Home » Ebooks, Self-Publishing, Writing Tools » Is There Anything That Can Take the Pain Out of Ebook Formatting?

Is There Anything That Can Take the Pain Out of Ebook Formatting?

14 September 2011

Regular visitor and commenter Elizabeth Ann West has found the Holy Grail:

I finished my final round of edits and began working on formatting. GRR! UGH! SERIOUSLY??????? and a number of expletives left my mouth early on…until I found Jutoh. I originally was looking for something free, but this program is worth 40 pounds of gold, not just $40. I only paid $24 in a combination deal to purchase Writer’s Cafe as well, but that’s a separate blog post.

How easy is Jutoh? This easy.

Download OpenOffice.org if you don’t already have it. Write your story. Pick one style for your chapter headings. Pick another for your ebook text (set your paragraph indent with the style, DO NOT USE TABS). Save as .odt [you can have more styles, I have 4 in my book total and it preserved them all!!!]

Open Jutoh. It works on Windows, Mac, and Linux (YAY!). Start a new project. Fill in your metadata (be prepared for this, this helps Amazon and the other sites catalog and show your book for other readers). Select the .odt file you made with everything in it. Select the file you want to be your cover. Tell it to autogenerate your Table of Contents. Click compile. Wait a minute or two. Run the check, then go to FILE:Export and pick the format you want.

TA DA!!!! You now have access to your book is every format you need. Including .epub, .mobi, the file for Smashwords, and other formats I don’t even know where they sell.

Link to the rest at E.A. West Writing

Passive Guy isn’t sure he’s ready to give up Word for composition (although he’s sworn at this software program more than all other programs combined). However, he recently used Open Office to clean up a Word manuscript jammed full of psycho styles. (No, none of the regular solutions worked. These were styles from hell and there were dozens and dozens of them.)

PG hasn’t tried Jutoh, but he’ll have a chance to do so with one of Mrs. PG’s backlist books soon. If it works as well as Elizabeth reports, it might even tempt him back to Smashwords and its powerful automated error message generation engine.

Ebooks, Self-Publishing, Writing Tools

32 Comments to “Is There Anything That Can Take the Pain Out of Ebook Formatting?”

  1. I won’t argue with Ms West’s sentiments and it sounds like $40 well-spent.

    However, converting the text of a novel into HTML isn’t as scary as it sounds and you can do it with free software, if you have the patience. I’ve written some articles on my site explaining how to do it.

  2. Jutoh looks interesting, and it reminds me of Sigil (which is free). Still, word processing software and eBook formats are totally different, so there’s no magic bullet to convert from one to the other. Word processors have fixed pages and fonts, and eBooks have reflowable text. It’s helpful to think of eBooks like one big, massive webpage.

    Anyhoo, I’m surprised so many authors cringe at formatting, but write, tweet, and market with ease. For me it’s the other way around.

    • When it comes to author cringe, Paul, I really think it’s a gender thing. Talking to male writer friends, they’ll say ‘Tell me how you got X to do Y.’ Female writer friends will say ‘Do Z for me because I can’t handle technical stuff.’ *sigh* Nor will they try in most cases.

      Let the tomato throwing commence.

    • Word processors have fixed pages and fonts, and eBooks have reflowable text.

      That’s what styles are for. If you use them consistently (aye, there’s the rub) conversion is easy. Think of the word processor as specialized e-reader software: it does the pagination, fonts, etc. based on what the styles say about the content.

      Alas, MS Word has traditionally not been the best at encouraging users to use styles.

  3. Actually, I haven’t found conversion to be all that difficult. Smashwords drives me nuts, because you get an error message, and then can never find the error in an epub file.

  4. I’m a huge fan of Scrivener. I’ve been able to easily generate the epub and mobi formats, and I’m about to do the PDF version for print on demand. My only trouble came win I had to reincorporate changes from my editor from Word. I’ll write up something about my workflow after I’ve got this book launched.

    • I’m curious about this too. I haven’t reached the point of copyedits in my first novel, so I haven’t had to go through this process yet. My hope is that I’ll be able to use Scrivener’s ability to synchronize with an external directory and do it like that.

