Formatting your books and ebooks: DIY or paid?
Most of you have probably read one of my rants about the difficulty and absurdity of producing finished books in Word. Except for Smashwords, where this is required, you should never use Word for final output. So, what are your options?
Do it yourself or pay someone else
There are several factors involved here. You need to carefully look at your needs and choose what works best for you. But the bottomline is certain. Sooner or later, your book will be formatted and output in InDesign. True, there are a few people still using QuarkXPress, but these two software applications are the only professional book layout programs left.
Yes, I know that many [Lulu, Createspace, Kindle KDP, BookBaby, and many more) who will convert your book
The problem here is that you get what you pay for. Even the best book formatter is going to want at least a couple dollars a page to take your Word document, strip out all the formatting and format your book in InDesign so it can be printed and uploaded in the various ebook formats. So, for a 250 page book, you are looking at several hundred dollars—or much more—simply to get the book formatted for print. Then you need the same amount of money to convert your book to an ebook. In fact, if you are using a pro [a person who understands HTML5 and CSS2 and/or CSS3] it can cost much more than that to get your book up to what they consider professional quality.
It costs much more to pay people to do your book than it does to get your own copy of InDesign and learn to do it yourself.
Questions to ask yourself [no matter where you are in your writing career]
- Am I going to be doing this as a living? Many authors have a single book they want to share. Smashwords will work fine for this unless you are convinced that the quality of the book is worth the investment of resources needed.
If you are going to be doing it for a living, you will be writing many books, about many topics, in many sizes from 24-page booklets to 500-page novels or 350-page training manuals. Plus, you will be making regular blog postings, writing articles, adding comments to blogs you follow, sending tweets and all the rest.
So far this year, I’ve put out eight books [although two of them were new editions of older books]. I’m currently working on three more: a new edition of my best seller, Practical Font Design; a new book on the 7,000 years specified for this creation we live in [currently out on proof]; and I’ve started another new book to follow up my surprisingly fast selling How to Teach the Bible tentatively called How to Teach Prophecy. I’ve also posted 113 posts on this blog, 83 posts on my writing blog, 1118 tweets in my two accounts, and countless comments in linked-in groups and on forums. I’m certainly not bragging [for most of it is probably junk], but I am trying to give you a feel for what it will take to get professional as a writer. [Plus, I am having a lot of fun!]
- What is my budget? This is very important. I will give you my operation as an example. Now I have some unique assets.
After graduating as a fine artist in 1971, I worked as a graphic designer, typographer, and art director for 20 years before I began teaching it at a community college for the next 20 years before I began writing and DIY publishing full time for the past few years. For me, I already had the Adobe Creative Suite, writing skills, and illustration skills. On the other hand, I used to teach these skills in five 3-credit courses (which could be taken in one semester).
Regardless, when I started writing and publishing full-time in 2009, I had a budget of zero. The only asset I had that I was paying for was my internet access and my Websites. That is still true today, but through diligent work and practice [plus, most importantly, the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit] I have published nearly two dozen books and the Lord has built my monthly income up to an average of almost a thousand dollars a month. But there is nothing there for publishing expenses yet. I’ll talk about other budgets below, but to pay others to do it for you, you are talking about several thousand dollars for each book.
- Does the look of the book matter to me? It certainly should. If not, you definitely need to hire a pro because there is a certain level of design proficiency that the reader demands [at several thousand dollars per book].
- Do I enjoy messing with the formatting of my books? In this case, you need to start studying typography [the art of communicating clearly and easily with your readers]. You also need to learn the software necessary to produce professional typography, InDesign or QuarkXPress. For ebooks, you need InDesign to export ebooks directly that meet basic professional standards of design. Or, you need to learn HTML and CSS so you can format your books yourself. [The only cost is the software: $50 a month; or a few hundred dollars for academic or non-profit versions; or over a thousand dollars for full retail.]
- What is my Web presence?
- Do you have a Website? It is essential that you have a place for your readers to talk with you and each other. You need to have a central place where people can find out about your latest writings, your philosophy, resource materials, and so on.
- Do you have a blog? At this point, my recommendation is that you convert your Website to a WordPress blog. Your blog will be your major marketing effort in most cases. With a WordPress blog you can put your whole website into posts and pages.
- Do you have an account with Facebook, Twitter, and all rest of the social sites? This will vary a lot. Facebook seems to be over rated, but it is probably the best for novelists. Twitter works very well, especially for non-fiction writers. Linked-in has many groups where you can share your expertise with like-minded people. There are also many sites for writers that can be very helpful: like christianwriters.com and many more. GoodReads works very well for many, as does Shelfari. You need to experiment until you find the resources that work for you, your personality, and your readership.
Things that need to be covered
- Writing: This takes a lot of study and practice. In my case, my first six books in the 1990s were text books for large traditional publishers where I was trained by example with an acquisitions editor, a copy editor, a technical editor [to make sure my instructions actually worked], peer reviewers, and a proofer.
Since then I have read several books on writing by various people, but most of them presented a real danger in the loss of my natural method of teaching. But you need lots of practice, training, study, research, and embarrassing experience.
OH! Don’t forget a solid grammar review.
Many find that meeting in writing groups is a real help.
- Formatting: You need to learn the parts of a book: front matter, copy, and back matter. There are a dozen portions of the front and back matter you can use to help your readers. You also need to learn about paragraph construction and spacing; readability requirements; how to produce comfortable and readable designs; font choices, font sizing, and all the rest of general typography.
Even for novelists, you need to understand how chapter heads are gathered into Tables of Contents, how to format time and location notes at the beginning of chapters, dedications, forwards, prefaces, prologues, acknowledgments, and all the rest. These have strong standards of normal usage which you cannot violate without potentially offending your readers. If you are paying someone to do the formatting, you will pay several hundred dollars for the print version [which is still required], and for the ebooks [probably two versions for ePUB and Kindle and maybe more as embedded fonts become available].
- Editing and proofing: These are three different requirements. You need to get the best you can afford. If you must do it yourself for financial reasons, you need to be prepared to be very embarrassed as you learn to write and edit as you grow in skill and experience.
An editor helps you with content.
A copy editor helps you with style and grammar.
A proofer checks for typos and formatting errors [like all your subheads are flush left except for this one which is centered].
These can easily cost several hundred dollars each.
- Cover design: This needs to be taken very seriously and can easily cost you several hundred dollars for an excellent professional cover.
- Video trailer: I haven’t gone here yet.
This is all just the beginning. Learning to do it all yourself is a real joy. For me it has made book writing and publishing into a fine art experience beyond that which I could have ever hoped.
What questions do you have?