The past month was a major technological challenge for me. I formatted my new book Unwritten Rules for both ebook and paperback. Yaay! I had been dreading the process ever since I decided to self-publish several months ago. I could have hired someone to do it, but I’m stubborn and hate to back away from a challenge. Many of my friends had conquered the formatting beast, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could do the same.
I’ve always enjoyed learning new skills, but formatting is a bit like Dorothy Parker’s quote about writing—“I hate writing. I love having written.” Well, I hate formatting but love having learned how to do it. At least partially. I’m going to be upfront and admit I only prepared my book for Amazon through KDP and CreateSpace. I wouldn’t mind having it available in other formats and channels, but that’s a much more complex process and I need time to recover from this experience before I even consider tackling the Smashwords “meatgrinder”.
As anyone who knows me can attest, I’m not the least tech oriented. I’ve never had computer instruction of any kind. I never needed more than the bare basics for my job or my writing, so that’s exactly what I picked up. The whole concept of html, etc. makes me break out in hives. However, I did manage to launch my book into the world in two formats, so I thought I’d share a few things I learned along the way.
- Educate yourself. I knew I didn’t know anything, so I read as much as I could before I started. The most useful source by far was Catherine Ryan Howard’s Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing. I can’t recommend this highly enough. She talks the complete novice through the entire process step by step. I had to make a few modifications because her instructions are for a non-fiction book, but most of it was applicable. I also read the free Building Your Book for Kindle from KDP, but it didn’t have enough detail to answer many of my questions. We’re talking rank beginner here. I picked up a few good tips from Geri Russell’s talk at the RWA National Conference, but the online class I took was too tech-heavy for me. I don’t have the patience to go through my 87K, dialogue-heavy manuscript and code every quotation mark in html (not to mention all the other punctuation, etc.) KDP allows you to upload a properly formatted Word document, and that’s what I did—but not until I’d nearly made myself blind trying to do it the more complicated way.
- Use tabs instead of indents. For some reason this was the first bit of advice I got from my friends. That meant I had to go back and remove all the tabs and switch to indents, but that proved much easier than expected. Of course, it caused another problem later because I didn’t realize that the “first line” indent would apply to every first line, including all the front matter and the chapter headings. To properly center my chapter headings, I had to go back and remove the extraneous indents. That leads to my next tip.
- Try to think like a computer programmer. By this I mean think logically and in a very basic way. This is hard for writers; we tend to extrapolate and embroider. Computers are stupidly logical. In addition to the indent issue, I initially had trouble with the pagination in the print version. The chapters are divided by Section Breaks – an entirely new concept to me. It’s easy to understand in theory, but the details can sometimes trip you up.
- Locate and learn the features of Word. I wish I’d done this first because it ultimately caused me more trouble than anything else. I only switched from Word 2003 to Word 2010 a few months ago and had never taken the time to explore all its features. If I had read Word 2010 for Dummies first, I could have saved myself hours of frustration. The clearest instructions in the world are no better than mud if you don’t understand your basic tools.
If you’re considering self-publishing, I encourage you to try formatting your own book. It will probably be much easier for you than it was for me, and there’s a real satisfaction in being able to say “I did it!”