The Ultimate Recipe for formatting ebooks

Please note this is a free guide. It may not be perfect (I may not be perfect -note the ‘may’)  but hopefully it’ll be useful in getting you started.  Formatting ebooks is NOT a dark art. You should NOT need to pay other people a lot of money to do it. But do please, whatever you do, keep back up copies of ANY work that you are formatting. Always keep several copies of your original text for when things go wrong!

 What you need for success with this recipe. 

  1. The word document (aka your masterpiece)
  2. The html document (of your masterpiece)
  3. Sigil FREE software (it  is your friend – but you have to play by the rules)
  4. Calibre FREE software ( converts to mobi or azw3 for you -you don’t have to fight with mobipocket!)

Software links

Before you begin. You will need to download and install the Free software from Sigil and Calibre.

Download the latest from

Sigil http://code.google.com/p/sigil/  and go to the appropriate download for your needs. The version I’m using here is 0.6 for Windows. No idea whether it’s the same on Mac.

Look at an online manual or download manual for Sigil (this is in epub) before you begin if you want.

Calibre http://calibre-ebook.com/

Then make sure you have your text in

Word – preferably 2003 and definitely save everything in .doc rather than .docx

And a bit of patience for the learning curve.

Now you are ready to follow these easy stages to formatting your ebook

In the beginning was THE WORD.

So let’s start at the very beginning. Most of the problems (and I’ve had many) in the formatting of ebooks comes not from author idiocy but from Word problems.

The most most most important thing to do is make sure that BEFORE YOU BEGIN the conversion/formatting you have a word document  that will do the job.

I shall refer to this as a CLEAN word doc.

(If like me, you get used to WRITING for ebooks in clean document style it all becomes a lot easier and you can format an ebook in less than 20 minutes. Believe me. If not, it can take you days!)

How to get a clean Word file.

NO PAGE BREAKS

NO PAGE NUMBERS

NO FORMATTING OF ANY KIND

Nothing fancy. We are looking for the BASIC text and that’s about all.

A Normal template is what you want.

To achieve this turn on the Paragraph reveal tab – to see where all the formatting horrors lurk. And remove all tabs and indents and all that sort of thing. Sometimes you have to do this manually. If you just CREATE for ebooks in a normal template WITHOUT adding any of these things life will be a lot easier in the long run. But if you’re converting from another sort of writing style you just have to bite it.

Ctrl +a selects all the text

Ctrl +N gives it all a normal template.

That may not be the end of it.

But at this point you can set up paragraph indents and line spacing if you want to.  You’ll see them all as they are in Sigil later.  You don’t want to waste time in Sigil indenting every paragraph believe me, so choosing this level of formatting is a good idea.

I use 0.5 first line indent and single spacing and tick no gaps between paras of similar style.  That’s preference. You choose your own.  But if, later on you get errors, it’s probably right back to this stage that you have to go.

Once you have a clean file saved as .doc then save it as a web filtered html document as THIS is what you need to work in Sigil

(I have recently read that if you use OPEN OFFICE to formulate your html doc it’s better so I’m  going to try that and will report back!)

10 EASY STEPS TO MASTERING SIGIL

Sigil is a text editor. This means that you can do your headers/add pictures and generally all the nice stuff BEYOND the basic text RIGHT IN THE EDITOR.

Sometimes things go horribly wrong in Sigil and you get weird html messages. You can ‘learn’ what these are and correct them (I often get this global message telling me that ‘name’ isn’t attributed and if I replace ‘name’ with ‘title’ it works) This isn’t anything I KNOW that I’ve done, it’s something Word has done when I wasn’t looking.  But most of the time I don’t get any weird messages at all and I run the thing off super speedy.  That’s why I like Sigil.

But with Sigil you DO have to follow EVERY STEP exactly as it says.

10 EASY STEPS TO MASTERING SIGIL

These steps are appropriate for Sigil 0.6 which is the current version.

Sigil is a text editor. This means that you can do your headers/add pictures and generally all the nice stuff BEYOND the basic text RIGHT IN THE EDITOR.

Sometimes things go horribly wrong in Sigil and you get weird html messages. You can ‘learn’ what these are and correct them (I often get this global message telling me that ‘name’ isn’t attributed and if I replace ‘name’ with ‘title’ it works) This isn’t anything I KNOW that I’ve done, it’s something Word has done when I wasn’t looking.  But most of the time I don’t get any weird messages at all and I run the thing off super speedy.  That’s why I like Sigil.

But with Sigil you DO have to follow EVERY STEP exactly as it says.

Step 1

Import the web filtered HTML file.  You click FILE OPEN and then browse for your html file.

 

Step 2

Save it as an epub file IMMEDIATELY. You click FILE and SAVE or SAVE AS

 

Step 3

Insert Metadata. You’ve got to do it sometime and if you do it now it’ll save you error messages as you go.

Go to TOOLS – METADATA EDITOR and fill in the boxes. Add basic for more if you want things like Publisher, ISBN detail.

 

Step 4 (This is kind of an optional step – if you have problems it will most likely be from not having a ‘clean’ file but once you have done it a few times and know that you are producing clean html, you can ignore this stage)

CLEAN THE HTML (though it should be clean already)

View Book + code

Click cursor in HTML panel (this is as close to HTML as you hopefully ever need to go)

Ctrl +a (select all)

Ctrl +f (find and replace)  Find: clear = ‘all’ and replace (Empty)

SAVE AGAIN

Step 5 (again, optional for use while you are a ‘beginner’)

You can check for html validation errors at this stage but you don’t have to

 

Step 6

Start breaking down (editing) the files.

