Ricardo Fayet of ALLi partner member Reedsy explains the ins and outs of their new tool to help indie authors format ebooks and print books for self-publishing – a simple and free process. For the sake of objectivity, he also makes clear its limitations, which many users will be happy to accept in return for the bargain price of $0!
The typesetting (or formatting) stage is one of the most overlooked ones in the publishing process. After all, formatting won't change the essence of your book (like revising or editing can), and it doesn't influence readers' purchases like a good cover will.
And yet, the way a book looks on the inside is usually one of the clearest indicators of the level of professionalism the author has put into producing it.
If you've ever tried turning a Word document into an EPUB or a print-ready PDF file, you'll know that the most popular word processors aren’t meant for making books. Hence the success of dedicated formatting tools like Vellum, Calibre, or Jutoh.
At Reedsy, we wanted to approach formatting and typesetting from a different, simpler perspective.
Philosophy of the Reedsy Book Editor
The idea behind the Reedsy Book Editor was to democratize high-quality book production. With that in mind, we built a tool that is: a) completely free, b) accessible through every device and browser, and c) involves no learning curve whatsoever.
Now, when it comes to typesetting for print, there are very specific rules which tend to require a certain learning curve. You need to take into account things like margins, spacing, indents, images, widows, orphans…
The Reedsy Book Editor takes care of all these issues automatically. For the author, this means two things:
- You don't need to know anything about typesetting to get a perfect-looking PDF that will be accepted by all major POD distributors;
- You won't have to navigate through hundreds of fancy features that could potentially mess up the typesetting.
For example, you don’t choose your own font, or size, or spacing. All these typesetting decisions are controlled by the software based on the template you select, a feature noted by indie author Tara Holladay when she used the Reedsy Book Editor for her novel Hiding Haelo.
“I love that I didn't have to worry about weird, unexpected formatting quirks. All the paragraphs indented properly without hidden tabs. The alignment was uniform throughout unless I needed specific sections aligned differently, which only took one click: really easy to do.”
While the limited customization options has been frustrating to some, it's the only way to ensure that the end result will always be perfect.
“You don’t have a huge variety of choice in how things appear at the moment,” says writer (and soon-to-be ALLi member) Rebecca Milton, “but the service is still in its early days — and the options you have are plenty.”
Authors can currently choose between three templates:
- Reedsy: the perfect choice for non-fiction
- Classic: for a style similar to Penguin Classics
- Romance: which is for… well, you can probably guess
And over the next few months, we’ll be looking to roll out even more new themes.
How to format a book for both EPUB and print within the Editor
Step 1: Importing your book
Okay, this is probably the one frustrating step left in the process. Importing your book to the Editor requires you to copy-and-paste your book a chapter at a time.
We're working on a smarter import feature but for now, you'll need to spend five-to-ten minutes copy-pasting your manuscript into the interface. The software retains most of your formatting (bolding, italics, etc.), but will remove all the unnecessary code that Word or Google Docs always adds to the text…
Step 2: Applying the finishing touches
Once you have your entire book in there, you can go through it and apply any final touches using the formatting bar — which automatically appears when you highlight text.
At this stage, you can also drag and drop images, write captions, or add endnotes.
Step 3: Configure the front and end matter
The sidebar of the Reedsy Book Editor is separated into 3 sections: the front matter, the body, and the back matter. If you're not familiar with the anatomy of a book, you can read more about these sections in this post.
Parts of your front matter, like your title and copyright pages, will be automatically generated, based on the info you provide in the book's settings.
“The book settings feature keeps all of your info in one place,” says Tara Holladay. “You don't have to guess what to put on the copyright page: it's all done for you. Just enter your title, author name, ISBN, publisher information, logo, description, and then all of the front matter and first level metadata is done for you.”
3: Export your book
This is the fun part. Once everything is ready, you can head to the export page and choose between EPUB or PDF export.
Here's where you can customize your book a bit more and choose:
- your template
- whether you want drop caps
- where you want your end notes
- your trim size (for print)
Then, simply hit “export” and you’ll receive the formatted book within seconds (for ebook) or minutes (for print) in your email inbox.
When it came to self-publishing his debut novel, The Crossing, author Michael Doane decided to try out the Reedsy Book Editor.
“It made formatting, exporting, and publishing a breeze,” Doane says. “I simply dropped in my text from a word processor, selected a few options, and within minutes had a beautiful, professionally formatted file that I could upload to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and every other major retailer.”
To make sure your files will be accepted on the first try, we’ve tested our EPUBs with every major retailer and distributor, and our PDFs with Createspace, IngramSpark, and Blurb. In fact, we’ve recently partnered with Blurb to let you send your Reedsy-formatted PDF to them with a single click.
Note: there is no “preview” feature within the Reedsy Book Editor. If you make a formatting change and want to see what the end result looks like, you'll need to run another export.
What are its limitations?
I was asked to write an honest post about the Reedsy Book Editor, so it’s only fair that I dedicate the last section to the limitations of this free software.
1. It's browser-based
We like to think of this as a positive because you can access it from almost any device and browser through your Reedsy account. But it also means you'll need an active internet connection, as there’s no app to download.
2. It's not for image or illustration-heavy books
If you want to produce a cookbook or a coffee-table book, we would not recommend the Reedsy Book Editor. You can insert images, but you will have trouble arranging text around them. This higher level of design complexity needs to be handled properly with software like InDesign.
3. Customization is limited
As I mentioned earlier, only a few templates are available for now. That and you won't be able to use fancy fonts for drop caps or chapter titles.
But on the other hand, our existing templates (including their fonts) have been designed by professional typesetters based on widely-used industry standards.
4. There's no .mobi export
The reason for this is simple: if your EPUB is formatted correctly, you can upload that file to KDP, and they'll do the conversion. We've run repeated tests to ensure that Amazon converts our EPUBs seamlessly (which it does). But if you want to export or customize your .mobi directly, you'll need to use another tool.
And that's it! I hope I’ve shed some light onto what you can (and cannot) do with the Reedsy Book Editor. Even though it's a free product, we do spend a considerable amount of time and resources refining it: if you've used the tool and have any feedback, we'd love to hear it!
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OTHER HELPFUL POSTS ABOUT FORMATTING CHOICES – FROM THE ALLi ARCHIVE