Formatting e-books, my current process (novels)

Edit: I figured out a few things to improve my process.

I had a long lull in my self-publishing efforts. Most of what I learned back in 2011-2013 was forgotten. I’m going to write down the process I’ve (re)figured out recently so that I can have it as backup in case the same thing happens again. It’s currently a little “hackish” in how I get the final product, but I’m happy with the result. With more effort, I think it can be done by hand with the tools available if someone insists on doing that or LuLu someday goes away.

I write my books in Google Docs (Google Drive). It’s great because I can use almost any device as long as it has a decent web browser or supports their related apps. I sometimes write or edit on my big screen phone while at a restaurant or where ever. It’s extremely convenient because it helps me chip away at getting things done. Plus, it’s the one true source for the document because it’s so easy to keep track of and keep up to date.

The main issue with Google Docs is that the output isn’t good for either Amazon Kindle (KDP) or While they offer a ton of formats, I’ve not had luck getting good conversions out of it so far. Once I’m “finished” with the book on Google, I start the conversion process. In this step, it’s probably best to have as little formatting as possible. Mostly just separate the “CHAPTER #” with extra spaces and make sure that each text paragraph is on a new line without additional spacing. Tabbing paragraphs is optional, but might help you edit your book.

I export the Google Doc as OpenDocument Format (.odt). This file is usable in a free open-source editor called Libre Office. This step just helps me cut down on any odd Google Docs formatting.

I make a new fresh document in Libre Office. Everything formatting related is set to default. This will be the final file to use in the conversion step on LuLu.

Here is a screen from the program showing important details:

From the exported Google Docs odt: Copy the entire text, paste that text into the fresh document with “Edit” -> “Paste Special…” -> “Unformatted Text”. Now we should have clean text with only separation by newline characters (CRLF, whatever you want to call them).

For my novelettes, I have my first page as the title page. I remove all white space from the top so that the first line in the document contains the book’s title. The second line is the sub-title, and third (two spaces down) is the “by Scott…” text. I also have some copyright text below that, but it’s not too important. For the title, assign Heading 1 to it. For the sub-title and my name, I leave them as normal text.

For all chapter titles I use Heading 2. Be mindful of this step. If the heading is applied to blank space along with “CHAPTER #”, it will result in odd formatting when converted later on. What I do usually is clear out the text between chapters and then press enter a few times to get fresh formatting in there. I select “CHAPTER #” and apply the H2 formatting. You can check above and below the text to make sure the heading wasn’t applied to that white space. If it was, clear the formatting and try again.

For the body text, it’s a two step process. Open up the Styles window by: “Styles” -> “Styles and Formatting (F11)”. A window should pop-up. In there you should see “Default Style” -> “Text Body” -> “First Line Indent” is the first step. Select all of the text for a single chapter. Apply the First Line Indent, and then make the text justified (in the tools menu). That give the text a nice formatting. You should see each paragraph indented and slightly spaced apart from the next. The justification is a standard thing to do with books because it looks a lot better to have words line up on the sides.

Once you have done that for the entire book, it’s ready to submit to for their epub conversion step. To verify the conversion, I use an open-source e-book editor program called Sigil (download it here on GitHub). As mentioned earlier, here is where you could do the entire process yourself. It’s possible to use Sigil to make the ebook, but it would likely take quite a bit of effort doing things by hand. Then you would have to edit further to get the Sigil epub accepted by the publisher sites.

I like LuLu’s conversion results, so I’ve started using them for the submission to Amazon’s Kindle KDP system. When you make a new book on LuLu, you submit the .odt file you just made. Once they convert it and you get to the last step of their submission process, they offer up a XXXXX.epub file for you to review. Open that epub into Sigil to verify that the table of contents, chapter headings, and book text are formatted properly.

Here is what mine looks like in Sigil from LuLu’s conversion of the odt file:

I think that’s it. You can use that epub from LuLu when making the book on Amazon’s KDP website. Though, it looks like you could just use LuLu to publish to that marketplace if you feel like it. I started with Amazon, so I prefer to keep them separate. I haven’t bought my own books to verify things, but they look good in the previewing features on each site.

Edit: I figured out a few things to improve my process.

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