

The ebook world for indie authors is split between two main format types. Amazon uses the .mobi (aka .prc or .azw) file format, while Barnes & Noble and iBooks use the .ePub file format. While the tools to create these ebook files are different, the skills you need are the same.

Most formatters agree that you get the best ebook results if you start with an HTML file of your manuscript. Doing this by hand may be beyond your comfort level. Mobipocket Creator is a free program that takes your .doc file and converts it into HTML. From there you can add the table of contents, embedded cover, or the formatting of your choice to generate the final .mobi file.

If reading the letters HTML didn’t send you directly to a bottle of scotch, you can also generate the .mobi file using Kindlegen, another free program. If you go this route, you create your HTML file, a toc file (table of contents), and an .opf file (build file) then turn the crank on the Kindlegen program to generate the .mobi file.

Whatever you use, or even if you pay a professional, verify the final .mobi file using the Kindle Previewer before you release it to the public. Keep all your files for future clip-and-paste purposes with your next book.

For Barnes & Nobles’ Nook or the iBookstore, you need an .ePub file. The .ePub format is a set of files , like a .zip, where each of your chapters becomes a separate file, along with the toc and others. Once you have a clean .mobi file, many people use a free program named Calibre to convert this file to an .ePub.

Try Calibre first. It’s a simple conversion, and if you’re happy with the output, it’s all good. You can verify your .ePub file by downloading the Nook reader and checking out your file.

If your head is gemstone hard, like mine, you can dig into another free program called Sigil to create your .ePub. In my defense, I didn’t know about Calibre at the time. But I was satisfied with my product using Sigil, and I earned enough war stories for a multi-part series on ebook formatting, so all was not lost.

Even Fun with Dick and Jane seemed challenging the first time I read it. And when you need to format your next book, clip-and-paste is your friend. Like anything, it’s always easier the second time.

Thanks, Gayle, for sharing your corner of cyberspace!

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Gayle again: Thank YOU, Helen, for all the great links to these formatting tools. I didn't know about most of them, and definitely plan to put them to use. You can find Helen's book, 3 Lies, at any of these locations (so there's no excuse not to find it and buy it):

Barnes & Nobel

Amazon UK


At CIA headquarters, a young officer discovers that terrorists may have commandeered their computer systems to launch an unauthorized mission. Elsewhere, conspirators abduct nine people to manipulate the rules of their game. Two disparate ambitions — Clint Masters becomes the reluctant link in the chain of danger.

Ever since Clint’s almost ex-wife dumped him, he bobs along the Massachusetts coast in a sailboat with his black lab for company. He avoids all forms of technology, a counterintuitive effort for the burned-out founder of CatSat Laboratories. Tired of clutching the brass ring, he needed to untether, step off the corporate treadmill, and smell a flower. Fortunately, he met one, a beautiful, unspoiled woman who doesn’t treat him like a commodity. His relationship with Beth offers more promise than his marriage ever did, even if she is on dialysis for her recovering kidneys, until she disappears.

In spite of the evidence, her family refuses to admit she’s in danger. Without routine dialysis, she won’t survive. As Clint realizes that he loves Beth, damn-near ex-wife Paige sashays back into his life with disturbing news.

While the CIA young gun tracks his quarry, Clint enlists the help of two men to find Beth, a blithe Brit named Merlin, and Todd, his playboy partner-in-tech. But Clint must find Beth before her kidneys fail. And before someone unloads a bullet in his head.
And be sure to visit Helen's website.


Helen Hanson said...

Thanks for having me, Gayle! Todd was a tough act to follow . . . All the best!

Gayle Carline said...

Thanks for the swap, Helen! Yeah, that Todd - he's a wild and crazy guy. By the way, love your cover art.

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