Baby-Steps into Ebook Formatting and Uploading

Writing, revision, and cover art is still taking up all my free time. So much so that I haven’t posted to the blog much lately. Considering how much I’ve been able to do, I hope I’m forgiven.

And what have I been up to?

Taking my first baby-steps into the world of ebook publishing.

Or wading into the shallow end? Or dipping a toe in the water? Learning to crawl first?

Anyway, what I was getting to is this: I officially have ebooks for sale!

Bad news is: No, it isn’t the novella or the novel.

But I did this for a very good reason. Once the writing is finished, there is a steep learning curve to the rest of the process. I’ve seen so many other authors say it, so I was expecting it. It had me concerned.

This was a problem. I did not want to put out my longer work with problems in formatting or conversions. The obvious thing to do was to practice on shorter work first.

It just so happened that I had a few ready. So, I started the process, starting with the cover. This entailed researching bestseller covers and then also studying the short stories themselves. Brainstorming concepts, sketching out ideas, then doing it all again. Then came the computer work of digitally painting them (I don’t have room to get my oil paints out right now).

The first result was the cover for “Where the Purple Grass Grows”, which will be released in a few weeks. Soon followed the covers for “Spires” and “Glint of a Suncatcher“.

Wow, covers! Great step! Oh, but so many more steps to go…

Looking over all the various documentation out there for formatting, I knew I wanted to start small. So, out of the three stories I had covers for, I grabbed the shortest: Spires. Spires is about 4900 words, and so wouldn’t feel overwhelming while everything else in the process was overwhelming me.

The type of formatting and conversion process was a difficult choice for me, but for a reason hopefully not all will have: an old computer. My little Mac Powerbook is still chugging away, and for a lot of things is more than powerful enough. But, the OS’s have moved on, and along with it the programs, leaving my cute little thing in the dust.

Most of the conversion programs out there will not run on it. I’ve tried. I had to settle with using Calibre, and even then, I had to use an older version. Mopipocket and the Kindlegen were out of the question.

I downloaded the Amazon Style Guide, the Smashwords formatting guide, and went web crawling. For Amazon and Barnes & Nobles, the best resource I found was a blog series by Guido Henkel.

I’ve heard using HTML can produce a good quality output when it came to conversion, and as a webmaster, I certainly have enough experience with it. So, I took the file, added a copyright blurb, About the Author section, and started putting it all together.

As an aside, it’s the little things like the copyright blurb that can take more time than expected. Start putting yours together now and save it to a separate file. You will be using it over and over. When it comes time to put together the finished package it really helps to already have it finished.

Using HTML with CSS allowed me to tweak how Calibre converted the ebook. It took hours of trying to figure out all the proper settings, CSS, Styles, all with regular previewing on my Kindle, before the ebook looked right.

Then, just to make sure I was on the right track, I took the same settings as for the Mobi conversion and used them to create an Epub. A friend was kind enough to let me send the resulting file to her to try on her Nook.

And it worked. Horrah!

So, once it looked good as a Mobi, it would look good as an Epub. I like efficiency.

Then came Smashwords. :sigh:

I love the Smashwords service and how they have helped Indies. I do not like having to format differently for them and then let their Meatgrinder have at it (would prefer to upload an Epub or Mobi file). But, it had to be done.

Fortunately they have excellent preparation documentation in their free downloadable guide. As I had my file already prepared in HTML, the checklist for getting the ebook ready for the Smashwords Meatgrinder was rather short. Unlike all the tries it took to get the settings right for Calibre, the formatting came out correct for the Smashwords .doc file the first time out.

With working files, off I went to figure out all the uploading. After the formatting, the uploading was easy. Within 24 hours, Spires was live in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords for .99 cents.

And what a rush. Seriously, a rush. It made me want to upload another one!

Which I did the last weekend. This time it was a longer word called “Glint of a Suncatcher“. Again, I chose this specifically because it was the next step up in complexity. Linkable Table of Contents, linked chapter headings. Heck, CHAPTERS! All of which I would need when it came time to format and upload the novella and novel.

Glint of a Suncatcher” went much faster and smoother than the first time, even with the added complexity. By formatting, converting, and uploading the two smaller works, I feel much more capable and confident working on the larger works.

And the “Night of the Aurora”, book 1 of the Salmon Run series (the novella) and “Into the Forest Shadows”, a SF take-off of Little Red Riding Hood (the novel), are coming soon!

NOTE: There are half-written parts of this series just waiting to be polished up. But, my new ebooks have been noticed, so I thought it wise to skip ahead just a bit to describe the above. I’ll be going back to the other posts shortly.


“The E-Book Experiment” chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will it fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!

I hope the details of this journey will be a help to other authors. As the process proceeds to selling the final products I will also share hard data that might be useful in the decision making process of other authors who recognize that only they can take charge of their careers. For a listing of all the posts in this series, please click here.

If you find this information useful or interesting, please encourage others to come on by and visit.

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Baby-Steps into Ebook Formatting and Uploading

6 thoughts on “Baby-Steps into Ebook Formatting and Uploading”

  1. It gets easier the more you do. You will find you actually write the next draft in the correct format by the third or fourth try. At least, I am doing that. 🙂

    • I write my drafts in Scrivener, which has the ability to export out to plain text. With plain text it’s pretty easy to format from the point of view that I don’t have silly formatting to undo. I do not write my drafts in Word, so I don’t have to worry about that mess. 🙂

  2. I’ve done one upload so far and found Smashwords much easier and more intuitive than Amazon, which took me a couple of tries to do well. I’ve yet to try the chapters, linked TOC and not-first-page starting point, but I’ll figure that out as I go. And then there’s the whole IBSN thing to discover too…

    Isn’t it fun being a publisher? 😉

    • Are you talking about getting the formatting right, or the actual upload process?

      And at least you can say it’s all an adventure. 😀

  3. I just found your website on Monday, and see that this post is over a year old, but you know scrivener can export to .mobi and .epub through the “compile” option, right?

    I haven’t published anything yet, but what I’ve experimented with has come out rather nice on my kindle.

    • Hello Mel!

      Yes, I am aware of Scrivener’s ebook formatting ability. When the new Scrivener version came out I was really excited about the prospect. However, then I found out that the .mobi conversion only works if the computer can also install Kindlegen, which my computer cannot as it’s too old.

      As I do not only .mobi and .epub, but also .pdb, .pdf, and .doc (for Smashwords), continuing to produce clean HTML files is proving the best method. The HTML files can be used directly for three of those formats, then I can open up the HTML file in Safari and start copying and pasting the relevant parts into a Word template. It works very nicely, and since I use templates it’s very fast.

      When I finally upgrade my poor little computer, I’ll take a look at my process again. Right now, because of its age, my options are few and I’ve found a method that quickly produces clean ebooks in a variety of formats.


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