Voiced by Amazon Polly

You’ve spent hundreds of hours on your book, polishing the words to within an inch of their lives and arranging for a top quality, genre-rocking cover but how do you make sure that your purple prose is presented professionally? More to the point, how do you go from Word/Scrivener document to ebook file?

The basics

Ebooks aren’t single documents like those produced by Word, they have more in common with websites and your Kindle or smartphone ereader app is acting, effectively, as a web browser. In fact, an ebook is a compressed archive containing all the pages and files which is then extracted on loading into your ereader.

TLDR; you need to convert your .doc or .docx file into an ebook format: .mobi for Amazon and .epub for everyone else.

Now, if you’ve ever uploaded an ebook to the Kindle Direct Publishing dashboard, you might have noticed that Amazon recommends the .docx format. You can do that, and Amazon will convert it for you. But they also recommend using their cover creator and that has never been a good idea. You see, Amazon doesn’t want to have to deal with supporting authors, so they tell you to upload a Word document even though that has resulted in some of the worst crimes against formatting I’ve ever seen.

Having said that, I know some very successful authors who do upload a Word doc, but I’ve also seen how poorly their formatting comes out. Why? Because you’re ceding all control to Amazon. You have no influence on how they might mangle your document. Honestly, five to ten minutes is all it takes to sort this out and it doesn’t cost a penny-there is no excuse for crappy formatting.

Draft2Digital

Draft2Digital are one of the heroes of indie publishing. Its core business is acting as a means of distributing your ebooks to retailers such as Apple Books, Barnes & Noble and Kobo without you having to open accounts with all of them. But it also offers formatting services that you can use even if you don’t distribute your books through D2D-it really doesn’t mind!

By using them, you can create not only your .mobi and .epub files (as well as a PDF version), you can also generate a print layout for your KDP Print and Ingram paperbacks. All for free.

Step 1: Prepare your files

Whichever software you use for writing your manuscript, you need to provide a Word format .docx for Draft2Digital (and just about every other formatting service). Resist the temptation to add any formatting beyond the most basic to your document. Don’t use tabs-ereaders do not support them. Use indents instead.

Apply Heading 1 style to each chapter title-even if that means they all go blue in true Word fashion. The Heading 1 style is there simply to allow D2D (or any other formatter) to identify the chapter titles so they can create the table of contents.

So, keep it plain and simple. If you get iffy results from the D2D conversion process then it is almost certain that it’s because of junk in the original Word file. I’ve used it many times and have never had a problem.

Step 2: Log into Draft2Digital

If you don’t yet have an account with D2D, go ahead and create one. No need to add financial details if you’re just using it for formatting.

Step 3: Click Add New Book

Step 4: Details & Upload

Fill in the details on the first tab. You’ll have to put some gobbledigook into the description field and pick a couple of categories. None of this matters if you’re not going to distribute through them.

Click the Browse button to locate your .docx file and upload it. Click Save & Continue.

Step 5: Upload your cover

On the next tab, click Browse and upload your cover. Under Chapter Layout you should see the complete structure of your book. Ignore the options on the left. If the structure isn’t correct, it’s because you didn’t mark each chapter with Heading 1 style.

Assuming all’s well, click Save and Continue.

Step 6: Choose a style

Choose a design for your ebook from the list. D2D will show how it looks in preview. Choose whether to have drop caps or not. Once you’ve found a design you like, click Download MOBI.

Step 7: Check

Open the MOBI file in Kindle Previewer 3 – check it thoroughly. If it’s okay, go ahead and download the EPUB for use on Bookfunnel and retailers other than Amazon. You can also download a PDF version – this is not a print layout. See Step 8 for that.

Use Kindle Previewer 3 to preview your ebook.

Step 8: Format for print

Scroll down to the bottom of the Preview Book Layout page on D2D and click the View Book link and, on the next page, select the Print Book tab, then select a trim size for the paperback and click Download File.

Pros and Cons

Well, that was easy. It takes only a few minutes to generate well formatted, good looking ebook and print files. I have personally used Draft2Digital for producing ebooks and it’s also my most common method for creating paperback layouts. They come out beautifully. However, no service is perfect so here’s the list of pros and cons.

Pros

  • Requires no technical knowledge
  • Quick
  • Nice designs
  • Compatible
  • Print layouts that work for KDP Print and Ingram
  • FREE!

Cons

  • You have limited design options and can’t change the design much. This is also true of most other formatting software including Vellum, though it has far more options than D2D (at a cost). If you want a completely custom design, you’ll have to either pay for formatting or learn how to do it in a product such as Jutoh.
  • The ebook files aren’t as small as those produced by Jutoh.

From time to time, I hear reports of authors getting poor results with Draft2Digital (hello Pete!) but I believe that is because the manuscript they uploaded contained garbage that D2D can’t sort out. In those cases, Jutoh would be a better choice but the best solution is to keep your manuscript format simple and clean.

It’s free, after all, so worth a try at the very least.