Ebook Formatting: Conversion Options

illustration-of-books-pvBy Cecilia Lewis

One of the most frequent questions that my self-publishing clients ask is how to format an ebook. Proper formatting is crucial in making sure your book looks professional and polished, but how do you convert your manuscript into an ebook? With such a large number of options, it can seem like an overwhelming process. However, having so many choices means that you can find a method that works best for you and your book (not to mention your budget).

Option 1: Hire a Professional

This is by far the easiest option, and will ensure that your book looks professional. However, it is also the most expensive option (especially if you need to include images, tables, or other content in addition to the text). Another major drawback is that, for every update you want to make to the text (fixing typos, adding or changing links, etc.), you’ll have to rely on someone else to do it. Still, this is a great option for writers without the tech skills or the time to format the ebook themselves.

If you’re interested in hiring a pro, check out sites like BB eBooks or Streetlight Graphics. You can also post about your project on large freelance sites like Guru and Elance (which offer dozens of different freelance services, in addition to ebook formatting).

But before you hire, make sure that they are recommended, are willing to provide samples, and will be coding your book by hand, as opposed to using an automated converter. Converting it automatically from a Word document is something you can do yourself much more cheaply; make sure that you’re paying for a quality service. A hand-coded ebook will give you a much more compact file (meaning lower delivery fees, faster download times, etc.).

Option 2: Use Scrivener

Scrivener is a fantastic program for professional writers that is not only great for writing but also has the capability to convert manuscripts into ebooks. If you don’t already have Scrivener, you can buy a license and download it from Literature and Latte for $40 (and they frequently offer discount coupons to NaNoWriMo winners). Personally, I use Scrivener for all of my writing projects; even if you don’t want to use it for ebooks, it’s a great program to take a look at for drafting and revising manuscripts.

Keep in mind that the file Scrivener produces will be less compact than if it had been hand-coded. But this a great low-budget option that doesn’t require much technical knowledge. If you’ve never used Scrivener before, I also highly recommend checking out some of the online tutorials and guides to using the program, as it can be a little overwhelming for beginners.

Option 3: Use a Word-doc Conversion Service

One of the most common methods used by self-published authors is using the Smashwords “meatgrinder” to convert a Word document to an ebook. This is a fairly user-friendly option that doesn’t require much technical knowledge. However, there are some fairly significant drawbacks. First, and perhaps most important, is that you’re not allowed to take the files Smashwords produces and upload them anywhere else; you’re limited to only using Smashwords directly. This method also doesn’t provide much control over formatting and results in a very large file (which means slower downloads and other issues). It’s also not the best option for books with lots of images. Still, if you’re interested in this method, there’s a free Smashwords Style Guide available.

Other, similar services include Kindle Direct Publishing, for formatting ebooks for Kindle, and Pressbooks, which is a free online tool that allows you to create ebooks from scratch. I haven’t explored either of these options thoroughly enough to recommend them, but they’re definitely worth looking into if you’re considering a conversion service.

Option 4: Code It Yourself

This is the most time-consuming and technologically-difficult option. However, it offers you the most control over your book, which is one of the major benefits of self-publishing. It also gives you the freedom to customize the look of your ebook. As with hiring a professional, it results a clean, compact hand-coded file. However, you’ll definitely need a bit of patience and an eye for detail in order to learn to code well, and this may not be the best option if you have a tight deadline for publication. The learning curve here is steep. (You’ll need passing knowledge of HTML and CSS, for a start.)

If you’re considering the do-it-yourself option, I’d recommend checking out sigil, but there are many other options available.

What do you think? Have you tried any of these methods? Let me know in the comments!

Want a professional evaluation or edit of your manuscript before you publish? Check out my Services page for more information about working with me.

This post is part of my Self-Publishing Series. For more info about self-publishing, check out the other posts in the series here, and follow the blog to see future posts!

Related Links:

-What to Avoid in Your Cover Copy

-The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing

-What to Include in Your Backmatter

-The Pros and Cons of Physical Copies


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