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Formatting for E-books: Beware the Tabs

Journey into e-book publishing - step 3 - Overcoming formatting issues.

If you read any decent book on writing, it will tell you how important it is to format your manuscript correctly: double spacing for easy reading, one inch margins all round, making sure the last page of your chapters consists of more than one or two lines – the list goes on. Being an obedient soul, I carefully followed those requirements for my manuscript – if agents were going to reject my work I wanted it to be over the content not the format. Including the editing, it was a time-consuming and painstaking process, but at least once done, I could be sure that the pages I printed to include in mailed query letters would be exactly as I had prepared them.

The advent of e-mail submissions should have forewarned me about potential format issues in e-book publishing. With agents quite rightly concerned about downloading a virus along with a manuscript attachment, you had to paste a copy of the requested pages into your email rather than attaching a copy. The first time I tried this, my automatic line formatting disappeared, resulting in random line endings creating a zigzag effect to the text – not very professional looking at all. Even attempts to tidy up the sample so that it looked like the original within the email failed, as I discovered on receiving a reply from one agent with my original query included. In the transmission process, the text had once again magically shifted – and not in a good way.

I have yet to solve this particular issue, but at least e-books creators provide a specific list of format requirements. Unfortunately, most of them are different from those required by an agent. The margins stay the same, but the line spacing has to be 1.5 instead of double – a requirement that instantly reduced my novel from 395 pages to 315. That was the easy part though. Then came the section on which elements of Word (the preferred software) you could and could not use in your manuscript: basic fonts, italics, bold and indents, all pass the test, but using the tab keys to position text does not.

Now I'm not sure whether I’m the only person to suffer from this, but sometimes when I am starting a new paragraph in Word the first line does not automatically indent (even though it is set to do so) – so, in my e-book ignorance, in those instances I would use the tab to put the cursor in the correct place! Given that this issue happened randomly, I knew my manuscript was full of tabbed inserts, but I didn’t know where they were. Not only that, but from my days as a secretary who had been trained to use the tab key to center headings etc, I had also used the tab key to site my chapter headings.

The latter issue was easily solved by deleting the existing 53 chapter headings and re-entering them using the Word heading option which is also accepted by e-book converters, but I was somewhat at a loss in knowing what to do about my tabbed paragraphs. I scanned the help-lines for an answer, hoping there was a way I could remove all the tabs at once in a couple of strokes– if there is, I didn’t find it. However, by lots of trial and error, I discovered that if I set the paragraph indent option to ‘none’ for the whole manuscript then all the automatic indents disappeared, but left the tab indents in place. So all I had to do (!) was scroll through 315 pages looking for indented lines and deleting the tabbed spaces. Then when  I am finished (I’m still working on this one) I will select the ‘first line’ option in paragraphs for the whole manuscript and, hey presto, I will have all my automatic indents. I tested this out on one chapter so I know it works, but being ever cautious, I will have to go through the manuscript once again, just to check that Word hadn’t missed any of my intended paragraphs.

All this and I haven’t even started converting my novel into HTML or uploading it to an e-book creator. Oh well, nobody said this would be easy!

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