Place Cursor in html code view

Ctrl + Home (takes you to 1st para line)

Click  SPLIT AT CURSOR from top line panel (it’s 3 to the left from the Anchor icon)  This effectively makes a new ‘Chapter’ but you don’t have to use it just for chapters, you use it whenever you want a NEW section.

This will insert a section 001.xhtml file THIS IS NOW YOUR FILE

You have to delete your ORIGINAL FILE (the one that is above section 001.xhtml and has the name you imported) If you don’t do this your cover image won’t show up.  Check that section 001.xhtml has your text in it first and THEN delete that file because otherwise you’re bound to forget. (Make sure of COURSE that you have a backup file on your computer elsewhere!!)

 

Step 7

Insert the cover.

Go to section 001.xhtml

Put the cursor in the book view at the top.

From top menu click FILE ADD existing file (browse for it)

Then from  menu INSERT image (and insert your image)

Go to the left panel and open the Images FOLDER (you’ll need to open + at image) and right click that file then click ADD SEMANTICS and make sure COVER is ticked.

 

Step 8

This is a repeating step for each CHAPTER (OR SECTION BREAK) you want to attribute.

Click SPLIT AT CURSOR  This effectively gives you a page break.

Work with each section to add in your formatting such as

HEADERS

BOLD

ITALIC

POSITIONING

IMAGES and the like.

Make sure you stay consistent throughout.

This is pretty much just like working in word, the icons are familiar at the top. You have six levels of heading and p if you want NORMAL paragraph.

It’s worth while doing a proof read if you like – if you’re SURE it’s all okay then you can just add the formatting and that’s when its super speedy. Otherwise, you can  treat this as a final proof read and take your time)

Every time you want to start a new chapter you click SPLIT AT CURSOR (3rd left from the anchor at top, remember)

You’ll end up with a number of sections the same as the number of chapters.

Make sure you removed that initial file (it is empty now) so that your FIRST file is 0001 not the html title you put in.

 

Step 9

Table of Contents (TOC)

You may have a right hand pane which has table of contents in it. If so you click at the bottom where it says GENERATE TOC.

If not you go to TOOLS and click TOC to generate from headings.  You then check that the headings are as you want (that you didn’t miss one out!)

You have to do this even if you haven’t made a TOC (or you’ll get errors!)

 

Step 10

Validation.

You can do this as you go along. Or wait till the end. It’s the cross your fingers moment but hopefully it’ll just come up with NO PROBLEMS and that’ll do you.  Though you might want to do an external validation with an epub validator

You click the BIG GREEN TICK.  And hopefully it tells you NO PROBLEMS. Or it shows you the problems.

I’ve found that usually these are either you missed a stage or your html is ‘unclean’. When this happens you just have to learn how to fix it! Or ASK someone who knows.  Or go back to basics and start again with a CLEAN file. (sometimes quicker than trying to work out the fix)


Troubleshooting 

What happens if you have HTML issues?

Deep breath.

And deal with it.  I can’t help you with that because I don’t get HTML at all.  But I’ve published plenty of ebooks without this insider knowledge.  Sometimes you do have to tinker around with it and if you’re about to embark on that make sure EVERYTHING is backed up in advance and prepare to use some swear words or learn some HTML Or go to help on the software sites.   For example I learned that in some of my documents I had this error about ‘name’ and when I just replaced ‘name’ with ‘title’ where it was highlighted in HTML it sorted the issue. Yes, I was sweating but I worked it out. And mostly that doesn’t happen if you start with a good clean Word file.  Prevention is definitely better than cure.

Assuming there are no problems though:

Once you have your Sigil epub file you can ADD FILE to Calibre

 

Working in Calibre.

Calibre works to convert one kind of file to another.  If you want to export an epub file as a Kindle friendly file you can convert it to either .mobi or .azw3 (for the likes of Kindle Fire)

It’s easy. (So much easier than fighting to get Mobipocket to read word or html and toc’s!

Only 3 steps here:

  1. Add Book
  2. Convert books  from epub to whatever format  – mobi, pdf, azw3
  3. Save to disc – don’t forget to do this. It’ll give you a folder with all the file types (including the epub) in it.  These are the files you’ll publish with.

You can fiddle around with Metadata here if you want but you shouldn’t really need to.

And that should, my friends, be that.

You should be prepared to put in a few hours work on your first attempt at this. And your second. And with practice, and following the rules, it becomes a lot easier. It’s never going to be second nature because, let’s face it, most of us aren’t doing this multiple times a day and that’s the only way you’ll remember all this stuff. But with a crib sheet printed out beside you there should be more speed less tears.

I hope this guide is useful to you. You may want to buy other guides which are more comprehensive, but sometimes all you need is a quick guide sheet and I’d recommend that you print this out and keep it by you when you are formatting because unless you do it every day it’s easy to forget a stage.  And if you don’t use Sigil EXACTLY as it says it presents problems.

In the unlikely event that you find that one of these steps is incorrect or wrongly presented please contact me with the exact problem and I’ll amend/update this guide.

I’ve posted this because I want more people to realise that it’s not that hard to publish ebooks and that’s why I’m making it available for free. You want to thank me, buy one of my books! There’s plenty to choose from if you look around this site, or Amazon or Kobo.

%d bloggers like this: