Formatting. Ebooks and print books aren’t the same.

This may not seem like a professional post at first, but I have a point to what I am about to say. It’s a short point, just a little fyi for people who want their books formatted.

I have a pet peeve. It’s one of many, but this pet peeve I’ve been dealing with for three days. I hate clients who take my hard work and tell me that I don’t know what I’m doing.

Case in point: client sends me his book for formatting. He wants me to format it for Createspace. So I do. And he says, “This is horribly done. I’m taking my work elsewhere.”

Which leaves me lifting my eyebrows, wondering who spit in his breakfast cereal, because last I checked a healthy client simply says “May I have some changes please”, whereupon they get the joy of me stepping over my own feet to please.

So I ask where I went wrong. He tells me the headers are awful. Things are squished. And I didn’t follow the formatting of his original book, couldn’t I SEE how he wanted it? Plainly, he says, I know nothing about book formatting.

On most days I would let that last statement go. But this time I can’t – too cranky from other life factors I guess – so I respond, “Um. Look. I happen to know what I’m doing very well. Your book was given professional polish. Changes can be made very easily. But as far as knowing how you wanted it, your book was a mess. I’m not psychic. I’m sorry you’re not happy with what I have provided.”

To which he responds that he’s sorry if he was rude, but his OTHER formatter – the one who formatted his book for ebooks – managed to get his book correct and not complain at all.  Suggesting that I was complaining about his book. At that point, I feel he does not deserve any more of my very precious time. And he probably will take the PDF I supplied and print his book with it for free. Whatever. I am done.


Another case in point: I formatted a book for a client and worked very hard on her rather messy endeavor. When she got her document she told me I didn’t know what I was doing because, couldn’t I see… the weird wide spaces on the insides of every page there? That, by the way, is called a gutter margin and is very important for your book binding. Of course, once she decided I didn’t know what I was doing there was no explaining it to her. She paid me, took her book and went her own way.

She also ended up getting banned not just by me but by some other formatters I work with because I, apparently, wasn’t the only formatter who didn’t know what they were doing.

Fact of the matter is, when you provide a manuscript to your ebook formatter you’re asking for less work. Less thinking. Basically, you’re asking them to clean up your mess and put your socks away. If your formatter chooses to make things pretty in the process, that’s up to them. (I usually make that choice, but I don’t have to if you don’t want it.)

If you ask your formatter to take that big step forward, you’re asking for more than that. Although formatting for a print on demand book starts out with many similarities with formatting for ebooks the buck stops at a certain level. There are margins, gutters, headers, and footers to consider. There are bulleted lists, and in most cases choosing which font you can use that won’t get your client sued by some money crazed corporation. There’s tiptoeing through the words to make sure paragraphs aren’t cutting funny, aligning paragraphs in linear justification from top to bottom on some pages or simply to the top on another. Section breaks, illustrations to be at least 300 dpi and who knows what else.

There’s also something not everyone worries about, but many ancient monks made it their daily chore: the look of the book. You don’t just slap the words on the page and be done. You have to care how each page looks, as if it were a miniature painting. If that page is ugly, you’re going to get readers who put your book down. It’s a proven fact.

Formatting for print takes longer. It takes slightly more care. And it’s hard to test these books to make sure you got it right.

So of course the first example’s ebook formatter was able to format cleanly with no complaints. She had less to deal with. All she had to do was sweep the floor. Whereas I was given the room and told to organize everything, with care, and make it pretty too.

It’s important that authors realize these two types of formatting are different. Not just for the sanity of formatters like myself. They need to realize this so they won’t face so many disappointments in life. So here’s a few rules of thumb authors can learn to live by:

  1. If you think your book’s layout is exactly how you want it, be sure and tell your formatter. If you’ve got a weird header on the bottom of your page you might want to point out that it is on purpose, because that’s not standard and anyone who knows their book interiors will move it to the usual spot.
  2. Formatting your book for print on demand takes *time*.
  3. If you think you know more about formatting than your formatter, save some money and do it yourself.
  4. Make sure no one defecates your breakfast. A healthy attitude will encourage your formatter to work harder for you. Which you want.

And that is all. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.