Ruth Reports for WG2E

Ruth Harris Reports #12: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Ebook Formatting But Were Afraid To Ask (Part Two)

Just as the revolution in e-publishing has made galleys and page proofs obsolete, a new profession—formatting—has been created. I’ve asked four of the most experienced formatters in the epub world to explain the process that turns your story from a previously published book or original manuscript into an elegant, easy-to-read ebook.

 Here, in Part 2 of the series, our formatters will address questions about specialized formatting, how to choose a formatter, and the issue of references.

Do you specialize in any particular kind of formatting? (art books, joke books, children's books, cartoon collections etc)
Pam Headrick:  Right now I only do fiction, and most of my authors are Romance authors. I’d love to do a thriller or mystery or a men’s action/adventure though. Occasionally I’ll format a simple non-fiction how-to book.

Rob Siders:  Nope. First and foremost, we consider ourselves to be book lovers. There are too many good ones out there to pick one genre or type over another. That said, each of our design staff has personal preferences. For example, now that I have kids I’ve taken a shine to making fixed layout children’s books. I also love when the author’s cover designer has given me a richly conceived palette to use as inspiration for my own design. A good cover designer really keeps me from making safe choices in what I do.

Judi Fennell:  When I got a request for a children’s book, I fell in love. First, it was a wonderful story and second, it really allowed me to be creative, even though I had the print book as a template. I love being able to be creative, so children’s books are definitely a favorite, as is doing cover art. Print on demand books are also something that I enjoy doing with headers and sections and footers customized to the book and any excerpts. And editing, of course. I love getting to experience people’s work.

Rik Hall:  The biggest call is for novels, novellas and shorts. But I have done non-fiction with graphics, children picture books and recently a really neat book with line drawings that the author's daughter drew.

How should an author go about selecting a professional formatter?
Rob Siders:  Take your time. There are a lot of people out there doing what we do. When I first hung out the 52 Novels shingle, there weren’t a lot of us around. Now, it’s a very crowded space, so authors have a lot of choices. The logical end to that is there are a lot of shops out there that have a shallower track record. There’s nothing wrong with that, as everyone has to start at zero and build a roster just like we did. But there are advantages to having been around a while.
The other thing I’d suggest is to ask other authors you know who did their book. By far, that’s how we end up working with most of our authors: someone referred them to us.
Judi Fennell:  Word-of-mouth from satisfied clients is always the best source, but there are several of us doing this. I would check the testimonials, talk/email the formatter and see if you hit it off working-style wise.
Cost, of course, is a big consideration, as well as the services different formatters use. Some will handle the uploads, others won’t. Some charge for cover uploads for print on demand, others don’t. This is a new industry within the digital publishing arena, so it pays to do your homework and know what your budget is.
Rik Hall:  Big question. There are lots of us out there. By reading your blog is a great start. Whichever Facebook groups they belong to are also good places to ask for advice.
Pam Headrick:  Look on their website and see which authors are clients, then go sample their books.
Do you provide references?
Judi Fennell:  Absolutely. Word-of-mouth is the best advertising, which is why all of my testimonials are up on my website at: with links to my clients’ websites. Most of them have Contact emails or buttons, so if you want more information you can go directly to the source, or, of course, email me with any questions.
 I will say that this process is a fluid one, and I’m always answering questions, so if you don’t know something, feel free to ask. I now have a lot of repeat business from my satisfied clients and I have to say I was touched by how many of them emailed me during Hurricane Sandy since they knew I was in its path. We’ve become cyber-friends from the business arrangement. Matter of fact, that’s how I was referred to this blog… from a satisfied client.
Rik Hall:  Whenever asked. Perhaps my best "reference" is in my pricing section on my website "You don't pay anything until you are happy."
Pam Headrick:  Of course, if asked. But most of my work comes from referrals, so the new client has already spoken to someone about my work. I recently attended the NINC2012 (Novelists, Inc) conference and luckily had my iPad with me which contained all the copies of my clients’ books so I had samples at my fingertips. That was very helpful, particularly when someone asked about flourishes or other elements in a book.
Rob Siders:  Absolutely. Just ask.

Next time, in Part 3 of this series, our formatters will address questions about sample pages, submission best practices and scanning services.

Ruth Harris Reports #11: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Ebook Formatting But Were Afraid To Ask (Part One)

Just as the revolution in e-publishing has made galleys and page proofs obsolete, a new profession—formatting—has been created. I’ve asked four of the most experienced formatters in the epub world to explain the process that turns your story from a previously published book or original manuscript into an elegant, easy-to-read ebook.

 In this series, I hope to provide an in-depth look at a sometimes mystifying subject. Here, in Part One, I start with the basics:

1) What, exactly, does a professional formatter do and what difference does it make?

Judi Fennell—A formatter knows the ins and outs of the various platforms and can get your books uploaded in the correct format so that the reader experiences the story, not the layout.  If the formatting is off, readers will and do complain. Many return the book. The thing is with formatting: when it’s done right, it’s never noticeable. When it’s done wrong… oh, yeah. It’s noticeable.

Rik Hall—For me, as a professional, formatting a file for eBook publication is a multi-step process. Here are my "typical" steps:

  • Most authors send me an MS Word document which I copy and paste into a plain text (.txt ) file. (This is called "nuking it" and gets rid of almost all of the weird stuff MS Word adds to their documents.)
  • I save the text file and then open a new template that I make for Kindle (or SW (Smashwords) or B&N (Barnes and Noble - Nook) or KWL (Kobo Writing Life). I copy the nuked version into the template
  • I reformat all the "bolds" and "italics" that the author had as well as set the look and feel to match what they want using eBook friendly Styles
  • I also check for extra blank lines, spaces before or at the end of sentences. Because I taught English for 17 years, I can't help but find the odd spelling or grammatical error. If I do, I email the author and ask if they really wanted this "out of the norm" usage?
  • I work with the author on the Front Stuff and End Stuff if they have none. (Dedications, Copyright notices, About the Author, Acknowledgements)
  • I take out all the Tabs and any other MS Word artifacts that can so easily mess up an eBook
  • I make sure the eBook is consistent within itself. That is, I make sure if there are Twenty-nine chapters, that all Twenty-nine chapter headings are the same format (Centred, or left or bold or italics).
  • I add a TOC (table of contents) and format that.
  • I compress any graphics
  • Once I have the cover, I check the formatting on it to match all eBook specifications
  • I then produce a .prc that includes a link to the cover, the toc and the start point and all the graphics
  • I then produce a .prc that includes a link to the cover, the toc and the start point and all the graphics
  • Then I make a .prc (the file type that I think uploads to Kindle the best) or an .epub  if that is what the author desires 
  • I work within the epub to clean up anything else
  • Then I send the author the appropriate files so that they can upload them to KDP, KWL, Nook or SW. (the formatted document and the formatted cover)

Rob Siders—One of the things we try to emphasize at our shop is that what we do is less ebook formatting than it is ebook design. And we think that the distinction is important. Formatting is making sure chapter headings are in the right place, italic text is italic, and so forth. Our focus is on making elegant ebooks that have considered the author, the book’s brand, as well as its theme and genre.

Plus, we don’t use automated tools, such as Calibre, to make ebooks. We have some proprietary work flows and tools that then allow us to design the ebooks with some precision that automated Word-to-ebook don’t handle very well.

Pam Headrick—A professional formatter usually works with a Word or Word Perfect (horrors) document. Using MSWord Styles or adding Styles of their own for specific purposes, the formatter makes sure that front and back matter are included, then, when all looks finished, sends the file back to the author for approval or editing.

After approval, the file is saved into another copy which is then re-formatted specifically for conversion into an Epub or Mobi file. The re-formatted file is saved as a Webpage-Filtered. Editing in HTML follows as does using specific software to first convert to an Epub file, then to a Mobi file through proprietary Amazon software (Kindlegen).

This is the short answer. But it’s not a simple process.

2) What's the difference between formatting a straight text novel and a non-fic title with charts, drawings, etc?

Rob Siders—Mostly, it’s time. Our designers can knock out most fiction projects in a few hours, including testing. For non-fiction, we can invest quite a bit more than that, depending on what’s going on. For example, this week I’ve been working on a cookbook with a couple hundred images and recipes, plus fifty-odd sidebars… the author’s really put together an elaborate book. Between my prep time and in working out some design logic with the author, I’ve probably spent 25 hours or so on it. But this is out there on the edge of things. If there’s such thing as a typical non-fiction project, we figure it takes about twice as long as a comparable length fiction project.

