Self-Publishing - Ebook Formatting Options

Now that we’ve talked about the print side of self-publishing, we can move on to the other format: Ebooks (Technically speaking that encompasses about 3 major formats.)

To start, let’s take a quick look at the three big choices (already on the market) when considering to self-publish your ebooks.

Amazon, the largest of the e-retailers and home of the very popular Kindle, allows you to create a free account with their KDP service .

You can publish your ebook for free and depending on the price you set, you will receive 35-70% royalties.
This service does require a little know-how on formatting but there are a variety of free resources out there to help you do this. You may have heard me mention MobiPocket Creator before.

Barnes & Noble, home of the Nook, another “big guy” in the e-bookseller world. They recently started their own self-publishing venture called PubIt!

Very similar to Amazon’s KDP service, PubIt! allows you to upload an already formatted Epub file.  This makes it available for sale on Barnes and Noble’s Nook ereader. According to their website, They have no initial setup fees and pay in royalties of 40-65% depending on the starting price of the book.

Again, just like with Kindle, a little know-how is needed to properly format a book for Epub but again there is a wealth of information out there.
Excellent resource here.

The third major player I want to talk about in self-publishing ebooks is  Smashwords.

Just like with Kindle and Nook, there are no setup fees to get your books into virtual print. There is however a very specific formatting guideline that you have to follow.

The major difference between this publisher and the last two is it formats your ebook and makes it available to a wider audience via the multiple formats it creates:
Online Reading (HTML)
Online Reading (JavaScript)
Kindle (.mobi)
Epub (open industry format, good for Stanza reader, others)
PDF (good for highly formatted books, or for home printing)
RTF (readable on most word processors)   
LRF (for Sony Reader)
Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices)
Plain Text (download) (flexible, but lacks much formatting)
Plain Text (view) (viewable as web page)

Because of their large distribution network an ISBN is required. Not all ebooks require them. Kindle for example has no real use for them when you publish with Kindle your book is assigned an AISN by Amazon.
So, when you publish with Smashwords you are given the option to use an ISBN that you own, use theirs for free (they are listed as publisher), or opt to pay for one at $9.95.

The cost for setting up your book is $0 and your book is made available to:
Barnes & Noble  -Nook   
Kobo  - Borders eBook store is powered by Kobo
Amazon  -Kindle   

These are the three you’ll definitely want to hit when you self-publish your book.

Ebook Layout

Ebooks are completely different from their paper-bound counterparts where formatting and layout are concerned. In some ways though, Ebooks can be easier to format, however due to the variety of readers on the market, you will have to create various different layouts. 

In the Ebook world, you have two popular formats Epub and Kindle/MobiPocket. You’ll need to create separate formatted documents for these.

Thankfully formatting for Epub and MobiPocket is pretty easy can be done with MicrosoftWord and the help of some free programs you can find online.

My favorite program for creating Kindle files is:

MobiPocket Creator

This easy to use creator takes your word document and turns it into PRC file. This file can be directly uploaded to the Amazon DTP site.

For Epub there are quite a few options out there. I use Calibre  right now, but a simple Google search will bring up plenty of options. Choose whatever works best for you.

To show you a little of what goes into ebook formatting (it’s really pretty easy) I’m going to run quickly though the steps using MobiPocket creator, to make a Kindle-ready ebook.

Step 1 - Layout your Word document as you would if you wanted to create a PDF.

*Don’t worry about adjusting page sizes; use your standard 8.5x11 page size with 1 inch margins, and leave the text at ‘single spaced’. 
*Make sure you use page breaks between chapters and initial cover pages.
*Do not use fancy fonts. Times Roman and Arial are standard. Do not use excessively large font sizes either. 10pt-14pt is standard. (Stick with 12pt)
*Never use page numbers in Ebooks. Due to the compression of page size to accommodate the smaller screen, your page numbers will become oddly placed and will not represent the actual page the reader is seeing.

