formatting

Creating your eBook cover images

File size, dimensions (ratio) and resolution

File size, dimensions (ratio) and resolution are all very important when making your cover. To keep things simple, at the time of this writing, a good all around size for your eBook cover that will conform to almost all eBook distributors (Smashwords, Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon), Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Apple iStore, and Bookbaby,  Lulu being the exception) is 1600 x 2400 (6:9 ratio) at 72dpi. If you plan on using the same cover image for print, 300dpi is required. One thing to keep in mind are the delivery fees an author will pay when Amazon delivers your book. Authors are charged a fee for each book delivered according to the size of the eBook file, so the smaller the overall file size the more money in your pocket!

Creating your eBook cover images

When creating your own cover images, be sure to save your work in the native format of your program. I use GIMP and the native format is .xcf. Saving it as such retains all the layers and it will allow you to go back and edit the cover any time. I create my cover and add as many layers as I need. When I create a new cover I just add new layers to the file. Doing so results in a template with many layers but I can hide layers and unhide them at a later date if I decide to use them. I never delete layers in my master .xcf file unless they are ABSOLUTELY not needed. This way I can go back and create a whole new cover by hiding or un-hiding different layers. This also results in me having just a few master templates with many layers that can be used to create hundreds of different covers easily.

With that said, yes, you can have too many layers which will make the master file size very large. I recently created some premium Kindle Cover templates and had 20+ layers of just pictures. Not any pictures, full sized (2500 px high) pictures that took up a ton of memory. So much memory was used that I had to shut down a ton of processes and programs to get GIMP to continue to work. It took almost two full minutes just to save the file I was working on. That is a bit scary when you spend a ton of time creating a template like that and the program almost crashes because you have overloaded it.

I ended up dividing the template into 3 separate ones and they all work perfectly. Be conscious of how large the file is as you are adding layers to your master cover template.

Naming your eBook cover image files

I am not talking about the master files, I am talking about the completed cover files. I save mine as JPGs and give them a name that describes them. For instance, the file for the Kindle version of my book What I have learned writing and publishing eBooks is called writing-publishing-ebooks-kindle.jpg.  Naming them like that helps me keep everything straight and easy to find.

If you want to create your own Kindle cover (they can be used for others as well as mentioned above) check out my GIMP templates. There are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of possibilities.

I can also make a cover for you if you need. Hey, some folks just want things done and I get it.

Do you have any tips about making eBook covers?

Adding pictures to eBooks

How hard can it be adding pictures to eBooks, right?

Not as easy as it could or should be. To begin with, NEVER copy and paste an image into your Word file. Always use the Insert/Picture option. Pictures are usually best centered, so click the newly inserted picture and use the center option you typically use for centering text.

Images must not be floating. If you click and hold the left mouse button down on an image, you should not be able to move it. If it moves it is floating and not fixed to the page. Floating images display terribly on eReaders. Right click, choose Size and Position. Under the Text Wrapping tab, choose the “Inline with text” option. This will lock the picture to the page but you can still position it using the Align Text buttons (Align left, Align center, Align right, Justify). If that does not work, delete the image entirely and insert it again. All images should be Aligned center for best results.

If you resize an image by clicking the corner and dragging it inward, some eBook file outputs will adhere to the new size, but Kindle may not. Resizing your images before you import them into the Word document using GIMP, Photoshop, Irfanview, Paint.net, or Picassa may help.

The size to save the image in is still a mystery to me. I have not figured out the relationship between saving the image with a specific width and the size of the picture that results after inserting it into Word. (Hence the “Not as easy as it should be…)

I have tried various sizes and simply inserted them into my file to see which worked best. I saved the same image in 300px, 400px, and 500px wide versions and each displayed fine. Yet when inserted a different image at 500px wide I had to resize it slightly smaller to fit the page.

Ok now, I have to say I HAD to change the size of the last one to fit correctly. Even though it was saved as an image 500px wide as the one before it was, it required me to resize it from 5.56 to 4.5 to fit the page. The image just before it that was also saved at 500px wide was inserted as 1.66, VERY confusing!

So I would suggest saving your images to 500px wide and after inserting them in the document adjust the size as needed. I have found that most pictures saved at 500px and inserted required me to reduce the size slightly, but as seen above with the one that was inserted at 1.66px wide, that is not always the case.After insertion, right click the picture and choose Format/Size and change the width to no more than 4.5. Also be sure the aspect ratio is being preserved. Mark Coker in his eBook Style Guide suggests sizing them correctly before inserting them but that is obviously harder than it seems.

I have also added shapes in Word like arrows, lines, text boxes, etc., to go with my pictures. Big mistake. These shapes will end up floating and cannot be fixed to your picture. Try as I might I was not able to permanently link my picture and drawn arrows within Word. This resulted in the arrows, lines or boxes being in the wrong place after the file was converted. I ended up removing the drawings and picture, editing the picture by adding the element where I needed it, then re-inserting the new picture.

This pictures shows how those arrows and text boxes looked when viewing the EPUB file:

problems with eBook formatting
Amazon’s previewer did not reveal these errors with my formatting. This is how my book actually displayed on actual eBook readers.

As I said, I edited the picture with GIMP and added all those elements to the picture itself, then inserted the picture again.