Pam Headrick—I don’t do complex non-fiction titles, however there are certain conventions used for non-fiction such as block text with spaces between each paragraph. Fiction for ebooks is usually indented, single space, no spaces between paragraphs.

Rik Hall—Excellent question. There are some things that you just can't do in an eBook. Tables and columns present some real challenge. Drawings and graphics are OK but need to be handled in specific ways.

Judi Fennell—The e-reading experience is a single column event, meaning you literally are reading one column of text that is broken down by the amount of data an eReader can display at any one time. Where you have diagrams and pictures interspersed with the narrative in print non-fiction books, you can’t duplicate that experience in an eReader because one of the plusses to an eReader device is that the reader can adjust the font and background. To include diagrams and illustrations/charts/etc., you need to create them as one entity so that they will use a full “page” of the digital reader, like the book cover does. 

3) Can you explain the challenges in formatting boxed sets that include several novel-length books?

Pam Headrick—You format them the same, but you have to be careful about the final size of the bundled books. I try to keep them under 3MG by using only a few embellishments (flourishes) if the books are historicals.

With contemporaries I don’t usually use embellishments so the problem doesn’t come up. You actually just cut and paste. Problems can arise if I haven’t converted the books in the bundle myself; then I get into purging and reformatting, a much more time-consuming process.

Rik Hall—No real problem there.  I have done a number of those. It just makes for a longer eBook. I encourage the author to not add really high resolution copies of all the covers throughout the boxed set. This can make downloading slow and on some platforms the size of the download can cut into the royalty that the author gets. Some platforms "charge" the author for big file downloads.

Judi Fennell—Styles really come into play here, especially when you have three books that all have Chapter One, Chapter Two, etc. You can always name them: Chapter One, Two, Three in the first book, Chapter 1, 2, 3 in the second book and Chapter I, II, III in the third book to make things interesting.

Rob Siders—The biggest challenges here are in making choices. The benefit is that we usually have all of the assets, having done a series for an author. So determining how we’re going to package them all together is where we spend our time.
As you know, Ruth, when we did the individual novels in the Park Avenue Series, we looked at them as stand-alone books tied together thematically rather than by a series character or characters. Accordingly, each one has its own interior look. When we put together the box sets I thought quite a bit about redesigning them as a package. I chose not to because I thought what we did individually worked so well that changing the design wasn’t necessary… we just had to account for the assets and design a work flow to build the package correctly.

Another author’s series might take a different path. Blake Crouch, for example, likes for his brand to be consistent throughout each book, whether it’s a series book or a stand-alone, so a box set for him might come together quite differently.

Next time, in Part 2 of the series, we’ll address questions about specialized formatting, how to choose a formatters, references and sample pages.

Judi Fennell: 

Ruth Harris Reports #10: Editors and Editing (Part Four of a Series)

This is the final in the series on editors & editing. Our editors will answer questions about the form of submission, the actual process of making edits, how much time to allow and how much you can expect to pay.

As in the other parts of this series, our editors are the Edit Dude, Meghan Ward, Sherrie Holmes and Jodie Renner. I want to thank them once again for taking their valuable time to answer my questions so that when you finish your book and come to the editing phase, you will know what to expect.

In what form should a writer submit his/her manuscript?

Edit Dude: I've almost always received manuscript in MS Word format. Any format that has a feature similar to the Track Changes feature in Word would be acceptable.

Meghan Ward: Some editors may prefer hard copies, but I prefer to receive manuscripts by email as Word documents.

Sherrie Holmes: I accept just about all forms of submission, but prefer Word documents as e-mail attachments. 

Jodie Renner:  I do all my editing online and on-screen, using Microsoft Word Track Changes, so I don't accept hard copies by snail mail. With my method, clients get their manuscript back within seconds of when I complete the editing, and ditto for revisions. I prefer Word docs (.doc or .docx). Some of my clients use Scrivener, but they send me a Word-compatible version. 

How do you make your edits?

Meghan Ward: I make my edits using Word’s Tracking Changes.

