Formatting Your Book

Okay. You’ve written your book. You’ve had it edited and polished, now what? If you have decided to self-publish, you need to format your book. Ebooks come in many different formats. Kindles use .mobi files, Nook, Kobo, Apple and Sony use .epub files, and then some people prefer .pdf files or like to read online. How do you approach all those different formats? has a manual that helps you prepare your manuscript to go through their meatgrinder. When it is done, if everything is perfect, your book comes out in multiple formats that are then sent on to Barnes and Noble, the Apple ibook store, and can be read on the Kindle. Sometimes, no matter how perfectly you follow the manual, you’ll get a glitch. Then you need to go back, figure it out, and reload it into the meatgrinder.

Amazon lets you upload your own file for the Kindle if you prefer, and Barnes and Noble will let you upload a file for the Nook, but you must have it in the proper format. Ebooks must be set up so the words continue to flow properly, no matter how the ereader is set up.

Then, if you want to make a print copy, formatting begins all over again from scratch. CreateSpace at Amazon offers templates to use for your book. Lightning Source and have guidelines to follow. At each of these places, you must choose what size your book will be, and be prepared to have a cover ready that fits their requirements.

Formatting doesn’t have to be difficult, unless you have a lot of charts, graphs and such in your book. Then it can be a bit of a headache. But if you are overly familiar with your book, you may find yourself daydreaming and miss something. Formatting isn’t necessarily hard, but it is very detailed. You can’t use too may fonts, too many sizes, or use tabs and carriage returns. (Do they still call them carriage returns? If you don’t know what they are, that is when you hit the Return key.)

Word is the best program to use for formatting. If the file is set up correctly, most of formatting is just making sure every paragraph and italicized word has been included properly. Sometimes a paragraph may indent further than you want, or Word may just play with you for a bit. It can be frustrating.

However, there are plenty of people who will format for you. Costs are usually not too extreme for this service. We do formatting, and so do many other people online. The best way to find someone to do it for you is to get recommendations from other authors. Are the formatters willing to make corrections if needed? Will they make sure there are no background codes stuck in the file? Word puts them in sometimes. Do you want a linked table of contents for your ebook? Do you have your front and back matter ready? Keep all this in mind when you begin formatting or when you want to hire someone to do it for you.

Remember… you want your book to look as professional as possible and contain few to no errors. Formatting is all part of how you package your book.

Concept, Concept, Concept!

Do you have a concept for your story? Do you know what a concept is? It isn’t an idea… that is merely the seed that may sprout into a concept. It may help you to phrase your concept as a ‘what if’ statement. If it is a strong concept, this what if statement should trigger other what if questions that will help you develop your story.

A strong concept will trigger lots of questions that your story will strive to answer. This branching of story will keep your action flowing and your characters busy. Let’s try an example.

What if a powerful organization was planning to make it appear that the world is really ending on the date a prophet has predicted so they could expand their power worldwide?

What can we do with this concept? Does it bring up more questions? Let’s see.

What if our hero discovers the plot?
What if no one wants to listen to him or her in the growing fear and paranoia?
What if the government is supporting this organization because they’ve been bribed?
What if he or she finds a way that could bring down this organization?
What if our hero finally finds one congress member who believes them and is willing to go out on a limb and help?

See what I mean? Your concept question should inspire more what ifs that will keep your story building and growing.

If you find yourself stuck on this point, your idea may not be ready to be a story, or it may not be worth spending time on. That is up to you to decide.

Your concept is very important. Like location, location, location, concept is something you really need to keep in mind. It could very well give you success or failure, depending on how strong it is. Don’t be afraid to spend some time working on your concept. While it may come first for many writers, you may find you have your characters first, and need to find a concept that suits them. Either way, don’t skimp on the concept.

Concepts may vary from genre to genre, but they should still be captivating and create more of those fascinating what if questions.

Plan or Wing It?

You may have heard a lot about writers who wing it… they write as they go, without any planning. Called seat-of-your-pantsers, or pantsers for short, some of them really bring it. Their stories unfold like a blooming rose, with all of the elements of storycraft in place. However, most writers can’t do this. Stephen King is one of those gifted writers who can get all of the elements in place without the planning.

Most writers who write this way are not Stephen King. They may get all those pages written and find out that something is missing. Or they got repetitive. Or they went off on a tangent. The truth is, you don’t have to be a pantser to get that creative rush from your writing. Most authors benefit from planning, even a little. Planning can help you avoid those pitfalls and holes in your story. Like yesterday’s tips on characterization, you can have it all with just a little planning on your part.

It can be daunting to keep the subplots, the plot-behind-the-plot, the plot that your book is about, all the characters, their mistakes, flaws and goals, and everything else you need all in your head. You haven’t failed if you have to use a pad of paper, notes on your computer or sticky notes all over your work space. In fact, you may find that they make it easier for you.

JK Rowling, when writing her massive Harry Potter series, had notebooks full of backstory, characters, details about the wizarding world, and more. While you may not have to be that extensive, stay open to keeping notes and writing detailed character sketches. They will make your work easier. Can you imagine getting to the finished stage in half the time it might have taken you if you tried to keep it all in your head? It is possible, if you are organized and know your plot and characters.

I recommend a couple books that may help in this regard if you are unsure whether planning is really for you.

Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, by Roz Morris. Roz shares her secrets to finding the holes in your story and getting them plugged.

Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks. Larry has broken fiction writing into six core competencies that will keep your stories on track and riveting.

Of course, utilizing readers and writers’ groups are also very helpful in making sure you don’t have a gap or that your characters are well-fleshed and believable. There are many writers on Twitter and Facebook who form online groups and chats that can help them connect and critique each others’ work when a real life group is not available.

So, do you plan your story or wing it? Planning does not have to crush your creativity; in fact, it can enhance it. No plan is written in stone, so if the story changes, so can the plan. Plans can also help you when you get stuck or need inspiration. If you’ve never tried planning a book before, give it a try. You may be surprised. That germ of an idea may sprout and grow with a plan.

How Well Do You Know Your Characters?

Characters are your story. They plan the subplots and drive the plot through their mistakes and their moments of brilliance. So how well do you know them?

You want your characters to be memorable. You want your readers to understand what makes them tick and maybe wish they were real enough to invite to dinner. So how do you take a figment of your imagination and flesh them out?

One of the best ways is to really delve into discovering who they are. You can do this by writing detailed character descriptions, writing a brief journal in their own words where they talk directly to you, and so on. JK Rowling has reams of pages detailing all of her characters, even the minor ones and some that didn’t even make it into her Harry Potter books. She knew who they were related to, what they liked to do in their free time and their flaws. When it came time to put them into a book, she knew enough about them to give you insight with a few select words. James Frey, author of several writing books, such as How to Write a Damn Good Thriller, is an advocate of the journaling option. He gives several examples and comments about how sometimes the characters surprise him by what comes through in these pages. By writing these pages in the voices of your characters, you can really get inside their heads, which will make it easier for you to put them on the page realistically in your story.

Yes, this is extra work, but it pays off in your story. No one wants to read about a cardboard character. Do this with your hero, your villain, and any other characters that are important to the story. You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to put them on the page and have them do what you want them to do in a way that is organic to them. You’ll understand intimately what motivates them and you’ll know their flaws and their good points. This will all come across in your story, making the characters come alive to your readers. They’ll fall in love with them, fear them, or feel the loathing or pity you want them to feel for each particular character. Try it. You may be surprised at how well it works.