Category Archives: Formatting Info

Print Book Formatting Special

When I format a print book, I feel like I have absolute control over the end product, and I’m damn proud of it. I’d love to see more print format requests come in, specifically more requesting the fun stuff I can do with images and fonts!

So along with this post chronicling some of the print books I’ve done in the past, I’m running a special on pricing. Createspace pricing is as follows:

  • Createspace for UNDER 30 thou — $50
  • Createspace for UNDER 70 thou — $75
  • Createspace for OVER 70 thou — $100

For the images and special formatting seen below, I usually charge an extra $50. But I am offering this kind of formatting for no extra charge for the next three months! This way I can build my portfolio, and hopefully grab some new clients.

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(These are scans of books I have on hand that I formatted, whether mine or a client’s. Some of the shadows are pretty wonky ‘cuz scanning a book on a flatbed scanner is pretty weird, but you can see the basic format.)

abigail“Abigail” by Me

I was going for whimsical and girly because the book is a fantasy/romance.

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anna“Anna” by Julia Crane

Julia picked out the roots because it was “earthy.” I loved the way this book turned out.

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csod“Constant State of Disaster” by Me

I’d seen this look in a traditionally published book, and I wanted to emulate it. I actually do that quite a bit. If a client came to me and said “Look at such-and-such’s book. That’s how I want mine,” I could make it happen.

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dp“Dark Promise” by Julia Crane & Talia Jager

I love this look. It’s simple but striking.

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ey1

“Eternal Youth” by Me & Julia Crane

This was one of those books I did based off a trad novel by Susan Wittig Albert.  The text page (below) isn’t a very good scan, but I loved adding the line to the page heading. It made it look so crisp. The final product was pretty damn close to Susan’s.

ey2

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fon

“Freak of Nature” by Julia Crane

Julia’s main character is a half-human/half-robot hybrid, so she wanted this patch of coding on her chapters. It’s so cool to see when you open the book.

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house

“The House” by Me

I wanted to go “creepy” because it’s a ghost story. The cover has branches on it superimposed over the image of the girl/guy and house, so that’s how I got the idea to use creepy branches.

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lauren

“Lauren” by Julia Crane

Another example of a simple yet striking chapter heading.

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If you’re on a search for a print book formatter, consider giving me a try!

 

 

Open for Business

Yep, that’s right – CyberWitch is taking new clients again.

It’s funny, because I was recently denied a job I REALLY FREAKING WANTED working tech support for a software company. But the process of interviews and emails got me so excited about the job, that when they turned me down, I realized how much I love technical stuff. Like formatting.

I started formatting for clients in 2011, only a few months after publishing my first book. I kinda fell into it with a bang, since I never really do anything halfway, and six months later started a year’s worth of workload – more than I could handle on top of my day job. I got some great mentions in the writing community from David Gaughran and The Bookshelf Muse (now called Writers Helping Writers), and so clients poured in.

By the start of last year, I had to tone it back. I was literally losing sleep so I could finish formatting jobs because through it all, I’ve had a full-time day job. But I’ve realized how much I enjoy helping people, whether it’s doing the work for them or writing up posts on formatting tips.

So hopefully I’ll use this blog more. I’ve got some ideas of stuff I’d really like to cover here. And if anyone finds me in a Google search and drops by needing a formatter, just shoot me an email.

Happy spring!

Ebooks and Fonts

Fonts are not all created equal.

Before you get into an uproar about why your formatter can’t use your pretty calligraphic font in your ebook, let me explain something.

HTML is meant to be universal, meaning no matter who creates the HTML document or on what machine, that document can be viewable across all web browsers.  This same concept applies to ereaders and HTML – what I create in web language can be viewable exactly as it is supposed to be across ALL ereaders (Sony, Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc. etc.).  This is the beauty of HTML – TRUE CONSISTENCY.

But, there are limitations, as well.  Font face is one of them.

