Formatting nightmares

Formatting is something self-published authors know about…and dread. Traditionally published authors get to skip this entire ordeal because they simply send their manuscript off to the agent and presto, it magically appears already formatted and on paper. At least, I that’s what I think happens.

Poor self-published authors like myself don’t have that luxury. I can ask someone to do it for me but that’s risky and expensive. Last time I tried that, they botched it up and would only fix the issues if I paid more money. So now, I do it myself.

Formatting changes the lovely book you’ve written into something an ereader can process. Without formatting you get lines that fall off the edge of the page, breaks where there shouldn’t be breaks and other nightmares. In other words, you have to format the thing or not even your aunt Matilda, who loves you, will read your ebook.

I use Scrivener. It has an innocent little button that says: collate. Collate means formatting. I looked at it and wished the entire process would be as simple as pressing that button. Alas…it’s not.

Press collate and you open up a new window FULL of buttons that open other windows FULL of buttons. Everything from the table of contents to the size of font to the space between the lines, to indents, to how you take your coffee in the morning…everything is in there for you to change and organize. If you want an epub file, you get a set of different choices that match that file’s needs. If you want a mobi file, you get another set. And so on.The problem is some of those buttons are written in codes and you have to fill in information with even more codes.

Figuring out how to collate took me a good five hours (during which I only answered in angry grunts). Scrivener helpfully provides some tutorials online in a microscopic window. After five hours of squinting, I finally got rid of the thing and started simply guessing. Incredibly, I did manage to collate the thing because it’s on Amazon now (I blame it on dumb luck).

In spite of all this, Scrivener is a great option, simply because it’s better than the alternative: Doing it By Hand. Formatting a document a la hand means you have to do manually what each of those little buttons did on Scrivener. For each paragraph, for each chapter, for the entire manuscript. It’s much, much worse than Scrivener’s collating.

Why am I rambling on about formatting? Well, the thing is I’m trying to publish Olivia’s Choice on Smashwords so that I can list my book for free (Amazon won’t do it unless they’re price matching). That means I have to re-format the entire thing.

By hand.

I estimate it’s going to take me a year and a half to get this done.



8 thoughts on “Formatting nightmares

  1. Sad! I am a programmer and there is a language called python. It also has this same issue of formatting especially indentation. Each and every line needs to have exact byte to byte indentation. (Though I love the language!).

    Hope you successfully complete the venture you’ve taken.

  2. I use MS-Word (Office365) and format with as few styles as possible. I export that to filtered-HTML, then pull it into Sigil. I strip off the excess styles Word includes, find & replace certain anomalies, and the bulk is done — 20 minutes.

    I recommend you spend time on learning CSS and HTML4.0 (not 5.0), then open your Scrivener document in Sigil (free coding software). You’ll probably see where the code in Scrivener is messing up.

    If w3Schools looks like gibberish to you–hire someone. You don’t need the stress.

    Peace, Seeley

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