Publish The Book Self Publishing

How To Write and Self Publish a Book – Formatting, Violence and Hard Liquor

OK I’ve done it I’ve published a book! I was beaten to the chase my good friends Tracey, Terry and Dave all got over the line first – but we all know that line is just the start of the race!

But bloody hell could someone at least mentioned that the formatting step was going to steal 2 days of my life, and awful lot of coffee, 1/2 a bottle of gin, and the odd flounce! I mean FUCK ME how hard is it to get the formatting right!!!!

I need a holiday!

(3 weeks and counting!)

But its OK – I am – almost – over it. Deep breath.

Its been a learning experience – and I need to write some of this stuff down so that I can get it right for the next book.

What You Need to Start 

  1. A nice cover design Sybille Yates did mine and I’m very happy with it. If you use photos you didn’t take make sure you have the right license for those to – hint you will have to pay!
  2. Unless you are very good – you will need an editor. My editor, Debi Willis, took some time out from California vacation planning from her Kauai beach condo, to do mine – awesome job.

Formatting and Publishing an eBook

Two places to start with Amazon and Smashwords – at least as a non-American. There are LOTS of formats for ebooks – there is a huge fight going on about formats – its all politics and patch protection.  You can totally ignore it quite happily. But basically it appears that most ebooks sell like this:

  • Amazon sells Kindles and they read a format called mobi which is what you buy from the Kindle eBook store. But you can also read Kindle formatted books ;
  • Barnes&Noble sell nooks, other major stores sell Kobes in Australia, NZ and I assume elsewhere – they use a format call ePub;
  • anyone with a PC or Mac can download free software (for Kindle/mobi)  or Adobe Digital Editions (for ePub) to read these formats.
  • people can read both of the above using apps on their iPad or iPhone – or they can buy books straight out of the Apple bookstore;
  • Blackberries have their own proprietary format called PalmDoc.
  • Most people already have the software to read a pdf.

How To Use a WordProcessor Initial Formatting Steps

Now I started typing on a typewriter – so I’ve only been using wordprocessors for over 30 years – I have used everything from Display Write, to WordPerfect – I was an expert on Word Processing before Microsoft even produced a WordProcessor.

I thought most people younger than me would know the follow two golden rules – apparently not:

  • do not EVER create indents by using tabs or spaces;
  • do not EVER create spaces between paragraphs by putting in extra carriage returns – use paragraph styles instead.

Phase 1 Getting a Clean Manuscript 

Time Taken: About 2 hours

Required: Coffee (about 2)

Also Required: a text editor and a word processor

  1. Get all your editing done and get an absolutely final version of the actual words – congrats you are about 10% there!
  2. If you’ve been using page numbers and a auto-generated table of contents for editing ease – delete both.
  3. If your copy has been through a few versions, or back and forth from different software – get a clean copy as recommended by the Smashwords Style Guide: copy and paste all the contents into a text editor; cut and paste it back as plain text into a new document. Yes really – it saves time – trust me it does – I’ve done it both ways!
  4. Decide whether you are using indents between paragraph OR a space between paragraphs – YOU CAN’T HAVE BOTH if you want Smashwords to distribute your book (and you do).
  5. Add in as few as possible paragraph styles – I used just one, add the spacing or indents that you want in this paragraph style. Add heading styles to anything you want in your table of contents.

Phase 2: Formatting and Submitting to Amazon

Time Taken: 2 -4 hours depending on whether you used bullets

Required: Coffee (about 4),  gin (but not too much): optional dog (to kick), sound proof room (for the screaming).

Also Required MobiPocket Creator (free), notepad++(free, or your favourite html editor)

Amazon has its own formatting tool – but its a command line piece of software which absolutely no one uses (well unless they are a publishing house with an IT department). You can however upload any of html, doc or prc files.  Trust me this is not too bad compared to Smashwords.

  1. Take your current doc or odt format book and SAVE IT – in several places – be very, very sure to do this!
  2. Export your book to html.
  3. Fire up MobiPocket Creator. Import your html document, add your cover (kindly supplied by the talented Sybille Yates), add you content, tell it to make a table of contents and tell it to use h1, h2 (to whatever level) for the TOC (you did use header styles didn’t) you?
  4. Hit compile (don’t do the submit thingy – that’s all out of date you just submit using the kdp dashboard).
  5. Celebrate – you now have a prc file, do happy dance, open up file in Kindle for PC – see it all looks great – drink gin.
  6. Get happy and download the prc file to your Kindle to show off your cool new eBook. Notice that the bullets are fucked, notice other weird format stuff (drink more gin, kick dog, scream etc).
  7. Remember that this is all in html – open up the file in some html editor like notepad++ Notice that withing <li> tags of bullets you have <p> marks – delete all of the same. Get rid of other miscellaneous formatting crap and realise that you shouldn’t have skipped Phase 1 #3
  8. Repeat steps 3-7 until happy, pissed off, successful, drunk, taken in by the SPCA.
  9. Submit to Amazon.
  10. Go to bed – trust me don’t skip this step…

