Creating an eBook: An Evolutionary Approach

For anyone interested in self-publishing on the various eBook platforms (e.g. Kindle, Kobo, Nook, etc), creating books e-Reader ready is a skill that is becoming as important as the writing itself. At YouWordMe, we have created tools that automatically create machine-ready eBook files in .epub and .mobi formats, perfect for the most popular eBook readers on the market. All you need to do is provide a properly formatted file using LibreOffice/OpenOffice or Microsoft Word. This document will show you how to do this.

The subtitle, “An Evolutionary Approach”, was chosen because you will be able to see, using screenshots of an Amazon Kindle, how the changes in document formatting translate into the finished product, namely the eBook itself. For this tutorial, I'm going to concentrate on creating an eBook that will be read on a Kindle. This isn't a slight on other eBook readers but rather a choice of convenience. Using the YouWordMe eBook converter, I can email the finished product directly to my Kindle as opposed dragging and dropping it using a USB cable. (Note: In order to use the free eBook converter, you will need to create an account and log in.)

If you're sitting comfortably, let's begin . . .

The Book

The book, in this case, is actually a short story called “Love Me Nostalgic”, one I wrote many years ago. As it turns out, it's a pretty cool little story and, as a bonus for reading and following along with this tutorial, I'm going to let you download a free copy for your eBook reader.

I'm going to begin by creating a plain document from this short story. I will publish it to my Kindle and Kobo using the YouWordMe eBook converter (at http://members.youwordme.com), load it up onto my devices, then show you what it looks like.

The evolution of this eBook will follow with incremental changes. I'll add title and chapter formatting, sections, images, and book cover artwork. At every step, I will save the document, convert it, upload it, provide a screenshot, then move on.

By the end of this document, you'll have all the tools necessary to do the same. Formatting your book or short story for the eBook reader marketplace will no longer be a mystery. 

The Most Important Thing You Need To Know

Okay, now that I have your attention, here is the single most important thing to know when creating an eBook. Keep it as simple as you know how.

If you are using OpenOffice, start with a document formatted entirely using the Default paragraph style. Of you are using Microsoft word, it's called Normal. We'll get fancy later, but only so fancy. Feel free to use italics and bolding in your text.

Remember, eBook readers are about text, not trying to do weird and wonderful things. Clean text with simple formatting will win you more accolades than any attempt to produce an electronic version of a coffee table book.

Think simple as you work your way through this. You'll thank me later.

My initial document, seen in LibreOffice Writer, looks like this (se Figure 1).

Figure 1: The plain document in LibreOffice Writer.

When you see an image, as above, it has likely been resized to fit the article dimensions. To see the original, in all its glory, click on the image.

It's pretty basic in terms of layout with blank lines separating paragraphs. Before we start looking at doing any kind of formatting, let's turn this document into an eBook file suitable for a Kindle. This is the .mobi document extension. To get my story into this format, I'm going to use the YouWordMe.com document converter.

http://members.youwordme.com/ebook_convert

Using The YouWordMe eBook Converter

To get started, click the Choose File button. Your operating system's file selection dialog will appear. Navigate to the location of your file, select it, then click OK (or whatever your OS uses to mean OK).

Once your file is loaded, use the radio button to choose either the epub format or the mobi format (see Figure 2). My primary reason for using the mobi format in this example is that using the YouWordMe eBook converter, I can automatically email the resulting file to my Kindle eBook reader.

Figure 2 : The YouWordMe eBook converter.

Users of Amazon Kindles can email documents directly to their devices. This is pretty cool in that you don't need to connect a USB cable in order to drag and drop documents into the device. Not that this is complicated but emailing does save a few steps.

All About Emailing To Kindle

Your Kindle email address is something along the lines of yourname@free.kindle.com. In order for this service to work, you first need to visit your YouWordMe account page and edit your account settings. The link you need to follow is as follows.

http://memdev.youwordme.com/user

Scroll down to where you see the field labeled "Kindle Email Address" (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 : Kindle address settings in your user account

Enter the address of your Kindle device. This is the "yourname@free.kindle.com" address. If you haven't set up a Kindle email address yet, you'll need to do so by visiting your Kindle's Personal Document Settings page here.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/digital/fiona/manage#pdocSettings

You'll also need to add @youwordme.salmar.com to the approved email list in order that we may send you the converted documents.