Most ereaders on the market currently only support the fonts that come standard.  My Kindle has three fonts, all generic (sans-serif, serif), while my Nook supports five nameable fonts like Constantia and Arial Bold.  And my Kindle Fire has a couple of different fonts that aren’t listed on the Nook.  That’s a wide and varied selection, right?  And believe it or not, none of the fonts supported on my Nook or Kindle Fire are Times New Roman, Courier New, or Calibri, some of the most popular fonts.

Have you ever opened a friend’s PDF or Word doc before to find that the headings are some really ugly courier type font?  Something generic and bland?  Unless it actually says “Courier New” in your font box on your word processor when you put your cursor in the heading, I betcha money that those headings are supposed to be a fancy font – something calligraphic or artsy.  So, where is it?  NOT installed on your computer, that’s where.  If the font isn’t installed on your system’s hard drive, then it doesn’t exist to your word processor, and so the word processor defaults to something else.  This concept is the same for ereaders. They only support the fonts at their disposal – saved on their hard drive, so to speak.

Again, before you say “But I uploaded a Word doc just fine with a non-standard font”, let me ask you – did you download a sample of your book and check it out?  If you’re arguing your font uploaded just fine, I bet you didn’t, because you’ll find that your “special” font has magically disappeared, to be replaced by your standard ereader font.

There is an exception, I’ve found.  I use the Firefox Epub Reader for quick checks on my files as I’m formatting.  The cool thing about the Firefox ereader is it will support any font that is installed on your computer – but that doesn’t mean you should try to code fonts into your ebooks.  Very few people read on their computers; ereader ownership is growing by the day.

The XHTML commands I give my formatted manuscripts pencil in the instructions for how that book is to be displayed when it opens on the reader’s Kindle/Nook/etc.  When it comes to fonts, I don’t USE a specific font (for all of these reasons stated above).  Your book is coded with NO font and in such a way that when your reader opens it, your book will display in their already pre-chosen font style.  If you own an ereader, you already know that you can pick your own font size and face – my coding allows that reader’s specifications to automatically work in your book.

To quote Guido Henkel (from whom I learned ebook formatting): eBook readers allow users to use their preferred settings. Font size, justification and font type are very personal things and who are we to mess with what people like? By not setting our own values, the eBook device will automatically fall back onto the user preferences and immediately display our book in the user’s preferred way. It may be a small thing, but trust me, it goes over really well with your readers. Usability is key!  ALL of his posts on ebook formatting are well worth a read.  The man knows his stuff.

Plus, one thing I have found (specifically with my Nook) – when you purchase Smashwords books through Barnes & Noble, and that book was formatted in a font that isn’t TNR, the reader loses all ability to change not only the font face but also the font size.  I’ve returned books because of this – I have really bad eyes and need that big font, not to mention I can’t stand reading in a sans-serif font.  I know I can’t be the only ereader owner out there with this problem.  As mentioned in the Smashwords Style Guide, every manuscript formatted to their guidelines should be formatted using Times New Roman – this is the SW answer to HTML coding to allow for the ereader to display using the reader’s preferences.

All of this is a major reason why you should use HTML for ebook formatting, though it’s only part of the big picture.  One of these days, I’ll finish my blog post on why HTML is the way to format.

There is an alternative if you MUST have your pretty font – images.  You can create tiny images with transparent backgrounds that display your headings in the proper font. This works wonderfully as an alternative, and you can’t tell a difference.

There is one downside to this image plan – Kindles don’t support transparency.  On a white screen, this isn’t a problem.  But when your reader chooses to read off a sepia or black screen, they’re gonna see a white square around your heading.

So, in any of these situations, it’s a win some-lose some problem.  Almost all of my own books use images as headings; the little white box on the Kindle app doesn’t scare me.  One day, my hope is Amazon will get with the program and fix their format and ereaders to support that transparency.  I like pretty stuff too much to give up.

But as we move further into our digital revolution, we will see the formats grow and strengthen; that’s the best thing about technology :)

Amended to add: With the new wave of HD ereaders, we’re seeing images supported less and less in ebooks.  An image formatted specifically for a regular ereader screen will be entirely too small on an HD screen. I’m looking further into this.

The Smashwords NCX/TOC

If you’re formatting for Smashwords, READ THIS POST HERE.

Let me reiterate–READ THE SMASHWORDS STYLE GUIDE.

