I fancy myself a writer.

Fixing your #Smashwords ebook file: The nuclear option isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds!

Many of the most common issues indie publishers encounter when converting Word files to eBook files can be eliminated by properly setting up each Word document and sticking to specific formatting practices throughout the writing process. However, this can be difficult when you format your manuscript with the intent to publish it in print first, and then try to convert your print manuscript file to an eBook file. I learned this first-hand this past weekend when I took the beautiful Word file that I had formatted for the print version of Valley of the Bees and converted it into an eBook.

A Valley of the Bees promotional ad

Luckily, Kindle’s .mobi format is very flexible and doesn’t seem to be quite so picky. With a few simple adjustments, my manuscript became a Kindle eBook with almost no effort on my part. It even retained the cool honeybee icon that I had placed at the top of each chapter! Unfortunately, uploading my manuscript to Smashwords for distribution in other formats wasn’t so easy. I crossed my fingers, held my breath, and let it go. And then, two days later, I received the dreaded email informing me that my book had failed the ePub review.

The wonderful people (or auto-email-generating computers, whichever the case may be) at Smashwords recommended I hire someone to fix my formatting (you know, since I obviously totally screwed the pooch on this one.) The email even went so far as to recommend using the “nuclear method” to fix my issues.

I literally wanted to cry. I mean, “literally,” in the old-fashioned sense of the word. I was SO not going there.

But then, I pulled myself together and reminded myself that I am a smart and resourceful woman. I could do this. I set it aside, slept on it, and got right to work on fixing my manuscript first thing the next morning.

Fortunately, the nuclear method turned out not to be so bad. In fact, it took me very little time to clear out all of the formatting and prep the file for resubmission. This time, it flew right through the review process, and is now available for pre-order through Smashwords’ premium distribution channels. Now that I know how simple the process really is, I want to share with you the steps I took to clear out all of the formatting issues in my Word document that were preventing it from converting to ePub.

My version of the nuclear method

  1. “Select all” and remove all formatting from your Word document (click on the “Clear all formatting” icon in the toolbar; It’s a letter A with an eraser.)
  2. Use paragraph settings to set up a first line indent of .3. This, theoretically, should fix all of the paragraph indents you removed when you removed all formatting. However, if you used the tab key to indent your paragraphs when you were originally formatting your text, you may find that you now have double indents that you will need to fix. I recommend that you make a habit of setting up automatic indents when you first create a new document and stop using that tab key because you are just causing yourself future headaches in eBook publishing.
  3. Make paragraph marks visible (click the backward P icon) and delete all page and section breaks. Page breaks have been known to pass ePub review, so they may be okay. But, I removed them just to be on the safe side.
  4. Re-do necessary formatting, but be careful not to add anything too fancy that might trip up the ePub reviewer:
    • If you used drop caps at the beginning of each chapter, as I did in my print manuscript, then you will need to go back and reconnect the first letter of each chapter to the rest of the text.
    • Justify all text, but then go back and center what needs to be centered, if that’s what you like. However, I found that I kind of like some of my headings left-justified on the eReader.
    • Bold and italicize what needs to be bolded and italicized.
    • Etc., etc. REMEMBER: just be careful not to try to add anything too fancy that will get caught up in the ePub review again!
  5. As long as you have your paragraph marks visible, you should go through your document and delete any excess spacing you might find at the end of your paragraphs. Spaces (i.e. when you hit the space bar while typing) are visualized with a dot. It is typically not a big deal to have several of these dots at the end of a paragraph. I mean, it’s not like a space shows up on the printed page, right? However, when you convert your file into an eBook format, these extra, hidden characters can create extra white space on an eReader screen that will detract from the reading experience. So, get rid of as many of these extra characters as possible when editing your manuscript.

Word pages vs. eBook pages

One of the most important concepts to grasp when formatting an eBook is the idea that you should completely forget that “pages” even exist. The individual pages that you create in a Word document will not transfer over to an eBook. Imagine that your manuscript is one, long page rather than a number of separate pages. Then, imagine how that page will be broken up into separate pages on the various devices that your readers will use to read it.

Some readers will view your book on larger screens than others will. For example, an iPad’s individual “pages” will include more content than an iPhone’s will. Many devices also allow readers the option to change their fonts – including font size – which will also change the number of words that will render on the screen. These are elements that you cannot control when formatting your eBook.  However, you need to keep them in mind to ensure that all of your readers will enjoy a pleasurable reading experience, unmarred by weird technical issues, when reading your text.

Shameless Self-promotion

As I mentioned above, Valley of the Bees, the omnibus edition (which includes all three eBooks in the series!!) is now available for pre-order in a variety of formats. This edition of the book releases March 1, 2017, and will also be available in print! Reserve your copy today:

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