Sherrie Holmes: I’ll accommodate the client’s wishes in this, but my preferred method of editing is to use Word and Track Changes.  If a client is unfamiliar with Track Changes, I will give them a quick tutorial.  If a client hates Track Changes, or prefers edits on paper, I can do that too, but it takes longer and will therefore cost the client more.

Edit Dude: I usually use the Track Changes feature in Word.

Jodie Renner: I use Microsoft Word Track Changes, which shows additions underlined in red and deletions crossed out in red. And I add comments, questions, and suggestions in the margin in comment boxes.

I send the client back the marked-up copy, as well as a clean, black copy, with all my changes accepted, so they can see what it would look like if they accepted all my changes. That's less confusing for some people than looking at the marked-up version. Clients can choose whether to work on the marked-up copy or the clean copy for their subsequent revisions.

How much time should I allow for editing?

Jodie Renner: That depends on how much work the manuscript needs. My editing process is interactive, and I edit in sections of about 2 to 6 chapters, with each section going back and forth as many times as needed to complete revisions. Then we go on to the next section. So it depends on how long it takes the client to get revisions back to me. Once I receive a revised section, I usually go over it promptly and get it back to the client within 24 hours. The whole process could take as little as 2 or 3 weeks, or as long as 3 months or more, as often my clients have jobs or other responsibilities and like to think things over before making changes.

Meghan Ward: For a book-length manuscript, I would allow one month for editing. If you need it sooner than that, you may be able to negotiate a faster turnaround with the editor.

Sherrie Holmes: This is a dreadfully loaded question!  The answer depends entirely on how experienced a writer you are.  If you know the basics of writing, if you belong to a critique group, if you attend writing conferences and workshops, if you're good at grammar and punctuation, if you belong to writing organizations such as Romance Writers of America or Mystery Writers of America, then editing and critiquing your manuscript will take considerably less time than the newbie writer's manuscript.
A kindly word to the wise:  I have learned that it is useless for me to ask the potential client what their skill level is, because they ALL say they are good writers and their manuscripts are polished to perfection and ready for publication, that they just need an editor to do a "quick check" before they start shopping it around.  The reality is that 98% of the manuscripts that land on my desk require considerable editing.  It can be a real shock when the writer finds out their "baby" is less than perfect. 

I don't believe in beating up my clients.  I'm probably one of the kindest editors they'll ever encounter.  But I don't pull my punches.  If they are going to shell out their hard-earned money for a professional edit, that is what they'll get.  They need to be professional enough to not take it personally.  I’m not critiquing them, I’m critiquing their manuscript! 

So back to your question of how long a writer should allow for edits:  be realistic, and be professional about it.  If you're an experienced writer and know the ropes, it'll take less time for edits.  If you're a newbie, be humble and expect it will take longer.  Don't expect me to be able to give you a time estimate without having seen a sample of your writing.  And remember, our goals are mutual.  We're both working together to make your manuscript be the best it can be.  I’m not the enemy, I’m your partner.

Edit Dude: It really depends on the project. The length of the manuscript obviously largely determines how long it will take, but the type and volume of edits that are necessary based on the specific writer's style and/or abilities. Also, there is the individual editor's schedule.

Do you offer any other services?

Meghan Ward: In addition to editing books, I teach blogging and social media classes at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto ( and provide one-on-one coaching in blogging and social media.

Edit Dude: I'm writing a manuscript of my own, but that doesn't have anything to do with my editing services.

Sherrie Holmes: Yes, variety is the spice of life.  I coach/mentor new writers.  I prepare spreadsheets and databases (mailing lists, etc.).  I design and write brochures, newsletters, and flyers.  I’ve even been known to answer fan mail for busy writers.

Jodie Renner: I also offer initial critiques of the first 10-50 pages. My manuscript editing services range from developmental editing and big-picture advice to deep content editing, line editing or copyediting, and final proofreading. 

 How much do you charge?

Meghan Ward:  I charge $75/hour, which works out to about $1500-$2000 for a book-length manuscript. 

