Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Business of Writing: Book Layouts #MFRWOrg indie publishing @luckybatbooks #ASMSG

Today on The Maze:
Everything you wanted to know about 
e-book and print book layouts...*

Book of Kells, Folio 19v, Breves Causae of Luke
(The Gospel of Luke), Wikimedia Commons.
*...but were afraid to ask!

So, you've written your Great American Masterpiece, edited it to within an inch of its life, submitted it to an editor so that s/he can edit it to within a micrometer of its life (please invest in professional editing, for the love of All That Is Holy)... and now what?

Formatting it for publication, of course.

There are many companies that offer formatting services, and they charge varying rates. Unless you can code your own e-books (as I do), or you can create your own print book layouts (as I have learned to do), perform a search on "book formatting services" and then pick your poison, so to speak.

Some "poisons" are more lethal to the pocketbook than others, and Your Mileage May Vary with regard to the output quality too.

I'm not going to list any specific companies to avoid; in general, your best value will be to select a company that charges an up-front fee for services, NOT fee plus a percentage of your royalties. To charge you a percentage on sales is patently absurd, because once the work is completed, the service provider adds no more value to your work and therefore does not deserve to receive an ongoing percentage from it. Period.

I will state that such a policy was what knelled the beginning of the end between me and my ex-literary agent, who was trying to hedge his bets with clients' unpublished manuscripts. If your literary agent has started up such a side business, beware. All that practice does is line his/her pockets at the expense of performing his/her contracted job for you. Exclamation point.

The book service provider I have been relying upon for three years and counting is Lucky Bat Books. They offer a wide range of author services, including cover design and marketing, as well as e-book and print book layout. Their prices are very reasonable, they are a joy to work with, and I get nothing for sending you their way; I'm just very happy with the quality of their work. Oh, and they do not charge a percentage of sales.

I realize that not everyone can afford to lay out the huge chunk of change required for professional services, but as a former software engineer who cut her programming teeth, decades ago, on conversion software, I am here to beg you NOT to rely on the Word-to-EPUB or Word-to-PDF software offered by such companies as Smashwords and Createspace. I have seen other authors' books generated by these programs, and they are—shall I say?—less than ideal. At least Smashwords is honest in nicknaming its program the "Meat Grinder."

I even ran a test to export an EPUB e-book file from a print layout that I had created using Adobe's inDesign book layout software, and its quality left a lot to be desired too.

My recommendation is to set up crowd funding for your book rather than relying on these cheap-but-less-than-optimal conversion options.

The book layout process I follow is:

For e-books:
  1. I code the HTML, including setting up CSS templates for margins, line spacing, indentations, etc. An EPUB file is simply a rigidly formatted ZIP file, and HTML is its source language. I admit I'm not a CSS expert; a mentor shared her e-book template with me years ago, and I've been tweaking it ever since. For quick answers and to look up the latest HTML code sets, I rely upon the web site HTML Dog.
  2. To test the book's format prior to conversion, I read it in a browser window that's sized to approximate the aspect ratio of the average e-reader. This also gives me another avenue for spotting last-minute typos and items to wordsmith.
  3. Once I'm happy with how the HTML file looks in a browser window, I import it, the cover, and metadata into Calibre free library-management software.What is metadata? It is literally anything you wish to define about your book. Specific metadata tags that import directly into predefined fields in Calibre include:
    • Author
    • Series
    • Tags (Keywords)
    • Publisher
    I also code the book's description in the metadata section just to include it in the file for my reference.
  4. Then I use Calibre to convert the HTML file to EPUB. Calibre offers a slew of output formats, but the two I use most often are EPUB and MOBI (primarily for reviewers who can side-load the MOBI into their Kindle). 
  5. At this point I check the EPUB file in as many e-reader emulators as I can. Calibre offers its own e-reader emulator; on my laptop, clicking on the MOBI version imports it into my Kindle-for-PC application, and if I upload the EPUB file to my Android phone, I can import it into my Nook-for-Android app.
  6. Once I am satisfied with the result on as many platforms as possible, I run the EPUB file through EPUBCheck free online validation software created by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). E-tailers such as Amazon and Smashwords also run your submitted EPUB file through EPUBCheck, but it's best for you to do this first and avoid any unpleasant surprises. Smashwords has finally upgraded the four years outdated and buggy version of EPUBCheck that it was using internally, so now I'm not gnashing and pulling teeth to upload my EPUB files to that platform.
  7. If EPUBCheck has reported any errors, I fix them and revalidate. The biggest "gotcha", if you have been otherwise careful in your coding, is to have referenced image filenames that include embedded spaces, a practice that's allowed on Microsoft computers but not Apple or Unix machines. EPUBCheck flags this as a warning, but even warning messages will cause your submission to be rejected by Amazon, et al.
  8. Once you have an error-free, warning-free EPUB file, you may upload it for publication on all your chosen platforms: Amazon, Nook, Kobo, etc.

For print books that don't have a lot of complicated interior art insertion:
  1. First I import the Word doc into InDesign, the de facto standard book-layout software for the publishing industry. I don't know InDesign well enough yet to execute complicated layouts, which is why I am still happy to employ Lucky Bat Books for titles such as the forthcoming, fully illustrated hardcover edition of King Arthur's Sister in Washington's Court!
  2. Then I tweak the layout—defining custom paragraph styles, drop cap styles, etc.—until it all looks good, right, and salutary... and everything lines up across each "spread," which is a pair of pages representing an open book. If you have no scene-break graphics to insert, then this step is almost a no-brainer. I embed graphics for chapter headings and scene breaks, so this step can be time consuming for me, and it's more cost effective for me to do it myself these days. BTW, "spreads" PDF output is an economical way to produce a printed ARC, especially if you have access to a duplex printer.
  3. Finally I export the finished layout to a press-ready PDF file in "pages" (rather than "spreads") form. The "pages" (single page) PDF output is what is required for submitting your print layout to Createspace and IngramSpark.
Next week: the Book Cover. Meantime, best of luck with your book layouts and all aspects of your writing!


My ancient Rome historical romance novel Liberty is a finalist for 
Best Self-Published Work 
and for Best Cover of 2015!

Your vote is very important to me, so if you have found this post about book layouts useful, please click HERE 
and vote for Liberty in both categories.
This poll closes 25 June 2015, and you can vote every day.
Thank you so much!


This month, you are invited to...
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...and each action this month is good for one chance to win an e-book copy of Liberty. Please enter often, and good luck!

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