Phase 3: Formatting and Submitting to Smashwords

Time Taken: 8 hours++

Required Option 1: Hard Liquor (bottle or 2), partner to abuse, padded room (for flouncing), rugged laptop (for throwing)

Required Option 2: $25-$50 to pay someone

Required Option 3: Son-of-Satan, piece-of-crap, over-priced, bloated, piece-of-shite (aka Microsoft Word)

Smashwords does have an adventurous scheme – they have a piece of software that converts your single file to multiple formats – now that is hard thing to do. But all that said I am still genuinely bemused that they chose to use Word as their input format.  I don’t own Word (see note above) – but I’ve used OpenOffice on doc files for years and its never failed me – until now.

After at least eight hours – were I totally followed the Smashwords Formatting Guide – my files passed the meatgrinder – I got no error messages from them.

But the results were crap. Specifically

  • the bullets were off i.e. the bullet was the line about the content;
  • the TOC was not clickable at all (pdf) or partially (ePub, Kindle);
  • my non-indented content got indented (Kindle)

After I finally I had given up before I did serious damage to my fairly fragile laptop – I finally had someone offer for free to run my file through Word – after that everything was good – except for the third point – at which point I decided I didn’t give a shite whether I had indents or not (it was consistent after all).  After all that I needed to curl up with some easy reading so I bought Danielle Blanchard Benson’s cool chick lit eBook (yup it was Danielle who helped when I flounced on Facebook!).

So I am the stupid one – did no one else have serious formatting issues? Or do you all own Word???

23 replies on “How To Write and Self Publish a Book – Formatting, Violence and Hard Liquor”


Was relatively painless. Just had to make sure that I formatted correctly as I was writing (which I had read Smashwords guide prior so knew what they wanted). Then just uploaded the word doc to both Amazon and SmWords. Went through fine first time – no errors.



Did you actually check the formats though? I never got any errors but I had some horrible formatting as well

checked kindle version thoroughly. even went back and changed a few formatting things like headings and spaces around images because I wanted all caps (which I think I’ve now changed my mind about but that’s another story).

didn’t check epub version at all. Living dangerously.

I didn’t convert the word doc to html. just uploaded the doc file at both.

Oh yeah, I feel your pain!

Formatting and uploading to Kindle was actually pretty straight forward via Word, then turning it into html then mashing it thru the mobi thang. The book went live and then after buggering about with pricing because i didn’t know about the $2 surcharge in Spain and elsewhere… 3 days later its back at 99c and I’ve now put up some promo banners on my sites. Bring on the sales…

Smashwords was a whole different kettle of very frustrating fish.

Even using word and even after reading that 86 page guide, nuclear unformatting then spending hours re-formatting a copy of the version I made for kindle, I still managed to screw it up and got errors when I uploaded what I thought was the perfect formatted book last night. By this time it was getting on for midnight and I was not in a very happy bunny!

Word is a bloated, pig headed task master that is ok for writing basic articles (I used OO Writer for ages and preferred it btw) but what is all this formatting bollocks? Jeez, I tell it to format the paragraphs just like the guide said and it still managed to screw with me and send a version that had “multiple paragraph formatting” – I didn’t do it, I swear!”

By 1:30am, I had finally ironed out all the glitches and uploaded a clean file. I was also dead tired after having been up since 6am and the hot wind meant temps were holding up at 29C, so sleep was going to be difficult with no aircon. But I digress… I checked the formatting this morning (up at 6 again dammit!) and its cool.

WHat I can’t figure out is why Smashwords want to use a messy .doc file as their base for reformatting ingto all those different formats. Surely plain text or basic html would be far easier. That’s one thing Kindle has got right. An easy conversion from html to .prc and you’re good to go.

But anyway, thanks for the write-up on formatting this monster – I could’ve done with it before I started burning the midnight oil, but hey ho. The next ebook will be easier…

Yeah unbelievable that they would chose doc of all things – almost anything else I would have thought – but html does spring to mind!

