I’ve been wanting to do a tutorial like this for a long time. Anyone who may have downloaded my most recently reformatted eBooks or Kindle books surely must have noticed the difference between how they used to look and how they look now. The difference was in what programs I used to write and format the books.
I used to do what a lot of authors who indie publish tend to do: I’d write my book in Word, then upload it to Amazon or Draft2Digital or Smashwords and let them convert (or “meatgrind”) the books to the appropriate type of file, and then publish this converted file. And while it wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t the experience I wanted my readers to have. I did not want my readers to think that they were missing out by not having the book in print, which are inevitable not as ugly as eBooks tend to be.
With this in mind, I sought out some guidance that didn’t require me to buy any more software other than Scrivener (the other two programs I use in this process are free, open source software programs). And I had to keep in mind that I was using a Windows computer, which makes Scrivener a little problematic.
I eventually found this tutorial on YouTube and, like a recipe I found for baking a cake, I followed the basic order, but changed a few things to really make things look better.
The first ingredient is, of course, Scrivener. Anyone who is familiar with Scrivener knows that you can compile your manuscript into a host of different formats. FYI, I’m using the latest version of Scrivener for Windows, Scrivener 1.9.
The second ingredient is a program called Sigil, which, contrary to popular belief, is still “supported” and available to download. Yes, it’s a scary program, I won’t lie to you. Some HTML and CSS knowledge is going to take you very far with this program, because that is basically what Sigil is: an HTML editor that works with eBooks. EBooks are actually .xhtml files. When you first open your compiled epub from Scrivener, you’re going to see that all your pages and chapters have the file extension .xhtml on them (and also won’t have their names on them either). But Sigil is where you get to tame the beast that Scrivener has unleashed.
Now, for uploading to D2D, Smashwords, and Google Play, these two programs are actually all you need. However, nobody I know of only publishes on all the other sales channels and not Amazon, so, there is one more software program all indie publishers using this method ought to have: the Kindle Previewer. More than merely previewing, Kindle Previewer will convert your .epub to a .mobi file for you, and this is the file you will then upload to KDP.
Some people use another program called Calibre to convert files from on format to another, but Kindle Previewer is Amazon’s very own program, and both are IMO equally uncomplicated. So, that’s up to you. I know I use Calibre to look over my finished EPUBs from Sigil, so it’s not like Calibre goes to waste if you have it. But it’s not essential. You can use the Nook app on Windows to look over EPUBs as well, or look it over after you’ve uploaded to D2D.
Once you have the Scrivener, Sigil, and Kindle Previewer or Calibre programs on your computer, it’s time to get started!
If you have written your book in another program like Word, then, very briefly, I will go over the most efficient way to import your book to Scrivener. FWIW, I don’t like direct imports because then there’s still plenty of work to be done after importing anyway. So what I did was copy and paste.
Start a new project in Scrivener, and select Fiction (whether it’s Fiction or Non Fiction) and then select Novel (or Novel with Parts, if needed). These settings will give you the tools needed to do a more efficient compile when the time comes to make up the EPUB.
Once you’ve got your new project started, then it’s time to look over what Scrivener has set up for you. Notice the “Novel Format” and the “Front Matter” sections in particular. In Novel format, you make up your chapters as folders and your chapter material as scenes. Every time in your manuscript that the POV changes from one character to another or there is a bit of a break, then this makes up a new scene, which is really important to get this right while importing.
Now, ignore the Front Matter areas for the time being. Just copy and paste your material into the scenes. Remember to create a new folder for every chapter, and a new scene for every scene in the chapter, so Scrivener can automatically put blank lines or asterisks or things like that in between your scenes automatically. In the end, it should look a bit like this:
Note: When making up the chapter folders and scenes, I tend to number the scenes, but those numbers don’t transfer to the compile unless you want them to. I tend to label them as Done once I know I have all the interior formatted as I want them to be.
And also, I tend to check off the box in the Inspector (right side) that there should be a page break before the chapter folders, but not before the scenes. This is a guide for later, but these can be changed when compiling.
Okay, once you have your manuscript fully imported, it is going to be time to work on the front matter in Part 2 of this tutorial. SPOILER ALERT: I don’t use the “Front Matter” feature for making up the EPUB!