Book formatting is another area that can make or break your author career and is another area where readers and reviewers have complaints about indie books. Proper formatting matters in both print and ebook editions just as much as editing does.
Just like editing, formatting makes an author’s book look good, professional, and easier to read. It’s another thing you must get right the first time or suffer the consequences. Producing a faulty product puts your reputation at stake. This is another area not to skimp on your budget if you can’t do it yourself. As indies authors, we are responsible for the book’s quality because we have total control.
Just like the adage says, “With great power comes great responsibility” is very true here.
Being a newbie and “I just didn’t know” doesn’t cut it. It is up to us to learn how and find people to help/mentor us if we plan on doing it ourselves or to find good people to do it for us. If we hire someone, it is our responsibility to make sure they do a good job. If they don’t, we have to fire them and hire someone else. If you have someone do it for you, determine what you will pay and how far you will go for a good product. ALWAYS double check their work. Don’t take their word for it and don’t be lazy–put yourself in a reader’s shoes. Pretend this isn’t your book. If you picked up this book, would you read it in its present state? There is much at stake here!
Here again the ideal is perfection. We must be just as good or better than traditional publishers. We are not only trying to impress our readers, but reviewers and retailers as well. Quality matters, and these people can spot an inferior product a mile away.
I have heard tales and seen the reviews of authors whose work suffered because of improper formatting. Words appear in wrong places, overlapping words, strange paragraphs, etc, etc. Most formatting complaints happen in ebook formatting, but it can happen in print if you try to do it yourself incorrectly or hire someone who isn’t reputable (which falls on you).
The Kinds of Formatting
Ebook formatting comes in two different forms: HTML and meatgrinding. Print has its own formatting kind.
Meatgrinding takes a word document that has been prepped according to a style guide or platform and transformed into one or more ebook formats. Most of the time if meatgrinding is done yourself, it is free since it uses and automated system. You can hire formatters for a very low cost. However, this doesn’t mean this method is perfect. It’s the most popular. For the most part, the software is user friendly, but it does have its shortcomings. This is good for basic, mostly-text books. Elaborate books with a lot of illustrations, tables, pictures, and fancy stuff like that do not work out so well with this method. However, even your normal, everyday text book can run into trouble if it is not prepped correctly. It is the author’s responsibility to check, double check, or triple check the book for formatting errors before they hit publish.
***Note: Not all meatgrinders are created equal. For example, you cannot take your Smashwords MOBI (Kindle) file and upload it to Amazon if you plan on doing it yourself. It requires some tweaking and adjustments for it to be properly formatted. Why it’s this way, I don’t know–I wonder the same thing. I have heard stories of new authors doing just that and their ebooks go horribly awry.
Then we have HTML formatting. HTML is a coding language for websites and blogs that allows more flexibility. Formatting in this manner requires looking at long bits of code rather than the text, invisible characters, and word processing functions of meatgriding prep. Formatting in this way allows the author to format more complex books into ebook form, and there are less likely to be formatting errors and they make better ebooks. Unless you know how to use this coding language, it is best to hire someone to do it for you whether it is a formatter or an ebook publisher/distributor.
Typesetting is for print books. Ebook and print formatting are not the same. They are two totally different animals altogether. In print books you can do more complicated things than in ebooks (at this present time), but who knows how it will change as technology changes. You also must format the book to account for the space needed for the pages to attach to the spine. There are a lot of nit-picky things that can go wrong. They are nit-picky, but they are industry standards regardless. There are a lot of things to take into account. If you plan on doing your print books yourself, Createspace is the way to go and you can get a sample book to check out before you offer it for sale. It is THE most user friendly and easy to use software for rookie DIYers.
If you don’t plan on hiring a professional to do your formatting for you, do your homework. You can’t afford to flunk out. Read and reread the style guides and platform instructions thoroughly. Work with others to learn the ropes. Check and recheck your formatting from beginning to end to eliminate errors. This may be tedious, but you don’t want a reader to tell you that your book was tedious to read because of formatting errors in a review and your book suffer for it. All of your marketing time, money, and effort is then a waste. In the end, that would totally suck.