I hate formatting

All self-published authors will know that a finished manuscript can’t be published until it’s been formatted. Simple, says the layperson, it’s the 21st Century. What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a lot. Especially if you use Smashwords and its notorious ‘meatgrinder’ that autoformats your document until it won’t work on anything. There are authors, including me, who have given up on Smashwords because of the sheer impossibility of getting work through the meatgrinder.

But there’s another problem that formatting vomits up when you have more than one book published. When a new title comes out all the other books have to be updated and in my case that’s six books to deal with.

Sausage meat in, international bestseller out.

The Fine Art of Necromancy must now be added to the list of ‘other titles by C Harrison’ and all the inevitable epub formatting wobblies. At the back of each book TFAoN’s blurb must be added to the five previous novels to complete the series to date.

It’s putting me off. I looked online to see how much it costs to have someone else do it. Hundreds. Normally I’d knuckle down and devote a day to getting it all done. A day that will inevitably be distracted by the internet not working properly, items of curiosity discovered on Youtube (which isn’t working properly at the moment), procrastination, shilly-shallying and suchlike.

I’m also distracted by the songwriting project, the design of a new clothing line based on characters from the TotenUniverse, and the possibility of my stepping into the world of Instagram. A list of tasks to go with a myriad of other long-abandoned tasks. (Remember geocaching?)

Some would say the formatting only needs to be done once a year, or at least when a new book comes out, but they would say that. They don’t have to do it. They don’t have to deal with .doc files containing hidden booby traps that manifest when converted to xml; OpenOffice files that have hidden inconsistencies, especially where bits of the document have been cut and pasted from other devices.

And then when you finally sort it all out and publish the book, four months later someone discovers a spelling mistake…

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12 thoughts on “I hate formatting

  1. I’ve spent a good part of this year learning how to ‘print’ with CreateSpace. That has meant formatting my books in Word, something I haven’t had to do in years. [I use StoryBox for ebooks and it produces clean epub that Calibre converts to Kindle without any problems]. Then I got the bright idea of writing a how to book about my learning curve with CreateSpace. But non fiction books need TOCs and a decent Index…but that messes with section breaks and page numbers….-cries and pulls hair out-
    Btw, have you considered going wide with Draft2Digital instead of Smashwords? I’ve just put three books up and the process was so easy I’m still scratching my head.

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    1. My biggest problem with Createspace has been with spine widths. Once you realise you have to use a different cover template depending on the number of pages the rest tends to be fairly straightforward. However, I’ll never consider a non-fiction title unless it’s a PDF straight off my own website.

      I stopped bothering with Smashwords about a year ago, perhaps a bit longer. Couldn’t be doing with their hopeless meatgrinder shambles. Draft2Digital is so much easier and seems to offer more than Smashwords these days. D2D just started distributing to Amazon apparently.

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      1. Yeah, I know what you mean about spine widths. It took me ages of research to finally sort out the whole thing about trim sizes >> page counts >> spine width. All the information was there, just tangled up like a ball of string.

        Oddly enough, I’ve just finished re-editing a how-to precisely about CreateSpace with over 120 screenshots and diagrams…and the initial proof turned out pretty well so I was quite impressed. Hope I haven’t just jinxed myself. 😀

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  2. Those digital publishing platforms are no substitute for InDesign (or Xpress) but of course they don’t work properly on the digital platforms that won’t take a PDF, and, as you say, Word has a tendency to drop layout time-bombs into the file structure. A frustration of the highest order. I’ve had long experience in publishing and haven’t properly resolved it, and I’m sure nobody else in the business has either. I’ve had some results with Kindle using Word styles, but even there it’s a bit variable once plugged through the Kindle converter. I haven’t been game to try their ‘turn your Kindle into a print book’ mechanism yet, it sounds brilliant in principle but all I can envisage is spaghetti out the other end.

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    1. I don’t use Word, but OpenOffice has been designed to replicate Word in more than just its layout and features; it is infuriating when the formatting goes awry. Using Calibre to inspect the HTML and CSS behind an ePub file I can’t figure out why the formatting varies in what appears to be a single document. I’ve almost got it under control, but it’s such a chore.

      I haven’t used the Kindle converter for paperback. I prefer to go through Createspace, but I’m not sure how similar that process is to the Kindle-to-paperback process. I’ll stick with what I know for now. If I ever do consider something more complex or full colour I’ll definately go down the InDesign route and any device that can’t read PDFs will just have to go without.

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  3. I’ve got all this to come so thanks for the warning. I ran a small publishing company during the 80s and 90s and used a desktop package called Ventura (created in 1986 and last updated in 2002). It was a fantastic product. Digital publishing is, however, a mystery to me at the moment. Keep meaning to investigate but always put it off until a later date.
    Cheers, Alen

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    1. It’s probably a lot simpler for people with one book. A basic novel shouldn’t be too difficult, but I insist on complicating everything. I’ve just started using Scrivener which appears to have some formatting capability built into it, but I’ll leave that for another day.

      I don’t remember Ventura. The earliest publishing software I noticed was Quark, but tend to use InDesign these days for (never published) magazine-type documents.

      The longer you put off the book the longer you delay the royalty payments.

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