      Scrivener will sync your work with an outside directory and store every scene / chapter in a separate RTF file which can easily be read and edited by Word. Then, once my editor is done with the changes, I would have to use Word to accept or reject the changes and then save the RTF back out.

      Loading Scrivener the next time around will pull those changes back into your project along with creating a revision before doing it. I’m not sure if all that will work out as planned, but that’s what I’m hoping for. 0-]

    • I also use Scrivener. Five minutes ago, I finished applying the pro edits on my latest novel and came here to waste a few minutes before tackling the export (“compile”) and formatting.

      I use Scrivener, export as an ePub, and edit the HTML in Linux gedit. The results are clean and lovely. But then I resent the Smashwords reverse-engineering process to get a Word doc.

      I also have OpenOffice (and LibreOffice) and have used Sigil (but found it introduced some CSS stylesheets that failed in Kindle.)

      I swear, it just might be worth it to farm this out. I’m female and artsy-fartsy, but usually enjoy the tech stuff as a nice escape. However, it does take more time than seems reasonable.

      • Oh, I should add that I applied my editor’s changes manually. Two screens, going back and forth. It wasn’t so bad. Since I needed to analyze her notes anyway, and not always accept the changes, I preferred this approach.

        My last book, I used the editor’s Word doc as the master file going forward, but it introduced so many screwy styles I decided to keep my master in Scrivener from now on.

        We’ll see how the format goes. No perfect way.

  5. I use Scrivener as my main writing tool. Aside from being an amazing tool for writing novels as opposed to being a word processor that tries to be everything to everyone, it can also export your work in any format you could want. Well, except maybe Smashwords’ wacky little Word docs, but it does output Word docs. And PDF, and print, and Open Office, and a webpage. And each one has its own formatting options if you choose to fiddle them.

    Microsoft Word is like the Chevy Avalanche. Big, ugly, clunky and not really great at anything. You can haul the kids! But not that many. It’s like a truck! But not really. It’s like an SUV! But not really. It has this cool little truck bed thing in the back! But you can’t really haul anything useful in it.

    Oh, sure, Word gets the job done for a lot of people, but it does so with a ton of bloat and crap that you will NEVER need, and in fact, DON’T WANT when writing a novel (or short story, I’m not discriminating). There is much better software out there for writing. Don’t let inertia and fear of the new stop you from downloading a few trials and trying them out. I did, and I can’t believe I even thought of using Word to write a novel.

    If you need to haul the kids around, you buy an SUV. If you need to haul materials around, you buy a truck. If you care about gas mileage and the environment, you buy a hybrid. If you want something that does a crappy job at everything and break down at the worst possible moment but will get you from point A to point B, you use Word.

    Jutoh looks like a really cool program, but a tool that is made for writing novels will already do it all instead of trying to massage Word docs into other formats.

  6. If you are using the most recent version of word, then it will save to ODT for you. So you don’t need open office, just save as ODT.

    I’ve book marked this app… if it can turn out smashwords formated .DOC’s then it is worth the money.

  7. Personally, I think all the fuss about using MS Word is overblown. When I publish ebooks I do 1 format for the manuscript using the Smashwords Style Guide. For Office 2007, once you create the proper settings that Smashwords requires (which is not harder than going through the Style Guide once and not very frustrating) Office will preserve those settings on your computer going forward. This Smashwords format can then be used for Kindle, Nook submissions as well. Doesn’t require needing to buy additional software.

    My advice for creating ebooks:
    1) Format your manuscript only once using Smashwords Style Guide in MS Office and submit to Smashwords
    2) Reuse this exact same file for Kindle, etc. with minimal changes to beginning text (i.e. re-labeing the book as a Kindle Book instead of Smashwords, etc.). If you want to include Kindle page breaks or a table of contents, that’s a pretty simple modification.

    Plain, simple and once you’ve done it 2-3 times you can create ebooks faster than the wind.