Example Layout:

Page 1 should be your cover image. Insert the image and size it and center it so it takes up the whole page. Make sure it is also set ‘in line with text’ so there is no odd funky formatting when it is converted to HTML.
Page 2 Title and published by page.
Page 3 Copyright info.
Page 4 Acknowledgements. 
Page 5 Optional title page.
Page 6 Start of book. (Make sure you use page breaks between chapters.)
Page… About the author & upcoming books.

Step 2 – Save your document as a “Filtered” HTML/Web Page.

*Mobi Pocket creator states it can use standard formats for conversion, however, I have found this is the easiest way to make it look like your original document. Trust me on this and save yourself the headache.
*There is a difference between saving as HTML/Web and “Filtered” HTMl/Web. You want Filtered.
Once you have the HTML file, open it up with notepad. (You’ll have to use a little bit of HTML here so its best you do a little research on the internet for basic coding.). Look for your chapter headings. They will probably have some funky coding around them. MS Word is notorious for adding all kinds of unnecessary code. The problem is, most people don’t know what that code means. Rather than have you re-code the entire document, I’m just going to suggest specific, “quick” changes that will help with the conversion.
Around your chapter headings only. Remove everything beginning with the open < all the way to the end > Replace that with a simple < h1 > < center >title< /center >< /h1 > (do not add the spaces inside the brackets. That’s just so the web page doesn’t eat my code.)

The reason you’re doing this is to help you create a Table of Contents. MobiPocket makes it easy to do but you have to tell it what to look for. The “h1” signifies a heading style that MobiPocket can highlight as your chapter heading. The “center” tag, just makes your title nice and centered in the document.
I’d also suggest taking the time to find your Book Title and giving it a “center” and “h2” tag. This will make it larger and nicely centered. I do the same for images as well. Look for your image link (It will be the same name as your photo file.) Look for it and remove the bulky coding around it. Give it a simple “center” tag.
It sounds like a lot, but really it’s not that hard to do. Remember to look up HTML on the internet first so you can familiarize yourself with it before you go digging around in the code.
Once you’ve made those simple changes, save the document.

Step 3 – Upload your HTML file into Mobi Pocket Creator, add your Cover Image, and convert.
Once you upload your HTML file, you have a few more things to do. You’ll need to add in your cover image, and then go to the TOC tab and set the first space to “h1” This tells the creator to use those chapter titles you highlighted earlier as your Table of Contents.
Make sure after each step, you hit “Update.” This ensures all changes are saved and ready to use. Now you can convert it.

Step 4 – Once you have uploaded and converted your file you can upload it to the Amazon DTP page. Here you will be given a chance to preview your work before publishing.

*One trick I like to use is to download the Kindle for PC program. This is a free program that will read your PRC file. It’s a good idea to check your work here before uploading it to KDP.
 If done correctly, you can have a clean-formatted Kindle-ready file in under 2 hours. As I said, it is a lot easier than the print formatting (though, after reading this, it might not seem so).

Kindle however, isn’t the only thing you have to format your book for. You’ll still need to create an EPUB file for Pubit. Check out Calibre for creating your ebook file.

Lastly, and probably the most tedious to create is the Smashwords file. Because Smashwords will format your book for a wide variety of readers, it requires you to adhere to their specific formatting guidelines.
I recommend you read through this guide very carefully before starting. Following directions here is key!

A little trick for those of you looking for a quick and easy way to streamline things. Smashwords allows you to download all of your formats for free. That means once converted, you will have fully functioning Epub and Mobi formats if you wanted to turn around and go to the other sites and load your books.

After all of that I hope I haven’t scared you off of self-publishing. It can be a huge headache at times but in the end, I think it is worth it. You will have a product that you created all on your own. That’s something to be proud of.


Lee Libro said…
Hi Katie,
Thank you for this very comprehensive post on all the e-book formats. I've published only on Amazon for Kindle and have wondered about all the others.