Jodie Renner:  Rates for editing usually depend on the amount of time and work a manuscript needs, which can vary hugely. No reputable editor will give you a blanket rate for editing 80,000 words or 300 pages, for example, without asking to see at least a chapter or two of the manuscript and a brief synopsis first. Some manuscripts can easily take ten times the amount of work as others, in order to bring them up to current industry standards. Experienced editors know this, so they won’t give you a set rate, sight-unseen. Rates also vary depending on the experience of the editor / copy editor / proofreader. Just as in any kind of services, be wary of rates that are too low.
Generally, a final proofread or light copyedit is much cheaper than content editing, but there’s no point in paying for a final proofread if your manuscript needs bigger issues addressed first, before it gets to that stage.
Many freelance editors charge by the page, which normally means double-spaced, 12-point, so about 250 words per page. Others charge by the hour. I charge by the word, as to me, a page can end after a paragraph, or have graphics that don’t need to be edited, etc. Also, be sure to ask whether their rate includes a final proofreading, or whether that’s a separate process with an additional fee.

Many freelance editors request half the payment up front, then the other half when they finish editing the manuscript. My process is so much more interactive, with a lot of communication back and forth, so I find it works best for me if clients pay me in installments as we go along.

If the manuscript is ready for the copyediting stage, I edit it in sections of about 2-6 chapters, and each section goes back and forth several times, until we’re both happy with it, before we call it “done” (at least for now) and go on to the next section. My clients pay me in installments as the work proceeds, in increments of about $200 at a time, in advance of the editing being done. If for any reason, either party feels we’re not a good fit, we can part ways and nobody owes anybody anything (or any small amounts can be paid or refunded).

Sherrie Holmes: $25/hr. for basic editing/light critiquing and $50/hr. for substantive editing/critiquing.  If you think that’s expensive, Google editor rates.  Be sitting down when you do it.  They usually average $35-$65/hr. for basic editing. 

Edit Dude: It depends on the individual project, but I have a fee schedule on my website that should give you a good idea.

Find out more about our editors at their websites—

Sherrie Holmes: 
Jodie Renner:
Matt, the edit dude:
Meghan Ward:

The Ruth Harris Reports: Case Study #1 – Ebook Pricing

What an exciting day here at The WG2E!!!
Today, we’re launching our brand new series that we’re calling…
The Ruth Harris Reports
Ohhhh yeahhh…reporting straight from the Indie Epublishing trenches, based on our own WG2E-Land collective data, by…
NYTimes Bestelling Author Ruth Harris

In her debut WG2E Case Study, Ruth has examined Ebook Pricing.
Her results may surprise you…or may not.
But either way, we can’t wait to get your comments.
So take it away, Ruth…
By Ruth Harris

We’re going to talk about money today. Specifically, in December I asked writers to share their theories and experiences with pricing. How high is too high? How low is too low? And what about Free? Do we go for ranking, the number of sales, appearance on bestseller lists or do we stick to business and add up the dollars?
To add to the complexity, there are a number of considerations. First of all, length: are you pricing a short story, a novella, a full-length novel? If you are a previously TradPubbed writer pricing a newly digitized backlist book originally published in hard cover or paperback, what would be fair? Should humor be priced differently from mystery, a thriller higher or lower than a romance? Who is your market: teen-agers or senior citizens, thirty-something women or forty-something men?
Sharon Ihle , the best-selling author of The Bride Wore Spurs and more than a dozen award-winning historical romances set in the American West, commented on the difference between a 99c price and $2.99 and spoke of the importance of promotional support:
“I have been manipulating prices for several months now and have come to this conclusion: $2.99 seems to be the best price for backlist books, nothing higher. I drop a book a month to .99 cents. I’ve found GREAT success at doing this IF I’m able to get a site to promote it for me such as ENT or Kindleboards, etc. If I just drop a book to .99 cents without outside pr help, it creates a bump, but not enough to fatten my bank account by much. This month for the first time I’ll have two specials set at .99 cents. One does not have outside pr help, the other does. I’m interested to see how the no help book does and if there’s any spillover from the one with the pr, but there’s no way it will earn the way the pr book will. Getting the pr help is another story…a TOUGH story.”

