Getting to the source

This section introduces you to the process of preparing a clean, well-structured document that will convert well into an ebook. Well-prepared source documents will pay dividends later. Our examples use simple layouts and common tools to explain the general principles.

Getting it right at the start

ArrowsThe biggest difference between preparing a manuscript for print and preparing it for digital is that the digital publication will almost always be produced using automated computer systems. There will often be manual fine-tuning but the starting point will almost always be an automated process.

This means that, to get the best results, you’ll need very thorough preparation. There is a phrase that computer geeks have used for years: ‘Garbage in, garbage out‘ (often abbreviated to GIGO). Computers follow rules to the letter: if you feed them poorly organised inputs, you’ll get nonsense out of the other end.

So, before you charge ahead to turn a manuscript into an ebook, you should prepare the ground. You’ll almost always find that the time invested at this stage will save time, reduce errors and produce a better result.

Sources for ebook conversion

There are two ways ebooks are typically produced:

  • From an existing printed book
  • From an original manuscript

If you’re working from an existing printed book, you might by-pass most of the preparations below by using a contract ebook-conversion service who can work from the hard copy or the PDF file that’s sent to the printer. (However, beware that converting from a PDF or hardcopy introduces errors which someone — you or your conversion service provider — will have to find and correct. A Word or HTML document will convert more accurately.)

For new works, or existing works for which revision is needed, you’ll be working from a manuscript, usually in Microsoft Word format. This chapter will help you prepare it for error-free conversion to an ebook. We’ll talk more about the various conversion options in the chapter on production.

Our examples will be straightforward narrative works such as fiction or general non-fiction with text and a few illustrations. In the real world, things are often more complex, especially with highly illustrated non-fiction, periodical and textbook publishing. But you’ll be better placed to deal with these complex cases if you understand the basics.

In general, the examples in this section will use guidelines recommended for widely-used online conversion services. But the principles will apply equally if you plan to use in-house designers or customized conversion services.


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