I even have step-by-step formatting instructions for text only books.

Now, we’ll discuss that often elusive Smashwords NCX/TOC.

Ever received an error about NCX?  Have you ever opened your final mobi file and wondered why on earth you have no pagebreaks in the file, even though you used that handy-dandy pagebreak function in Microsoft Word?

YOU NEED A PROPER NCX/TOC FOR ANY SMASHWORDS BOOK.  ANY.

So now you know you need a table of contents.  If you’ve got the Chapters and the heading styles goin’ on, you’re all set (as mentioned in that first post I told you to read).  However, if your chapters don’t meet the specifications, you’ll have to do the back door method of showing the Meatgrinder what to do.

Here is our make-believe file.

This file is already formatted per Smashwords’s guidelines.  Now I’m going to show you how to create that snazzy TOC.

Highlight the first chapter heading.  Move your cursor to the toolbar where it says INSERT.  One of the options is “Bookmark”.  Choose it.  A new little dialogue box pops up, as shown below:

In the name line, make the bookmark something that will be easy to refer to later.  It’s best to make it one long name using every word of the chapter heading because there is no room for error when you’re linking to each bookmark later.  So, as you can see in the image, I’ve titled my bookmark elsienewfriend.  (Note: You can’t use characters or spaces in the bookmarks, only text.)

Click add. You’ve put in your first bookmark.  Rinse and repeat for every single chapter heading in your document.

Return to the table of contents.  Highlight the first chapter heading in the list–in this instance, Elsie’s New Friend.  Right-click to bring up that fancy little box.  Click “Hyperlink”.

This new little box shown above will pop up.  See the blue square?  It’s a tab that says “Place in this document”.  Click that, and the white dialogue box will change to show you a list of all your bookmarks in the document.  Click the bookmark for elsienewfriend, and hit Ok, then voila — hyperlink.  Rinse and repeat for the rest of the list.

Your final file should look a little something like this with those nice blue hyperlinks:

Notice how I didn’t even use a pagebreak in the doc.  None.  It’s all on the same page.  Yet… if you want an idea of the separate pages that result from the meatgrinder’s conversion, here’s a montage of images:

Pagebreaks intact.

Happy formatting!

Things You May Not Know About Smashwords Formatting

1.) PAGEBREAKS ARE DEPENDENT ON THE TABLE OF CONTENTS

Yes, you read that correctly.  That cute little “pagebreak” option in Microsoft Word DOES NOT WORK for Smashwords formatting.  You can put it in the doc, and it won’t mess with your formatting, but it will not ensure a pagebreak within the resulting ebook.  The only way to have pagebreaks before every chapter heading is to have a table of contents that points the way for the Meatgrinder to insert those pesky breaks.

There are two ways to ensure your ebook has the NCX/TOC required by Smashwords for premium distribution.

One—if every chapter of your book begins with “Chapter” i.e. Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, AND if you put a Heading style on every heading, then the Meatgrinder will automatically create you an NCX/TOC.  It’s as simple as that.

Two—if your chapters do not begin with “Chapter”, i.e. One, Two, Three, or titles like “The First Day” or “When She Cries” etc. etc. YOU MUST CREATE A HYPERLINKED TABLE OF CONTENTS for the Meatgrinder.  I’ve outlined exactly how to do so HERE.  Once you’ve hyperlinked your table of contents, the Meatgrinder will put your pagebreaks in before every heading.

NOTE: I love Smashwords.  They do us a great service.  But this is not always consistent.  Sometimes, you do everything right, and your pagebreaks STILL don’t show up.  Until SW allows people to upload fully formatted epub files, we’re stuck with what they offer.  And the Meatgrinder isn’t infallible.

2.) USE TIMES NEW ROMAN 12PT FOR BODY TEXT

Period.  Finito.  If you use any other font that isn’t times new roman, you take the ability to change their ereader font away from the reader.  I get pretty miffed when I open a Smashwords book I bought for my Nook, and I can’t change the font because the author formatted their book wrong.  People are creatures of habit.  We LIKE our own chosen fonts on our ereaders.  We know what feels good on our eyes.  Don’t ruin the reading experience for your readers.

