I’ll have a new podcast up for you guys in a couple of days (it’s already recorded — the next two are recorded in fact), but in the mean time, I have a guest post to help the new folks. The subject is formatting, and indie author Curtis Hox is here to give you some advice. These are the techniques he used to format his new sci-fi/fantasy novel, Bleedover. (If you’re inclined you thank him for his help, you can purchase his ebook for 99 cents at Amazon.)

How to Generate Your First Professionally Formatted Mobi File

When I first thought about publishing my work on Amazon, I had no idea what Smashwords was, what the technical differences were between a .mobi or an .epub file, how KDP Publishing functioned, etc. Like many writers, I just wanted to write and produce the best possible work I could. However, I have some technical experience as a new media project manager and have spent enough time with HTML and CSS to feel comfortable with it.

Workflow from composition to final e-book format

Please note, I’m not claiming my workflow is the best approach. In fact, I’ still searching for other writers/publishers who have suggestions on how to perfect this because there’s one piece of the process I’m still highly annoyed with (see below: i.e., managing more than one copy of a final edited/formatted document).

  1. I highly recommend all writers try Scrivener. It’s a writing environment that creates a database on your computer that stores all your information. Any research you do, you can drop into your Scrivener project file and it’s all right there when you open the project. Also, it saves immediately, so that’s one drawback to Word’s finicky saving requirement. There are many others. Try the free download for Mac and PC. I’ll bet you won’t be disappointed. (The full screen mode, alone, is worth the purchase price).
  2. For short stories, I use Scrivener to output .mobi (it also outputs to .epub). I use this function for short stories that don’t require any extra formatting. For my novels, I export my Scrivener project to an .html file.
  3. You can then open this cleanly formatted .html file (much cleaner than Word’s) in an editor of your choice. Sigil is a tool used for generating .epub formatted documents. I haven’t had that need yet. Because I have only focused on Amazon, I open my clean .html file in Dreamweaver (any HTML editor will do). Here’s where the learning curve begins. Depending on how much web development experience you have, you’ll either be able to pick this up in a few hours or a few weeks. If you have no interest in learning to play around with html, I suggest hiring someone to do the work for you. If you have any inclination, keep reading. It’s not hard at all.
  4. Formatting
    The trick here is using basic CSS (formatting) so that your e-book looks professional. I always add a masthead as an image at the top or my .html file. You can create one easily in Photoshop or any of the many open source alternatives. Just take a look at any paperback or professional e-book. You’ll see the title and author’s name in professional typesetting. Again, these are images that you insert in your html file; you don’t create the masthead with CSS. You then need to format your content. I use <h1> for all my chapter styles and section styles. I use <h2>, <h3>, etc., for any subheaders that might be in epigrams or other structural elements. You can style these to be centered, or to have an indent, or whatever you choose. But, again, you should use simple CSS to do this. Another format element I employ is non-indenting the first line of paragraph that starts a new segment. You can also add a CSS style to increase the size of the first initial (See, John’s Blog on how to do that). Of course, you need to spend some time learning to make this works but it’s easy.
  5. Once you have a cleanly formatted .html file (that works in a browser as you expect), you can import it into Calibre. This tool allows you to export your prepped document into a number of different e-book formats. In Calibre you add your cover, meta data, etc. It has plenty of tweaking tools for the creation of table of contents or even adjusting the look and feel of the e-book.
  6. I would also download the Kindle Previewer (again, this is only helpful for Amazon’s .mobi format).  Caliber has built in viewers for the different formats, but Amazon’s application seems to work best. Once you’ve opened the Calibre-compiled .mobi, you can open it in the Kindle Previewer and see exactly what it will look like on a Kindle.
  7. At this point, you’re ready to upload to KDP. There are plenty of articles how to do this. It’s simple. If you get this far, you’re home free.

What to do about the master document?

My main problem with the process at this point is that the formatted .html file that I view in Dreamweaver now becomes my primary document and the one I must return to if I ever need to make content changes. I would rather be able to use Scrivener, of course, but it doesn’t output formatted .mobi with the level of sophistication I need. Having an .html file as the main file is a problem right now for anyone who wants to upload to Smashwords (it requires a striped down and properly styled Word .doc). I have been told Smashwords will begin accepting .epub in 2012, so that will make things easier. But, the bottom line, I don’t like writing content in Dreamweaver. (If anyone has a better solution on how to maintain one document that you can both write content in and format HTML and CSS I’d like to hear).


Curtis Hox is an English professor by day and a science fiction writer by night. He launched his debut novel, Bleedover, in Nov. 2011 and is editing his YA Transhuman Warrior Series, which is scheduled to launch on Jun 1st, 2012. He’s also blogging his journey as a self-published author. He lives with his wife and two year old son, who often pretends to type on his keyboard and, at times, somehow inserts erroneous characters into his manuscripts.

Other titles: Repossession in Progress, The Kafka Harrier, and The Red Sphere.

You can reach him at www.curtishox.com | @curtishox | curtishox@gmail.com

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