Using An EBook Formatting Service

A couple weeks ago I wrote about using Vellum as a self-publishing tool. It allows you to pretty easily convert your word processing files to ebook and print formats.

A lot of writers, though, have asked me about using a service to do this instead. 

Up until this year, that’s what I did with each of my novels. It’s a good option for many writers who self-publish.

You can also check out the free formatting option at Draft2Digital. I haven’t used it myself, so I won’t comment on it.

When Should You Pay Someone Else To Format Your Book?

In my opinion, contracting out the formatting of your book makes a lot of sense if:

  • You don’t like working with software

If using new (or any) software makes you want to tear out your hair, it may be worth paying a service. While I find Vellum is pretty user-friendly, as with any software, it takes some effort to learn its quirks and ins and outs.

Also, user-friendly is a relative term.

I’ve used computer programs for over thirty years, so a lot of things that seem obvious to me could be challenging to understand if it’s your first attempt to use a program beyond a word processor.

  • You need or want to minimize the amount of computer work you do

Many writers, including me, struggle with neck strain or back strain from typing a lot. Other issues from laptop and computer use include eye strain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and prolonged inactivity.

You may prefer to pay someone else to do the technical work so you can reserve your computer time for writing. This can be especially important if your day-to-day career also requires a lot of typing.

When I worked a lot of hours as a lawyer, I spent much of my day in front of my keyboard, as I wrote a lot of legal briefs, corresponded with clients mainly by email, and kept my books on my laptop. Whatever computer work I could outsource for my self-publishing, I did.

  • Your time is limited and you can afford to pay a service 

Sending your word processing file to a service can also save you time.

There are a few caveats, though.

You will still need to review the finished product and flag any conversion errors. This takes time in itself. With Vellum, I find I integrate this into the formatting.

Also, correcting errors directly in the Vellum file generally doesn’t take any more time than sending notes on the errors to a service.

Despite that, overall, having a service format your book is usually quicker.

All of the above, of course, assumes you can afford to pay a service. To give you an idea of cost, before I started using Vellum, I sent my files to 52novels.

Here are the prices from its website as of December 29, 2017, when I’m writing this:

Formatting manuscript into an ebook format from Word, WordPerfect, RTF, or another “readily workable native text format”:

Under 15,000 words: $125
15,001 to 40,000 words: $150
40,001 to 100,000 words: $200
More than 100,001 words: Quote, with $225 minimum

Keep in mind that if you ask for too many follow up corrections due to your own errors in the manuscript, you’ll also need to pay per-correction fee.

Print conversion has additional fees. (See the pricing page here.)

  • You’re not sure if you’ll write or publish another book

If you’re not sure if you’ll write or publish another book, it probably makes more sense to pay a service for formatting.

It’ll probably be cheaper than the cost of Vellum or a similar program. Even if it’s not, you won’t need to spend time learning a new program that you may never use again.

Tips On Working With A Formatting Service

Based on my own experience, there are some things you can do to make working with a service go more smoothly.

  • Get A Recommendation

You can do an Internet search and find plenty of ebook and print formatters.

It’s best to get a recommendation, though, from another writer.

Ask about how reliable the service is, whether there are hidden costs, whether the service keeps to the promised schedule, and if there are any reasons the writer would not recommend the service.

  • Plan Ahead

As with any business, there are busy and slow times for ebook formatters. It’s best to contact a service well in advance to find out what the waiting time is before your book can be started and how long the conversion process takes.

Be sure to check the schedule before you announce a release date for your book or, worse, set it for preorder.

That way, if the timeframe is longer than you’d expected, you can push back your dates or shop around for another service.

I’ve waited as short a time as 2 weeks and as long as 6 weeks. I’ve gotten files back sometimes in days and sometimes weeks. So far, happily, the times have always conformed with the estimates I was given or been shorter.

  • Finalize And Proofread Your File, Including Back Matter

As noted above, if you need to make too many changes after conversion, you’ll need to pay extra.

If you carefully proof your file and have someone else proof it as well before you send it, you’ll be much less likely to need a lot of changes.

Also, don’t forget to add any back matter, such as an Author Biography and/or an Also By page and provide links to your other works, your website, your social media platforms, or anything else you want your readers to find.

It’s easy to forget about those pages in your rush to get your story polished.

If you create those back matter pages quickly when the service reminds you (as some formatters do), you’re more apt to make errors that require corrections later. (At least, I’m more apt to make errors, as exactly that happened with When Darkness Falls, the last book I had formatted for Kindle.)

  • Proofread And Eyeball The Formatted Files

Carefully check the files you get back.

Doing so will help you spot proofreading errors you missed. It’s also vital for spotting conversion errors.

Glitches can happen with any conversion, and you don’t want to find out after you’ve started selling your book that certain letters were replaced with odd-looking characters or the paragraphs are running together.

The latter point is why I mentioned “eyeball” above.

It’s important not only to look at words and paragraphs but to scroll through the pages to see that chapter headings, chapter endings, and back matter all look right.

You’ll also want to check the links in the Table of Contents and in your back matter.

I hope you found the above useful!

Until Sunday–

L.M. Lilly

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