3.) NO MORE THAN FOUR PARAGRAPH RETURNS BETWEEN LINES

Yep, Smashwords will flag your formatting if you use more than four returns.  You don’t need that many anyway.

4.) DON’T MAKE YOUR INDENTS MORE THAN .3”

Remember, your file is going to be read on a super small screen.  Deep indents are gonna look mighty stupid on an Android Kindle app.

Oh, and you can’t have an indent AND a hanging space (the line of white between paragraphs).  It’s one or the other, not both.  Use both, and Smashwords will flag you to fix it.

5.) THE ITALICS BUTTON DOES NOT WORK

The style guide explains this, yet most people still don’t understand why they upload their formatted document and alllll those italics disappear.  You absolutely cannot use the italics button.  Or Ctrl+i.  You have to use a STYLE.  You can read about how to do that HERE.

6.) FORMAT WITH YOUR PARAGRAPH MARKS ON

I don’t care how thorough you are.  Use the paragraph marks.  It’s the only way to ensure consistency, and to catch any pesky problems before they happen.

7.) THE NUCLEAR METHOD

You could have OCD and think your file is perfect, but it’s not.  Nuke the entire thing.  Strip the formatting. And REDO IT ALL using Smashwords guidelines.  It isn’t that big of a deal to spend a couple hours making sure your file looks perfect.  Your readers will love it, and other indies will thank you for not contributing to the “there’s so much crap out there” theory.

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If you want to format your own Smashwords files, do yourself a favor: READ THE STYLE GUIDE.  Yes, it’s annoyingly long and verbose, but it has everything you could possibly need to know about formatting for the Meatgrinder.  If you don’t have the time nor the inclination to do so, hire someone else to do it.  Sometimes you have to put a little effort in for the end result to be pretty.

Print Vs. Digital – Understanding the Flow of Text

Ebooks are not STATIC like print books.

So, what does that mean?

This is my book, Constant State of Disaster, in PDF form. This is what I upload to Createspace. The words on the page are STATIC – meaning, they do not change or move. Ever.

Well, to start off with, let’s look at print books.  A print book is a work of art.  Every word, every bit of punctuation, every heading and footnote and glyph—they are printed on the page in a specific place.  The floral pattern at the start of each chapter—half an inch from the top right corner.  The chapter heading—three lines down, and then another two lines before the start of the text.  Justified lines don’t always flow beautifully, which is why in print, one utilizes hyphens, or the artistic method of rewording and adding until the text is displayed with just the right amount of white space.  There is a lot of planning that goes into making a print book beautiful.  All of the aforementioned things are what make a print book static—embedded on paper and immovable.

Sounds like a lot of work, right?  It is.  But, it’s what sets apart your book from the crowd, so I personally believe print books deserve that kind of love and affection.

Same book in digital. Average screen size, average font size.

Now, let’s talk about how ebooks are completely different.

Same book but in digital format. This is my Kindle app on my 17-inch computer screen. The Kindle screen is as LARGE as it goes, and the font is abnormally large, as well.

Ebooks are NOT static.  When you open a print book, the words are exactly where they’re supposed to be, no matter who you are, where you are, or what you’re doing.  This is not so in the ebook format.

Same book, same chapter, only in abnormally small font on an abnormally large screen.  See how it goes over into the new scene?

What you have to remember is that not all ereaders display the same way.  There are people read your ebooks on tablets the size of a piece of five-subject notebook paper, and there are others reading on screens as small as their tiny Android phone.  Not only does screen size have to be taken into account—there is also the fact that nearly all ereaders allow for the reader to change the font face and the font size.  This means that your book will never display exactly the same as it does on YOUR ereader/app.

Same place, smallest possible screen size but average-ish font size.  Notice it doesn’t go into the new scene.

Ebooks flow to the size of the screen based on font size and face.  Bigger font size means less words on one screen, and skinnier font faces mean more words on one screen.  Your app may display a single lonely word at the end of a chapter—obviously hideous to the eye for that one word to be on its own page—but you must remember that’s not how everyone will see it!

