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Discussion Starter #1
Many of you may be familiar with my eBook formatting tutorial "Take Pride in your eBook Formatting" and as some of you may know, I've been formatting eBooks professionally for many years. I have formatted close to a thousand eBooks over those years for New York Times-bestselling authors all the way to first-time indie writers.

After a long time of absence, I returned to this board a few days ago and I instantly noticed that when it comes to eBook formatting, there is a lot of misinformation floating around here and that some really bad practices are being perpetuated that deserve closer examination. For that reason I decided to offer up an excerpt from my book "Zen of eBook Formatting" on my blog, to tell everyone why they should never, ever use a word processor's export function to create their eBooks.

All the juicy details can be found here - Whether it's for Kindle or ePub-why you should never use an exporter for your eBook formatting. Thanks for checking out and helping make this a more mature industry where readers can always expect high quality eBooks.
 

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I came across your tutorial a few years ago and still believe it is the best one on the internet - no idea you'd written a book on the subject, I just purchased it - thank you!
 

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I'm sure you're doing a great job with ebook formatting, and if YOUR process works for YOU, great. But I am sticking with my process, which starts with Word. Yes, you have to know how to use Word VERY well, or it's going to be a total nightmare. Yes, I know not to use spaces or tabs to indent a paragraph - to use styles. I know HTML. But there's no way in hell I'm going to start a book from scratch in HTML. Take footnotes, for instance. For EACH footnote, the footnote number itself is a link to the footnote in the back of the book. At the back of the book, the footnote also links back to where it was mentioned in the book. So each footnote requires two bookmarks and two links. I am NOT doing all that in HTML by hand.

And I personally think your wording is extremely condescending: "sadly mistaken because their own efforts were severely flawed"

Yes, some people don't know how to use Word properly for ebook formatting and it becomes a nightmare for them and looks terrible for their readers. But a person is either going to have to learn Word very well, HTML very well, or both. I happen to already know both, so it works for ME to start with Word. I wouldn't recommend that for everyone. But you're not going to get me to change my mind, and I believe that my ebooks are excellently formatted. I want perfection, and although I sometimes have to deal with the occasional hiccup, my process is giving me what I want.

If you happen to be referring to my recent issue with kindlegen, the problem had to do with going from the HTML to a mobi file, so how I got the HTML was totally irrelevant.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Word is fine as a starting point. It's not only a matter of using Word properly. Word will never export an eBook for you that is compatible with all platforms. It can't handle many of the countless quirks and bugs on all the different devices in the market. How do you handle the font switching errors on the iPad when you export from Word? How do address the centering bugs in iOS when you export from Word? You can't. And the list of such glitches is endless. So when you use exporters you end up with broken eBooks and you may not even be aware of it.

As for your footnotes, I can handle and format hundreds of footnotes in less than a minute. All it takes is the proper technique and tools, all of which are explained in detail in my book, by the way. ;-)
 

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Guido Henkel said:
Word is fine as a starting point. It's not only a matter of using Word properly. Word will never export an eBook for you that is compatible with all platforms. It can't handle many of the countless quirks and bugs on all the different devices in the market. How do you handle the font switching errors on the iPad when you export from Word? How do address the centering bugs in iOS when you export from Word? You can't. And the list of such glitches is endless. So when you use exporters you end up with broken eBooks and you may not even be aware of it.

As for your footnotes, I can handle and format hundreds of footnotes in less than a minute. All it takes is the proper technique and tools, all of which are explained in detail in my book, by the way. ;-)
I know of these quirks and know how to tweak the html after it comes out of Word to deal with it. I know how to tell Calibre to ignore certain CSS codes. If someone doesn't want to tweak html after it comes out of Word, they shouldn't use Word. It does require some tweaks.

If you're not writing every html tag by hand, then you are using software to help you generate your html. So am I.
 

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I like doing it in Open Office. There is one thing I did that looks odd when my short story uploaded that has to do with some spacing but it's ok and I know exactly how to fix it for next weeks upload. I can't imagine doing all that code from hand, I love Open Office.

 

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Word and Calibre have always done the job for me.  I write in Gdocs, paste it into Word, and it takes 15-20 minutes to have it formatted.  A little longer if I'm doing a novel with multiple chapters.  And when I tell Calibre to turn it into an .epub for me, it comes out looking great on a variety of devices. 

Frankly, I have more important things to do than spending several days doing all of the coding by hand.  Like writing the next book.
 

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Frankly, I have more important things to do than spending several days doing all of the coding by hand. Like writing the next book.
This is why I write my books in the cleanest Word file I can get (I don't even use italics, but use underscores), and palm it off to my professional formatting guy, who does all the magic and gives me separate files for the different Kindle types and EPUB2 as well as EPUB3 files and whatnots. And if there is a problem, he fixes it. Because I have better things to do.

