A while back I came across the blog post series “Take Pride in Your eBook Formatting,” by Guido Henkel. It made sense: What comes out of your word processing program can be undependable, and you can’t assume that Kindle or whomever will make your book all pretty and error-free for you. You know how it should look, and if you take the time to learn some basic HTML, you can guarantee it’s published online looking that way.
Not only that, but you’ll have an ebook file you can use on any platform, instead of having to come up with a separate format (and a separate ISBN) for Kindle, Kobo, etc.
So I bookmarked the whole series and went on to buy the extended version of Mr. Henkel’s blog series, his book The Zen of eBook Formatting.
It hasn’t exactly been Zen for me, unless Zen entails hard work and struggle. Instructions for Word don’t necessarily work for WordPerfect, and in several cases I’ve had to research out a work-around. And even as I’ve inquired and probed about the best way to get my HTML conversion done, I’ve had colleagues online, both in the WordPerfect and the writing communities, tell me not to bother: WP’s HTML conversion facility is good enough, Kindle’s conversion is good enough, etc., etc.
But I want my debut novel to look a certain way, and I’m taking responsibility for it.
And I’m making progress.
Or else, I thought I was.
Why the ambiguity?
Because I am an idiot. A week or two ago I figured out how to use find-and-replace within WordPerfect to substitute html entities for the WP code, and I was like a skier on a downhill run. Wheeeee!!! The only place I really got slowed down was with the curly apostrophes and quotation marks. I have a lot of dialogue, but what could I do? I couldn’t find any way to do a find-and-replace that would understand which marks were right hand and which were left. Not in WordPerfect, not in my text editor. So there I was, putting them in, first the left single quotes, then the right, then starting on the doubles in the Prologue, left, right, soldiering, soldiering on.
And then it hit me:
Kid, you’re doing content edits while you’re doing the formatting. And you can’t remember, can you, what those edits were. Meaning the only “final” version of the text you have is this one with code all over it for the ebook.
So I had to plug my entire, massively-coded manuscript into an online reverse converter and get it decoded. Then run a comparison between the reconverted doc and the last WYSIWYG file I had saved on my computer, to bring the edits to the surface.
I got the review done a couple of days ago and saved it as the Master novel doc, in a separate directory. No, I won’t be able to resist making changes in the formatting copy; I’ll be correcting any typos I find, at the least. But I’m resolved that whatever edits I make, I will immediately make them in the master file as well. And so far I have.
For what it’s worth, most of the changes have been eliminating lines where I tell and then show. And I changed the first sentence of one chapter that began with an ellipse, because how are ya gonna do a drop cap on that?
I have learned a lot, no doubt about it. The Zen book has been useful. So has the copy of Murach’s HTML5 and CSS3 someone lent me.
But in the end, the most important thing I’ve learned might be that I don’t want to do it by hand. Maybe the most efficient thing would be to plug the whole manuscript into a conversion program and get the quotation marks and diacriticals put into HTML that way. I’d have to go back and put in the italics by hand because those don’t convert, but oh, well.
(And please don’t point out that I spent all day Thursday putting the small caps back in at the chapter beginnings, and the online app won’t convert those either and I’ll have to do them all over . . . )
I’ll get this under my belt. I will. And it’s going to look pretty, yes, it will. So there.