And last but not least (though I could seriously do this a million ways), smallest possible screen size, abnormally large text. Holy cow! Barely anything on the page!

Individuals who own ereaders are well-aware of the idiosyncrasies of their device.  It’s like one’s favorite sweater—yeah, there’s a hole in the armpit and the hem is unraveling, but you know that’s just how it looks and you love it anyway.  Readers will recognize when they see a single line on a single page that it is meant to be with the text on the page previous—cut ‘em a little slack, they’re pretty smart if they’ve joined the digital revolution.

Kindle App for Android. Kindle Fire. Kindle app for PC. Regular, run-of-the-mill Kindle. Four different ereaders from the SAME manufacturer, and each displays a different amount of paragraphs. Let this be your lesson for the day. :)

This is why its important to understand formatting if you’re going to attempt to do it yourself.  The above reasons show why you should never have page numbers or headings in your ebook. You should never plan for your ebook to have one-page chapters (your reader on her Android phone is gonna see a single paragraph at a time, if that, so your “one page” turns into ten for her.)  Leave those nuances to the print books, and go for simplicity in your ebooks.

Your ebook CAN be gorgeous, as long as you understand the limitations of the formats.

(This post isn’t about the fancy stuff that can be done in ebooks, like glyphs and images.  Those things are possible, but to put it simply, leave them to the professionals if you want your book to look its best.  Those people are the ones that know the issues that come from formatting and can act accordingly.)

Changes to CyberWitch

Business has become beyond outrageous.

After a passing mention by Dave Gaughran February, and then an Ask-the-Formatter blog at The Bookshelf Muse in May, I’ve had an INSANE spring and beginning of summer.  From the end of January until, well, STILL, I have been nonstop.

CyberWitch formatting isn’t my only job.  I’m a full time police dispatcher and have been for over four years now.  I work night shift – 11 p to 7 a, and not only that, but I work a rotation.  What this means is I work 8 DAYS in a row, then I have 2 days off.  Then I work 7 DAYS in a row, and get 4 days off.  You ever worked night shift?  It pretty much makes a woman insane.  I sleep around 10 hours a day just so I can make it through the night.  Add the fact that I go such a long period of time between off days, and by the time I AM off work, I don’t want to do anything but run the errands that have built up over the week, visit my family, and then use the one day left to be lazy.

What does this mean?  Well, it means I don’t have a whole lot of free time, as it is.  When I wake up around 6 in the evening, I immediately turn on my computer and start formatting.  I will sit before the screen and continue to work until 945, when I have to get ready for work.  Then, 8 hours at work.  Come home, pass the heck out, and when I wake up, I do it all over again.  Every day.  7 DAYS A WEEK.

That’s right.  I have been getting so much work that I am literally working around the clock.  My life is suffering.  My fiance doesn’t even remember what my eyes look like, my family tells me about get-togethers and dinners, but I miss them because I’m on deadline to a client.  And I’m also a writer, who hasn’t written or released a book since January.

Oh, and did I mention I’m trying to plan a wedding, too?  October.  I don’t have anything but the caterer because I don’t have TIME.

I’m stressed, depressed, and have aged twenty years since last October when I started formatting as a freelancer.  I’ve met some amazing authors who I thoroughly enjoy working for, but I’ve also dealt with people who have made me cry.  True story.

I love formatting – I take so much pride in creating a beautiful ebook or print book.  I don’t want to quit.  But, changes have to be made.  As long as formatting isn’t my full time, life-support career, I can’t pretend it is.

As of today, CyberWitch formatting services are temporarily closed to new clients.

I will continue to work for my already established clients.  If you are NOT already my client, you’ve seen a book of mine, and you’re dying for your book to be as pretty, you can certainly email me and see if I can fit you in.  I very well may.

I’m tentatively planning on opening for the holiday season at the end of the year.  It’s a busy time for ebook formatting as authors try to push out books before the rush.  If I do, I’ll post well in advance.

Thanks for stopping by, and as usual, I am always available by email at cyberwitchpress@gmail.com for ANY of your formatting or self-publishing questions (free of charge).

Heather