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August 2012

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.

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