Formatting your precious manuscript into an ebook can be a daunting proposition. It can seem like you’re standing at the bottom of a very tall, steep mountain without so much as a backpack or bottle of water. Maybe no shoes. But never fear! (Your hiking boots are awesome!) Formatting ebooks isn’t rocket surgery (or brain science) and thankfully there are some great software tools out there to rescue you from the cliff. Here are our faves.
Microsoft Word is among the best-known and longest-standing pieces of software for writing, editing and formatting ebooks. It’s most often used in conjunction with PC computers, however, we happen to also use it with our beloved Macs.
For those who have used Word forever, it’s great because you don’t have to learn a new system. There are, of course, certain tricks you need to employ, like using section breaks to ensure proper header, footer and page numbering treatment and mastering the style guide for consistent headings, that not every casual user of Word necessarily needs to know. Creating PDFs out of correctly formatted Word docs is easy, or you can strip out most formatting for an adequate ebook file accepted by many of the ebook distributors like Amazon and KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).
From personal experience, though, formatting with Word can be a lengthy process. Especially if your manuscript is longer than 15,000 words. We’ve had all sorts of little buggy quirks that force us to go back to the beginning and redo style and formatting elements. You know what they say…. the devil you know… 😉
Vellum is a platform well-regarded by many self-publishing pros for its simplicity and professional-looking results. When you import your Word manuscript, Vellum’s software detects most chapter breaks, and allows customization for an ebook that looks and feels just the way you like. Check out Vellum here. You can pay for a single title, batch of ten, or purchase an unlimited subscription.
After struggling with several manuscripts in my beloved MS Word, I finally gave in and tried Vellum. Now I don’t want to go back! Vellum is easy, easy to use. It produces great-looking manuscripts ready for uploading as ebooks or for submission to printer/print-on-demand as PDFs for print books. The one caution we have is that you have a limited number of templates and fonts from which to choose. The fonts restriction is there because they offer only those fonts recognized by the major ebook distributors. We get it. If you’re hoping for an interior design that’s really creative and unique, Vellum may not be for you.
The gift to writers everywhere! Scrivener‘s main function is as a powerful content-generation tool, allowing writers to focus on composing and structuring long and complex documents. Like, um, books. It does, however, also give you total control of formatting, including ebook formatting. With your finished manuscript, you tell the software how you want your ebook formatted, and it compiles it just the way you want.
At Ingenium Books, we do all our writing (ghostwriting) in Scrivener. We output a word version when we’re ready to share with our clients and editors. It truly has revolutionized our writing process. The learning curve is oh-so worth it.
Speaking of learning curve. Scrivener does provide tutorial videos, and at the very least you’ll want to spend some time on those. My personal view is that investing in a training course it is worth every penny. The one I used is Joseph Michael’s Learn Scrivener Fast. It made a world of difference to me and accelerated my fluency with this awesome program. I do all my writing and organizing in Scrivener, but full disclosure: I still compile (export) my work and use Vellum (or Word) to format. I will get more comfortable using Scrivener for everything, I’m just not there yet.
Jutoh is a multi-platform, locally-residing (read: NOT cloud-based) software tool that has been designed specifically for creating ebooks in epub, PDF or Kindle formats destined for distribution anywhere: iBooks, Google Play, Kogo, Kindle and more. It’s right on your computer (yup, PC or Mac or whatever your flavour), so if you live on a boat like us and you don’t have internet for a few days, you’re not stuck. You can still work! It’s also a one-time purchase, rather than subscription or per-use. Buy once, use forever.
Help With Formatting Ebooks
Even the most amazing tool that simplifies the process will take you a bit of time, depending on the length and complexity of your book. I’ve literally spent weeks formatting 70,000 words in Word, or two days formatting ebooks of 40,000 words. You still need to take care to thoroughly review the work and make sure it looks the way you want it to look before you hit ‘publish’.
Plenty of capable authors have reviewed one or more of the tools above, or others not listed here, and have decided their time is better spent doing something else (like writing their next book). So, they hire someone to do their formatting for them. There’s no shame in that, and there are plenty of options out there. Including us :-). We love formatting ebooks, and paperback books too. I’m working right now on reformatting a book for a client: it’s an image-heavy instructional book that is simply going to work best if I format it in Word. So, that’s what I’m doing.
Whichever route you choose, it is an exciting milestone on your author journey. Congratulations!