CJ Archer is the RWAustralia award winning author of historical romance. CJ, who has worked as a librarian and a tech writer, compared the Free, 99c, $2.99 and $3.99 price levels. She also addresses the perception of 99c as “crap” and wonders whether the 99c price still has the power it once had. CJ commented:
“The book I’ve done the most experimenting with is Honor Bound which is currently free. It’s an historical paranormal romance.
“HB was 99 cents back in March and was selling 30-50 copies a day. I raised the price in May to $2.99 and sales immediately halved but I was earning more money. Over the next few months, sales continued to decline into the single digits so I lowered it again to 99 cents. There was no sales spike except for some bumps when it got featured by discount sites like eReader News Today. These bumps didn’t last beyond a couple of days.  I kept the sequel to this book steady at $2.99 this whole time and its sales remained steady too.
“When HB went free recently, I raised the price on the sequel to $3.99.  The sequel’s sales jumped but Amazon are discounting it to $2.99, however at all other venues where it’s $3.99 it seems to be doing well.  Conclusion – starting at 99 cents gave the book some exposure but as soon as I raised the price, its sales slumped.  However I was earning more money. Going free helped the sequel enormously.
“I don’t think 99 cents works as well as it used to.  At the beginning of the year there were fewer 99 cent books so those that were set at 99 cents were snapped up.  Now there’s a glut and readers have come to think of 99 cents as being crap.  Time sifting through bad books to find the good ones is worth more to people than a few dollars.  I’ve decided to keep all my book-length works at $3.99 to avoid the stigma and get the higher revenue that comes with the 70% royalty. I’ll lower the first books in series to free once for about a month to give it exposure.”
Rob Cornell, author of dark fantasy and thrillers, tried 99c and $2.99 pricing. He describes the different results:
“In July I put my thriller, Red Run, on sale on the 18th. Before that date I had sold 13 copies (at $2.99). I sold 51 more that month after I changed the price. I thought I’d found The Secret. Then I did the money math. On the 13 novels I sold at $2.99, I made around $27. On the 51 I sold at the 99 cent price point, I made about $15. Since selling at 99 cents didn’t put me on any bestseller lists, I wasn’t too fond of my results and began to see the wisdom of Dean Wesley Smith’s take on ebook pricing.
“The following month I returned to my $2.99 price. I only sold 27 copies but that meant I had earned about $56 dollars. Half the sales, but twice the income. Pretty much made up my mind about 99 cent deals. If that pricing can bump you on a bestseller list, I can see where it might help. But for small fish like me working my way up, I would have to make a great many 99 cent sales to hit a list. Without hitting the list, I can make more money at the higher price point.
“Granted, my experiment was short, small, and only on one of my books. So I don’t know how conclusive it really is. Checking sales on my other books during that sale, there’s no indication that they helped my other books. The only boost was on that one book.
“I recently did a short sale on my paranormal thriller, Darker Things. At 99 cents I saw a quick boost. Then nada. Sales completely dropped off. Now I’m experimenting in the opposite direction. I’ve moved the price of all my novels to $4.95. Right now Amazon has the “discounted” to $2.99 because the prices on the other sites I reach through Smashwords haven’t updated yet. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the higher prices kick in.”
Suzanne Tyrpak, author of historical suspense set in ancient Rome, originally priced her bestsellers at $2.99 but reports on her more recent experience when she raised prices:
“Originally I priced Vestal Virgin at $2.99 (aside from two weeks at .99 cents when I first released the novel). Last summer, when Amazon began tinkering with the algorithms and many indies saw their sales begin to slip, I decided to raise the price to $3.99. The book had been out for about six months, had garnered a number of good reviews, and—having a background in marketing—I wanted to see if readers might perceive it as more worthwhile if I priced it higher.
“I frequently compare my Amazon ranking to a few other books in my category (historical suspense, ancient Rome). Despite my book’s higher price, I noticed that Vestal Virgin continued to keep pace with books priced at $2.99. The past few months have been rough on many indie writers. The higher price helped to offset the slip in sales. I’m happy about my pricing decision, and I have no plans to lower the price (except for promotions). If anything, I’m considering raising the price to $4.99.”
In September, Dean Wesley Smith, a writer with deep experience in both TradPubbing and e-pubbing, wrote a blog about pricing. In it, he concluded that fair ebook pricing should come in at:  Short stories, 99 cents. Short novels and short collections (Anything from 15,000 words to 45,000 words),  $2.99.  Novels or long collections (45,000 words and up),  $4.99-$5.99 range.

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