Yseult has now passed review and is available on Amazon as an ebook. It took me a lot longer than expected, but in the next few weeks I want to try and get a couple of collections of my previously published stories up, so perhaps with practice it will no longer seem quite as complicated.
I know there are lots of resources on creating ebooks out there, but everyone’s process is different, and perhaps my experience can help some folks who tend to work more like me. Here are the steps I took in creating the ebook version of Yseult:
1) Prepare DOC file
Since Smashwords requires books submitted to their site be in Word format, and they have a very good instruction manual for preparing documents, that’s where I started — even though I ended up opting for KDP Select. (In three months I can offer the book elsewhere, and I already have the file for Smashwords.) After “Looking Through Lace” finally turned out looking ok as an ebook (after the second try), I used it to create a template. But according to Those Who Know, Smashwords will soon be accepting other formats, and then, hopefully, we will have a little more control on how our ebooks turn out.
The “Smashwords Style Guide” suggests opening the text in Wordpad and cutting and pasting from there in order to strip the word document of unnecessary coding. I find this much too time consuming, because it also takes out all italics, which then must be manually put back into the document. I have the advantage that I still do a lot of my writing in that old dinosaur Word Perfect, which doesn’t add as much junk formatting code. So in order to get a clean copy of the text without losing the formatting I still want, I convert my Word Perfect document to html and open the html file in a text editor. Using search and replace I get rid of all the unnecessary formatting commands. Here I also change underlining to italics and replace the scene break I usually use (#) with the one preferred by Smashwords (* * * *).
Once the html file is cleaned up, I open it in my word processor, copy the text, and paste it into my template. This might work for Word as well, but as I recall trying to do something like this with Word long ago, there’s a lot more junk to clean up than with Word Perfect. For Word, an option might be to mark the italics etc. with placeholders (e.g. xxx & yyy), use a text editor to strip the html code, and replace xxx & yyy with html code for italics.
NOTE: em-dashes have caused me a lot of grief in the ebooks I’ve uploaded. One time they even disappeared entirely, which makes it very difficult to fix. Here’s an article on what to watch out for and how to make it work, at least for Smashwords.
There’s still a lot of cleaning up to do, however — while I have my styles for chapters and quotes and etc. defined in my template, I still have to go through the text and assign the styles. Depending on the text, this can involve a bit more work. While I was formatting Yseult, I realized that I had a lot of narrative written in letters. I didn’t want to mark every letter as a new scene, so I defined a new style for correspondence that would add extra space before a letter.
2) Add marketing blurbs, title page and cover
On the first page, I put a smaller version of the cover, since I myself think it’s nice to open the ebook and see the cover first.
On the page after the cover, I have what I call my blurbs. If you have quotes from reviews of previously published work or any other bragging rights, this is where they could go. Alternately, if you’ve solicited blurbs from more well known writers and don’t want to litter the cover with them, those could go here.
After the blurbs, I have the title and copyright page. For a Smashwords ebook, the Smashwords disclaimer goes here. In addition to my own copyright, I also include the copyright for the cover design.
Before you upload, you should probably give some thought as to how you are going to describe your ebook in as marketable a way as possible. For Yseult, I put this in a text file so I would have it handy when I upload the book to different places. Common metadata includes:
The most important for marketing purposes is the description, but be aware that different sites have different length limitations. Amazon allows 2000 characters, so in addition to the description, I also include quotes and a bio. Smashwords requires both a short and a long description, short 400 characters, long 4000. If you know anyone with experience in marketing, you might consider asking for their help when when creating the short description. This is what I came up with for Yseult:
For the price of a truce, Yseult is sent to a world where magic is dying – to marry the father of the man she loves.
Yseult of Eriu stands on the brink between two ages. The daughter of the Queen of the Tuatha De Danaan, she is an Erainn princess with the power of the old race, but when her family is taken hostage, she is married off to the British King of Dumnonia, Marcus Cunomorus.
Marcus’s son Drystan would have saved her from a loveless marriage, but Yseult cannot endanger her relatives and must go through with the marriage. The tragic love story of Yseult and Drystan plays out against the backdrop of a violent world threatening to descend into the Dark Ages – only Arthur’s battles to push back the Saxon hordes can save what is left of civilization. With her background, Yseult could act as a bridge between the old age and the new – but will the price be too high?
If anyone has any suggestions, I can still change it! That’s one of the joys of ebooks and being your own publisher.
4) Create Ebook
According to Amazon, ebooks can be uploaded as Word, epub, plain text, mobipocket, HTML (zipped), PDF, or RTF. For my first attempt with “Looking Through Lace” I uploaded an edited DOC file based on the one I had uploaded to Smashwords. And it looked horrible.
I don’t remember anymore exactly what experiments I tried before I got it semi-right, but I do know that the method that finally worked for me was to make an epub file myself and upload that. I’m still experimenting with the best way to make the actual epub file, so all I will offer here are some of the options. The best method depends on the file you want to convert and how much formatting you still need to do.
a) Scrivener – You can make a great looking ebook with Scrivener, but the problem is that with the Windows version, it creates an automatic table of contents, and I don’t want a table of contents including every single chapter. The Mac version supposedly has the options I would need. You can find out more here:
If you’re working with a completely formatted DOC file, you need to divide the file up into sections at each chapter (Ctrl+K) and make sure the compile options in the meta-data pane are all checked (Include in Compile, Page Break Before, Include As-Is).
b) Mobi Pocket Creator – Couldn’t figure this out myself, but others swear by it.
c) Online converters – Haven’t tried many of these, so can’t say which is best for which type of file. Would love some info on which work best!
d) Atlantis – Atlantis is a word processing program that will also compile documents as ebooks. Worked pretty well for me, but I did lose some formatting. It also has the disadvantage that it is yet another word processing program, of which I have too many already.
f) Sigil – I couldn’t figure out how to do the actual conversion to ebook correctly with Sigil, BUT it did solve my problem with the unwanted table of contents created by Scrivener. All I had to do was open the epub file I compiled in Scrivener, move the table of contents to where I wanted it, delete the Scrivener TOC and replace it.
In all of this, I still lost some formatting, mostly in the epigraphs before each chapter, so obviously I don’t have the perfect solution yet. But once I do figure it out, I can replace the file I have up on Amazon now. (BTW, the preview on Amazon looks pretty messy. The actual ebook looks much better, so if you want to see how it came out, download the sample for your Kindle.)
Here are some other articles that might also be helpful to others struggling with creating ebooks: