Importance of Correctly Formatted EBooks

Self-publishing has come a long way. With programs like Draft2Digital (D2D) and even Amazon’s own Kindle Create programs and auto-convert (KDP), it seems stupid to hire people to format books nowadays. But is convenience worth it?

I won’t hide the fact that I format eBook and print (KH Formatting / On FB @KHFormat), so I know a thing or two about the behind-the-scenes that you might not think about.

From the pretty eBooks D2D produces to the easy auto-conversion of Amazon, is there really a reason to hire someone to do your eBooks? The short answer is yes and no.

No, you don’t have to hire anyone. You can learn to create “lean” eBooks or you can leave money on the table.

Wait? What money?

Let me back up a step. If you’ve ever published on Amazon, then you’ve probably seen where books over 2.99 have a “delivery fee.” They base this fee on the size of your eBook. We’re talking pennies, but if you leave one penny on the table for every sale, a penny today might be 20 pennies next week, and accumulation can make those weeks add up to thousands of dollars over the course of a book’s life span.

Now, before I get into the how-to part, let me give you some insight into files.

In a standard book, you have Title, subtitle/Author Name, copyright, chapter headers, 1st paragraph (non-indented paragraphs), 2nd paragraph (indented paragraphs), scene break, Call-to-Action (CTA) and about the author section. That’s not taking into account books that have correspondence or newspaper articles and about another dozen special case situations. Do you know how they are supposed to be formatted? If you don’t, how will an auto converter realize that is what all those things are supposed to be? What about extra spaces at the beginning of a paragraph, end of the paragraph, that double space in that paragraph, or that manual line break or tab? Can they remove those mishaps that you don’t even remember doing?

The standard Word document comes with over 30 different styles pre-programmed into the document. You might never use them, but they are there. Let’s say your book has 10 styles and Word has 30, that’s an additional 20 others taking up space in your file size. It’s hard to remove every tendril of extra code in a Word document.

Draft2Digital’s program doesn’t thin down the code either, though they remove a lot of bloat from a Word document. You might not use their Author pages or newsletter pages, but the code is still in the book.

All this extra code is “fluff,” and it takes up space. Think of the code like shoe boxes. Instead of the boxes being filled and being used, you’re holding on to the box of code for a “maybe.” But books aren’t like craft projects. You don’t need to horde that extra code. It’s taking up space, and that space converts into file size.

Some programs don’t condense the code (Amazon). They make a new string of code for every paragraph because the program finds it easier. Other programs try to condense it down, but the AI isn’t perfect—Calibre ( ) is a decent converter, but it still leaves extra code in a book. It’s like the difference between a clean URL and a dirty URL.

In a dirty file, the code for each paragraph would have to be placed at the beginning of every paragraph—adding to the fluff—that is in that manner. That’s thousands of characters in a book’s code that could be replaced with “block_5” (or whatever it’s named).

Now in a lean book, instead of every paragraph having a string of information at the beginning—it says <p class=”block_5″>. This “block_5” is a reference to the style sheet. It acts like a style in Word, setting up specific designs for a paragraph. It’s a “short cut” of sorts.

So how do we remove this “fluff”?

I prefer Sigil. It comes with add-ons like KinGen which helps turn your ePub into a Mobi file.

Sigil only handles ePubs, but there are add-ons to upload directly from Word. Built into Sigil is an option to remove unused media and CSS code. With a little knowledge, you can start combing through your books, getting rid of the redundant blocks of code, and making your eBooks as lean as possible. To learn the basics of code, I recommend taking the time to read and practice the lessons found here There are tons of things that you can do once you understand the code (whether it’s for eBooks or even for your website).

Always upload ePub to Amazon, Kobo, Google Play, etc. If your book passes validation——your book is properly packaged, then Kobo and such will gladly use your book without running it through their converter which could tack on extra fluff.

Even if you hire someone, I suggest you run your ePubs through the validator. If you’re getting errors, then your formatter should explain what the errors mean. Just because the file works today with the error doesn’t mean that it will work the next time the stores update their system or on a different device such as going from an Android to an iPhone. A validated eBook should work on just about every system available.

With Amazon, I don’t have the answers, but from experience, upload an ePub file. The Mobi files that Amazon spits out from either uploading a Mobi file or a Word doc and letting their system convert it is still bigger than the file that they give you if you upload an ePub file and they put a Mobi wrap around it.

Differences between ePub and Mobi

EPub files are easiest to work with. The files are made up of HTML files in a zip file. They stack like cans on a shelf. You can take cans out, add cans, rearrange cans, etc and never really lose the integrity of the file if you don’t mess up the code too much. Most eBook stores deliver ePub and most internet browsers have no issue opening an ePub for you to read it on your phone or on your computer.

Mobi files are like trying to get eggs from a baked cake. It’s an exclusive file type trademarked by Amazon and without a Kindle reader (app on your phone or directly from Amazon’s website), you can’t access the file to read it.

So, is it worth it? Is it worth spending the $100 for someone else to spend a day or two to make sure your book is as clean as it can be? Is it worth it for you to learn? Or do those small delivery fees not bother you enough to make it a hassle worth caring about? Only you know the answers to those questions, and what you think today might not be how you think tomorrow.

If you aren’t sure if you want to format your own eBooks, consider starting with your own paperbacks. The knowledge gained through understanding Word can help you with understanding how CSS (cascading style sheets) and coding for eBooks work.

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This post was edited/proofed by Dennis Doty and ProWritingAid.


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