Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

Formatting eBooks & Print Books| Cozy Mystery Publishing Process


This post is part of my series on “Publishing a Cozy Mystery.” This series isn’t meant to tell you how you have to go about it and dictate what’s right or wrong. Instead, I’m sharing my personal journey from writing my initial draft to seeing my first book, Murder at the Marina, be released. I’ll talk about the good, bad, and the ugly. And trust me, there was plenty of ugly along the way.

Last time I talked to you about my decision to publish both ebook and paperback versions. Today, I’m going to cover the next step in the process once my manuscript was finalized—formatting. This is one of the areas where “ugly” really reared its head.


Before I get started, let me just mention what programs I used. I started off writing in Scrivener. Once I had a decent draft completed, I compiled the document and then finished editing in Open Office Writer (a free open source alternative to MS Word – you can easily convert files back and forth between the two programs as required).

Once the ebook manuscript was finalized, I used Draft2Digital‘s free service to convert into mobi (for Kindle) and epub (for everyone else) files. Once my paperback manuscript was finalized, I converted it into a PDF for uploading for print-on-demand on Amazon KDP and Ingram Spark.

I’ve heard great things about Vellum when it comes to formatting, but it’s not compatible with PCs (only for MacOS). Plus it costs quite a bit, whereas my approach cost nothing, except time and frustration.

Here’s how things should have worked

If I had been more patient, these are the steps I should have taken. Note that there would have been celebratory chocolate and pats on the back. Instead, the process I took involved banging my head on the table and eating chocolate to make myself feel better when things went wrong.

1 – Lock down the manuscript before beginning to format ebook and print versions.

2 – Get the manuscript ready for conversion to ebook files. (This mostly involved stripping out unnecessary formatting and making sure chapter breaks were distinctive and consistent). Make this version the master document.

3 – Convert into epub and mobi files using Draft2Digital.

4 – Check the epub and mobi files and do one last proofreading round. (You might catch things when looking at a manuscript on a Kindle, iPad, or tablet that you wouldn’t necessarily see on the computer.)

5 – Go back to the master document and fix anything caught during the final proofreading.

6 – Make new epub and mobi files.

7 – Do one last check of the epub and mobi files.

8 – Have some chocolate because things are going so smoothly.

9 – Upload to the various ebook distributors / aggregators – in my case, Amazon KDP, Draft2Digital (for Apple iBooks), Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Publish Drive (for Google Play).

10 – Paste and copy from the master document into the print book template in Open Office Writer.

11 – Complete the print book formatting.

12 – Convert into a PDF file and upload to print-on-demand distributors – in my case, Amazon KDP and Ingram Spark.

13 – Pat yourself on the back for a job well done without any hiccoughs.

Here’s how it really went

1 – Got excited that the edits to the manuscript were finished and wanted to see what it would look like as a print book, cause you know that makes it more “real.”

2 – Started copying and pasting like mad into my print book template. Dove into formatting, which turned out to be quite involved and revealed what a total newbie I was to this sort of thing. Things like checking margins and gutters (even and odd pages are different), making sure section breaks were working correctly, ensuring consistent font size and placement for chapter titles, fixing hyphenation (don’t want them breaking across pages or stacking up with several lined up on top of each other in a paragraph), looking for widow / orphan issues (don’t want just a few words being orphaned by themselves on a page), and checking indentation (none at the first paragraph of each chapter and scene).

3 – Have a stiff drink cause it’s all a bit overwhelming.

4 – Wonder if you have a migraine coming on.

5 – Question your decision to do your formatting yourself rather than outsource it.

6 – Realize you need to download fonts into Open Office Writer that MS Word has, but you don’t. Make sure all fonts are copyright free.

7 – Finish formatting the print version, then create the ebook version.

8 – Discover a couple of small changes that need to be made. Realize that you don’t have a master document, you have to fix things in both the print version and ebook version. Chocolate required.

9 – Decide to keep your print version as the master document, make changes in that one, then strip out the formatting in order to convert it back into an ebook version.

10 – Discover that somehow everything got messed up in the new ebook version file. Italics have disappeared. Capitalization issues in the first sentence of each chapter. Tear your hair out. Have more chocolate.

11 – Finally get back on track, finalize files, and upload.

12 – Go to have some celebratory chocolate only to discover someone ate it all. Hmm…who could that have been?

So, was a DIY approach a smart idea?

Sure, it would have been a lot easier to outsource formatting to someone else, especially for the print version. However, I’m still glad I went with the DIY approach. Obviously, I saved money, and when it’s your own money you’re investing into publishing your books, saving money is a good thing, at least it is for me. More importantly, I learned heaps in the process and it will be so much easier next time. I’m also not dependent on anyone else if I need to update my manuscripts at any point.

But perhaps the biggest lesson I learned was to stock up on more chocolate.

Want to know more?

Elizabeth Spann Craig talks about using Draft2Digital’s free templates to format your ebook.

The Alliance for Independent Authors shares 6 tips for indie authors to format print books using MS Word.

Joel Friedlander has lots of useful resources from articles about print book sizes, how to check your book proof, and dealing with widows and orphans, as well as offering book design templates for sale.

L. Diane Wolfe at The Insecure Writer’s Support Group offers tips and tricks on ebook formatting.

Reedsy explains the difference between epub and mobi files.

A useful list of 10 ebook conversion tools on Bookworks.

Amazon KDP Paperback Manuscript Templates—choose from blank MS Word templates and those with sample content; select your trim size, download and away you go.

Other posts in my “Publishing a Cozy Mystery” series:

Cover Design | Draft #743 | Beta Readers | Traditional vs. Self-Publishing | Editing | Going Wide or Amazon Exclusive | Ebooks, Print, or Both | Book Formatting| Distribution Channels | Book Release in Numbers | Blog Tours | ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) | Large Print Books

Have you ever formatted your own ebook and/or print book?

Murder at the Marina Banner - Available Now

A dilapidated sailboat for your anniversary—not very romantic. A dead body on board—even worse.

If you’d like to pick up your own copy (ebook and paperback), you can do so at your favorite online retailer:

Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (AU) | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple iBooks | Google Play | Book Depository | Books-A-Million

You can also add Murder at the Marina to your to-read list on Goodreads and subscribe to my newsletter here.

17 thoughts on “Formatting eBooks & Print Books| Cozy Mystery Publishing Process”

  1. All I can say is . . . wow. What a ride this has been! Thanks so much for another informational, candid post about this process. The best part is seeing how all of your hard work paid off with your debut launch.

    Liked by 1 person

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