Have you discovered any secrets when using pictures and images in your eBooks?

Creating an ebook table of contents

Until I started using Mark Coker’s eBook formatting template I was letting Microsoft Word create my ebook table of contents for me.

I have purchased quite a few Kindle formatting books, reports, etc., and most say to use the automatic table of contents in Word so that is exactly what I was doing. In fact, one I downloaded from Amazon itself said to use the automatically generated table of contents. Unfortunately, if you will be using Smashwords and converting your files to the various eBook formats, the automatic table of contents just won’t cut it. Actually, I don’t think it cuts is anyway…

When I was using the table of contents creator in Word, it was easy as pie. That is unless I manually edited the table or until I made changes to the document and had to update the table. I have had on a few occasions times that I had to edit the generated table to make things look ok to me. I then made more changes to the document and when I regenerated the table, you guessed it, I had to redo everything again, it was a pain!

Then when I had everything to my liking, the EPUB validation kept giving me errors. One was my table of contents. Frustrating!

Never use the automatic table of contents creator in Word. Always create your ebook table of contents manually using bookmarks and hyperlinks. This makes converting to other EBook formats much easier. It also makes adding or editing the table easier. If you add a chapter to the book all you need to do is add it manually to the table of contents using a bookmark and hyperlink.

The style guide explains exactly how to create the table of contents but I will point out the steps:

  1. Place your cursor where the bookmark is to be. This is usually directly before the chapter heading
  2. Choose Insert/Bookmark and name it to something recognizable for the location
  3. Bookmark names must not have any spaces; chapter1 is ok, chapter 1 is not
    Selecting where to place bookmark for table of contents link
  4. Repeat for all chapters
  5. Create your table of contents using the chapter names
    Table of contents before hyperlinking
  6. Highlight the first chapter name in the contents and navigate to Insert/Hyperlink
    Highlighting the chapter to be hyperlinked
  7. Choose the “Place in this document” tab and find the bookmark associated with the chapter. Click “Ok”
    Inserting hyperlink
  8. The words you highlighted should now be a hyperlink that will take you to the specific chapter
  9. Repeat for all chapters
    Hyperlinked ebook table of contents
  10. Be sure to check all hyperlinks to be sure they work correctly

Of course, there may be a little more involved for your specific book but the style guide goes over it in much more detail.  I know you downloaded the guide right?

eBook formatting-how to get it right the first time

Are you ready to publish your first eBook but are not quite sure how to format it properly? Maybe you already have a few books published and are looking for an easier way to format them. Maybe you realized like me that you have had bad formatting all along…

When I started out, I purchased many books on formatting for Kindle. I read everything I could online about it. I learned all I could so I would get it right. I failed.

Well, fail is a harsh word; I learned. I thought I had it right and in fact it did look good when I previewed my books. However, I started my self publishing with Amazon Kindle like many others have. Before I actually published my books I would do a preview using Amazon’s previewer and things looked good. I published and forgot all about it. Why worry, it looked good.

Fast forward a few years and 13 or so books later. I decided I needed to expand beyond Amazon to get a larger exposure (The jury is still out, stay tuned for an article about my experience) and decided on Smashwords because of the reach of their distribution. Yes, Amazon has most of the book market in the bag but getting your name and books out there for more exposure can’t hurt, right? With Smashwords, your book cannot be included in their premium catalog (ie; Apple store inclusion) unless it passes an EPUB validation. My books files were failing their validation even though they were accepted by Amazon. Some of the books have been on Amazon for years, why were they failing the validation for the formatting at Smashwords and not Amazon?

problems with eBook formatting
Amazon’s previewer did not reveal these errors with my formatting. This is how my book actually displayed on actual eBook readers.

So once again I researched to see what was going on. I found many resources on Smashwords about eBook formatting (You MUST grab the Style Guide) and marketing. Best of all, they are free. More digging around and I found a Microsoft Word document available (again for free) that is set up to use for formatting eBooks. The template was a bit more than I typically need; I write non-fiction and it was more tailored toward fiction. I used the template anyway and submitted my book for validation. It passed with no problems; same book, just a different formatting template.

I decided to try to figure out what was going on with my original formatting of my eBook on Amazon. I downloaded my files from Amazon and took a good hard look. What I learned was that some were indeed not displaying correctly when viewed on a Kindle or other device. Amazon was allowing my improperly formatted books to be accepted and sold. Think about that; anyone who purchased my book would have a hard time reading it. What are the chances they would buy another? Slim to none!

I started to frantically redo all my books I had on Amazon with the new formatting template. Not only did I redo the formatting, I added links to my personal websites, Facebook profile, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. I also listed other titles of my books so the reader would be aware of them.

The lesson I have learned through all this is that even though I did a ton of research beforehand, my books were still not formatted correctly when viewed on various devices. I am sure I have lost sales and more importantly, readers. Readers that may never look at another one of my books because of the bad experience they had.

To help you get started on the right track, grab a free copy of my eBook What I have learned writing and publishing Kindle books or get a copy of my eBook Formatting Tips. Most of the information in them has been hard earned. Learn about tables of contents, picture sizes, tabs, bookmarks, tables, lists, and more! Formatting is covered as well as information about covers for your eBook.

What has been your experience publishing eBooks?