Note: If you see a field labeled "Kindle Email" in the eBook converter, have no fear. The Kindle email that is tied to your account on the system is still in the development stage. As soon as we're happy with the results of that feature, the email field will disappear from the form. 

Conversion Ahoy!

Okay, let's get back to the conversion. Click on the Convert and Download button and wait a few minutes. The conversion itself only takes a few seconds (it may take a couple of minutes for a large document) but Amazon may take a few minutes to deliver the converted eBook to your Kindle.

Once converted, the plain eBook looks like this (see Figure 4).

Figure 4 :  Plain ebook with no formatting to speak of.

There are some interesting things to note here. For starters, my hard returns are translated as a space between paragraph. Where I had a blank line between paragraphs (e.g. between the Copyright and the # Part 1) there are now two blank lines. This is the first lesson of formatting an eBook. Carriage returns are treated as paragraph breaks so don't put the in unless you want the extra space.

If you've got blank lines between your paragraphs, get rid of them.

But what if you want to a line break or without a paragraph space? That's easy. Instead of pressing Enter at the end of a line, hold down the Shift key and press Enter (Shift+Enter). That gives you a line feed without a paragraph break.

The single most important format after default or plain is Heading 1, and maybe Heading 2. My short story is broken up into four parts which I call, coincidentally, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. In each case I'm going to apply the Heading 1 tag. I save the document and use the YouWordMe ebook converter once more. The result appears in Figure 5.

Figure 5 : The Heading 1 tag as applied to my Part 1 section.

All those parts could just as easily have been chapters headings. An added bonus of applying the Heading 1 formatting is that the conversion automatically creates a table of contents. So, when navigating to Contents, we see our four parts (or chapters) as in Figure 6.

Figure 6 : The table of contents is automatically generated

Now let's go back and take a look at the title and make it stand out a little more. The easiest way is probably to apply the Heading 1 formatting to the title; yes, Heading 1 will become your best friend. Then, select the front matter (title, author, copyright, etc) and center it. At the end of the last line, right before the story begins, add a page break (Ctrl+Enter).  See Figure 7 for this one.

Figure 7 : The title page with some basic formatting

My title page is still a bit sparse so it might be a good time to consider what changes might be applied here.

If your ebook has an ISBN, include it here. Identify the edition of this particular work, especially if it is part of a series or an older work that has been redon. The title page is also a good place to identify the rights you are selling along with your ebook. This includes the license you are using to distribute the work. Do you reserve all rights? Are people allowed to share the ebook? Are people allowed to make copies?

You might also include a Website address or some information about the publishing company that produced the book. Open up a paper book and see what's included there. Use your judgement.

Cover Image

The next step in our eBook beautification project is the addition of cover art. For this example, I created a cover using the GIMP, a free and open source software image editor, and some free artwork (in this case, distributed under a Creative Commons license).

I won't go into a discussion on the pluses and minuses of making your own covers. Hiring a good artist can be expensive though, a fact you need to consider as you evaluate the investment you with to put in your eBooks.

If you are creating your own images, keep in mind that the standard Kindle has a 600 by 800 pixel screen. This is a good resolution to shoot for when designing your art.

To add a cover image, start by placing your cursor at the very top of the document, in the very first position. Press Ctrl+Enter to force a page break. The title and all text that follows will move down to the second and subsequent pages (see Figure 8).

Figure 8 : Cover page inserted in my word processor.

As you can see, my artwork covers the entire page. The story itself begins on the following page.

Let's upload and convert this latest version of the short story and look at it on the Kindle (see Figure 9).

Figure 9 : My short story on the Kindle, with cover art in place.

Onward

This is where I leave you, for now. This is by no means a complete guide to creating and formatting eBooks. What I hope I've achieved in these few short pages, is provide you with an understanding of the basics and how simple, subtle changes affect the final eBook product.

Until next time . . .