Best. Money. Spent. Ever.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Mot of you are completely missing the point, sadly. It is absolutely irrelevant how well you format your manuscript in Word or Open Office or Scrivener. It is irrelevant if you run it through Calibre or not. The point I have been trying to make is that the files that are exported by word processors are unsuitable because aside from formatting oversights, they do not address the firmware idiosyncrasies of the many devices in the market. If you want a professional-grade eBook you need to somehow address these shortcomings. Whether you do that by hand-coding the HTML file or by cleaning up the exported files is irrelevant entirely, as long as you do it. The process I suggest in my tutorial and my book is only one way to do that--the one that works best for me--but your mileage may vary, of course. The key is that an untreated export file will and does cause problems, even if you do not see it yourself on your device.

I hope this makes my point a bit clearer.
 

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Guido Henkel said:
Mot of you are completely missing the point, sadly. It is absolutely irrelevant how well you format your manuscript in Word or Open Office or Scrivener. It is irrelevant if you run it through Calibre or not. The point I have been trying to make is that the files that are exported by word processors are unsuitable because aside from formatting oversights, they do not address the firmware idiosyncrasies of the many devices in the market. If you want a professional-grade eBook you need to somehow address these shortcomings. Whether you do that by hand-coding the HTML file or by cleaning up the exported files is irrelevant euntirely, as long as you do it. The process I suggest in my tutorial and my book is only one way to do that--the one that works best for me--but your mileage may vary, of course. The key is that an untreated export file will and does cause problems, even if you do not see it yourself on your device.

I hope this makes my point a bit clearer.
Nope. The output from Word is totally usable to produce great ebooks on all platforms if you know how to use Word, and can tweak the html. You're the one that's missing the point, and this conversation is no longer worth my time.
 

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All the various device sites let you upload a Word doc now, and they convert it for each particular device.

Except iTunes, and for that, there's https://www.draft2digital.com/

So nowadays, yes, it really is about knowing how to format in Word. And once you know, it doesn't take any time at all.

Here is where I learned to format in Word: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52 The only change you need to make from that is: When uploading to Amazon, DO let Word create the table of contents. Otherwise, the Kindle book won't have an NCX file.
 

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Eltanin Publishing said:
The output from Word is totally usable to produce great ebooks on all platforms if you know how to use Word, and can tweak the html.
Bold italics mine. I think that just proved the OP's point.
 

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I've been using Scrivener for my ebook formatting. Every time I export an epub, I check it on multiple devices and on multiple desktop epub readers. So far, haven't had a single problem or received a single complaint. And there are numerous other best-selling authors who have been using Scrivener to prepare epubs. Again, no problems. So either people continue buying broken ebooks, or this isn't as dire as you make it out to be.

Stick to your method, I'll stick to mine.
 

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Whichever method you use to produce an epub, make sure you run it through the EPUB Validator (http://validator.idpf.org/). If that site reports any discrepancies in the code, Apple rejects the Epub file. Many of the Epub exporters produce html that flunks the test for one small reason or another. Don't count on Sigil's built-in Flightcrew Validator. It misses a few things that EPUB Validator reports. Note that none of these errors prevent the file from being read on an e-reader device. They just prevent Apple from accepting the file.

Here's a tutorial for how I build epub and mobi files. (The text about why I don't use Calibre to convert is out of date but that doesn't matter. The procedure doesn't use Calibre. I need to fix that part some day.)

Warning: This procedure is for those willing to get elbow-deep in the grease.

http://alstevens.blogspot.com/2013/04/a-gearheads-guide-to-e-book-publishing_8864.html
 

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Well I'm glad you're active on here again, Guido. I have used ONLY your method for my formatting and can attest that for me it has produced cleaner, smaller, error-free files. Having a solid understanding of HTML helps to see WHY your suggestions are sound, though.

Welcome back!
 

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Discussion Starter #19
David S. said:
I don't have a Mac and wouldn't use it if you gave it to me, so I guess I'm out.
There seems to be this perpetual myth that my suggestions require a Mac. That is not true at all. All I am saying typically is that I am using a Mac and that I recommend it because it makes many things so much easier and more efficient. That does not mean that it is impossible to do the work on a Windows PC. Far from it. In fact in my tutorials and the book I point people to the respective software tools for both platforms that will help and enable them to properly format their books quickly and efficiently.
 

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I was going to write a long rebuttal here, but I'm not going to take the time. I will say a couple of things, though.

First, your attitude toward users of word processors stinks:

"...in the real world, very few people are so disciplined and organized that they apply the proper style setting every time..."

If you think that we are so profoundly stupid that we can't even do that, how do you think that we are going to follow your directions? I know many people who are "disciplined and organized" enough that they can can apply Styles throughout an entire book.

Second, I jumped to the link that you included above and I find that things have not changed much from when I discovered, then abandoned, your blog years ago: you're overly verbose, your methodology is unnecessarily complex (Do you still tell people that they have to deal with "regular expressions"?), and you still can't put up a blog post that is typographically error free.

And yet we are supposed to believe that we should follow you because you have the answer to the way to format an e-book.
 
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