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Making Your Word Manuscript Conversion Friendly

April 3, 2012

I am a firm believer in labor-saving practices and devices.  Some people call it lazy, but I prefer the term efficient.  Yes, I am still waiting on personal robots to hit the market, and I am more than a little concerned that it’s taking so long.  My robot will be named Jeffrey, he will edit my manuscripts, and he will bring me coffee and pie.  Sans Jeffrey, here are several rules that I follow to make sure that I encounter the least amount of problems when converting a Word document to .html for upload to Amazon Kindle or other e-reader formats.  If you are a wizard at .html, then the DIY route is fine.  The following list is for the rest of us.

This list of tips applies to Word 7, but they can also be implemented for earlier versions:

Build a template that is conversion friendly.  It is a waste of time to tweak each manuscript when you can do global settings within a reusable template file.  This frees up time better spent actually writing fresh words.  It is a sad commentary on the modern world, but time is money, so here are the basic template attributes that I have settled on to guarantee the least amount of hassle. Turn off auto-everything – grammar, spelling, etc.  Don’t let the software make automatic corrections because they will take time to repair before the conversion process.  From what I understand, Word inserts CSS formats when it auto-corrects, and these can be difficult, if not impossible to find.  You can’t fix what you can’t see.

Be consistent in your typing.  I discovered that I was adding a trailing space after paragraphs, and many times the software would ‘tab’ to indent the following paragraph.  No tabs!  Conversion software can’t interpret a tab, and you’ll have to go through and remove all of them.  This is the OED definition of pain-in-the-butt.  You can use ‘find & replace” by inserting the tab code of ^t into the find box, leaving the replace box empty, and doing a ‘replace all.’  The downside is that Word will change all of the tabbed paragraphs to ‘block indent,’ so you will have to reformat them to ‘line indent’ found under the ‘paragraph’ selection on the ‘home’ tab.  Look for the ‘Special’ drop-down box to the right of ‘Indentation,’ and select ‘first line.’  I have poetry in my fantasy novel, The One Rider, so I was not able to use ‘select all’ because it would have rearranged my poetry lines, and as a poet, that would affect my sensibilities.  I had to select and format each individual chapter.  Also, insert a ‘page break’ to separate your chapters or sections.  E-readers do not convert multiple line breaks, so to place each chapter at the beginning of a new page, use ‘page break.’  Conversions will also error out on more than four ‘line breaks,’ so be careful how you arrange the spacing of your manuscript.

Manually run ‘spelling & grammar.’  At the end of each writing session, go to the ‘review’ tab and run a ‘spelling & grammar’ check located at the top left corner.  Now you can go through and make corrections without inserting odd formatting that you may or may not be able to see. Remember, you can’t fix what you can’t see.  I find it easier to make corrections on the smaller chunks of text that I have just completed rather than a full manuscript.  I still run a check on the entire project when it is finished, but if you have been making corrections as you go, there will be very little to do for the final edit.  The added benefit is speed.  I am annoyed by the mystical red underline, and I feel compelled to backspace to make corrections, but it is much faster to write at the speed of thought.  Go back at the end for an edit.  Otherwise, I am prone to lose my train of thought.  Also, I’ve found that my typing is becoming more accurate simply out of self-preservation.  Don’t freak out over typos, they slow you down.  Remember writing rule #312 – get the story on the page.  This is the biggest step in the pursuit of becoming a prolific writer.

‘Reveal codes’ is your friend.  Click on the ¶ symbol in the ‘paragraph’ selection on the ‘home’ tab, and it allows you to see the document formatting.  Use ‘reveal codes’ to look for ‘tabs,’ extra ‘line breaks,’ trailing spaces, etc.  I use this after I perform the ‘spelling & grammar’ check to find formatting errors that I can’t easily identify by sight.  This is extremely important once you begin to edit your manuscript.  Inserting, deleting, copying, and pasting can throw in little goodies that mess up the formatting.  Use ‘reveal codes’ to identify any oddities that need correction.

Work with a .doc file, not .docx.  Conversion software will not accept the newer Word 7 format.  When you build your template, simply save it in the older Word 2003 format, and you will have a document that can be processed by Mobi or whatever software you use to create your .html file for upload.

This covers the basics of manuscript formatting for Kindle as well as most e-reader formats.  I have touched on only the bare essentials, so if you would like more in-depth information, take a look at the Smashwords Style Guide found here.  It is a free download in .pdf format and the information is priceless.

I hope that this helps, but I am sure that you have tips and tricks of your own.  Post them in the comments, and share any other information that you feel would make manuscript preparation a less painful proposition.

One Comment
  1. Excellent publish, very informative. I’m wondering why the other experts of this sector don’t understand this. You must continue your writing. I’m sure, you’ve a great readers’ base already!|What’s Going down i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve discovered It positively helpful and it has aided me out loads. I hope to contribute & aid other users like its aided me. Great job.

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