Thanks for the great posts, Lis! I’ve been looking at going this route, and being a distinctive non techie I’m sure some of these are issues I would have ran into myself. Looking forward to the further updates in the future.

Good job I have 3 Dogs, plenty to kick. The Kindle uploads went absolutely fine but smashwords was a whole different kettle of fish.

I just ended up putting the books back in to notepad and then copying in to openoffice again and doing the formatting. All because of stupid epub errors that were incomprehensible to get rid of. When I thought I had got rid of all the errors new ones would pop up when I uploaded again, frustrating but worth it in the end.

Oh I feel much better now – and would like to stress that no dogs were hurt in the production of this post LOL

Oh god, Word is horrible. I write most of my articles in WordPad!

How are eBook sales at 99c? I have some good traffic on my sites and I reckon I could shift a few copies of a Kindle book. I’ve done OK on ClickBank with a plain old PDF, but Kindles are really popular these days.

Ah, the dreaded Word to html battle. I know it well. Don’t know what genius decided that bullets cannot use the li tag. I wrote some Ruby scripts to pull information from Word and make html for my static sites as well as blog entries. Not a perfect solution as it only pulls some of the formatting info, and it would be slow for a book length manuscript (Microsoft’s automation interface is slow!). But it can:

Treat heading levels as h1, h2, etc.

Do bullets and numbering correctly

Treats Body Text as no style

Optionally keeps entire paragraphs on one line (for stupid blog editors)

Passes paragraphs in the Php style raw (to allow inserting PhP. Duh!).

If anyone here wants to play with my scripts, drop me a line (contact info is on my site).

I also recommend running the resulting html through Tidy.

I was laughing at first and then I realized I’m next. :X

Thanks for the tips, but I’m out of whiskey…not good from the sound of it. Might have to have my wife take me to a bar afterwards. 😀

I don’t have Word, I use OOo, hopefully following this process I’ll save some time. I’m not familiar with Smashwords at all save for you and Dave mentioning it – what’s the benefit of using them? Other than they separate your content into various formats…I’ve just never come across their name until Dave’s “Exclusive” post.

I also wonder if it would have helped to upload a plain .txt from Notepad++ into Google Docs, there you can export as a doc file. Will have to give it a go (using Google Docs I mean) when I get to Smashwords. Will tell y’all how it went.

Spot on post as usual, Lis.

James, using Smashwords will get you into iBooks, Nook, Kobo, Sony etc (the rest of the ereaders). While Amazon will still be your main selling place, since they only distribute to their own Kindle, having the others is worth it for people who have the others (and it doesn’t cost anything extra [except a few tears] so you can cover more formats).

Congratulations! It sounds like you really earned it. 🙂 I heartily appreciate you sharing your hard-won wisdom with us laggards who are still working up a rough draft.

Lissie, I think you’ve saved me a major headache. I’m in the process of writing a book and the last thing I need is all the headaches. I use the version of Word I got with Office XP, but I never use it for writing. I use UltraEdit – I paid $75 or lifetime upgrades years ago. It’s plain text with a lot of bells and whistles and is a heck of lot easier to do everything than Word. Word, however, has a better grammar checker than anything else I’ve ever tried.

So, I write and edit with UE, then run it through Word to find my stupid mistakes. I correct the text file, not the Word doc. My text file is pristine and if I need to port it to word and play with styles, at least I know I don’t have to do that until I’m ready to submit it.

Thanks for the heads up on this. You’ve probably saved me hours of frustration I would have to endure in the near future.

Wow, I never thought that formatting an ebook was that hard. Maybe you can only worry to write the book and outsource the formatting part?

Props to you for getting out there and doing this! I’ve wanted to put together one of these for some of my artwork but find it incredibly intimidating. Thank you for the guidance and I will definitely be taking advantage of your hard work. I will also probably take you up on your advice about including hard liquor in the task! 😉

I’m just about to throw my PC out the window so I know what you mean, Lissie!

I also use Open Office and although everything looks fine when I save it as a Word document, and the Autovetter gives it a clean bill of health, the line spacing is completely stuffed when I view it, and it fails the ePub test every time.

Looks like I’m going to have to find someone who can run it through Word for me, too!

Ok, got the Smashwords version done. After all that struggling, it was as simple as running it through an OLD version of Word (95, which I had on my ancient laptop) and it worked like a dream first time. Images are not quite up to scratch but I’m going to worry about that later!

Kindle has me stumped, though. I created a TOC using word and all the hyperlinks just dropped out when it converted to HTML. Can’t figure out how to create the NCX file either. There’s a lot of Shiraz disappearing in this house at the moment!!

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