  8. I’ve used Open Office for several years to write my novels. I prefer it over Word because I can set it up to do what most novel writing software can do: automatically number and renumber scenes and chapters when you move them around. That blog post, until recently, has been the most popular post on my blog for at least two years.

    And I’m currently writing a series on how to make ebooks using free software on my blog. Might be of interest to some.

    • Here, here. I did what Smashwords said, and read their manual, and formatted my Word doc accordingly. Most annoying? My doc was (based on defaults I learned for writing papers in college and now use just for comfort) entirely correct as it was. So the moral of the story for me was, use Word like it’s meant to be used (AKA not like a typewriter) and call it a day. But I’m glad to know there is a good program out there for my fellow writers who struggle with this stuff…and a reasonable converter if I want alternative formats from somewhere besides Smashwords.

  9. As an update:

    It took me a grand total of about 20 minutes to figure out Jutoh. And I will be updating my blog to reflect this.

    I created custom styles for my Ebook Normal, Chapter Headings, and for the text messages in the story, a hand written note. Every single version kept this formatting.

    I took the same .odt that worked perfectly with Jutoh, saved it as .doc, added the little ### centered at the end of the book and even with the custom styles, Smashwords had it up for sale instantly. Still waiting to see if I get Premium status. 🙂

    Oh, and within 30 minutes of it going live, I had a sale. So far, the book has been available for 3 hours and 3 sales. And one is not my mother as she is currently flying! 🙂

    I also liked that I can fix the file in Jutoh and then tell it to export my different formats again with the update. It’s great for little typos and the like.

    For my next novel, I will see how seamlessly their other product, Writer’s Cafe, works with Jutoh. Finally, for a scatterbrain like me, it’s nice to keep the “final” documents in a completely separate folder automatically (yes I can move them, but I’m SO lazy when it comes to that…).

  10. I confess that I’m slightly baffled that this would be necessary. I’ve beaten my copy of Word into submission, and converting everything to specially defined fonts (SMNormal, SMCentered, SM14Point, etc.) was trivial. Haven’t yet had an error.

    The only problem I had was with the Kindlizer, which didn’t like something in the Mac version of Word — but the work-around for that (if the bug isn’t fixed) is just to upload the Word file, then download their HTML-ization and check for the corruption. If no corruption (hasn’t been for the last four files), upload the HTML file it spat out and go from there. Heck, I usually tweedle the HTML a little to make it look better for the Kindle.

    I suppose it’s nice to have other options, but it seems a bit like turning left four times instead of turning right once.

  11. I have Open Office and like it, but use Word for writing because that’s what my professional editors use with their clients to make comments. But using the latest Word to save as ODT sounds like the perfect approach to prevent difficulties. As a pseudo-techie, I realize I can deal probably do this quickly myself, but I’m farming it out, like a lot of things, because I don’t want to spend even an extra 30mins on non writing tasks, unless it’s marketing. I subscribe to the Ferriss version of the 80-20 approach (4HrWorkWeek author). For me this translates to: Never spend time on something other than the actual writing… unless you can’t pay less to have someone else do it than your own time equates to in $$. (And, putting a $ value on your time is an interesting process in itself, lots of intangibles you are forced to examine and decide what they’re worth to you…time turns out to be worth more than I anticipated). Another exception for me is if a large financial/quality/goal risk is associated with not shepherding a task through the steps myself.

  12. It uses .odt files and it runs on (among others) Linux? Cool, I’m off to try a copy. That’s exactly what I use.

    (Not that hand-converting files is that hard, but I’m all in favor of saving time and effort.)

    • It’s not that hand converting is hard once you know what you’re doing, but like Roxy says, it takes time. I spent three days prior to buying Jutoh scanning the Smashwords style guide, and trying to make heads or tails out of the KDP hodge-podge of information.

      Running Linux does make things more difficult for me. But after 4 years of opensource, I can’t go back. I can’t. I even tried a year of Mac, but that did not work out.

      I also like that the program error checks for me. And as submission standards change, I’m sure the software will update.

      I am all for a click of button spits out every format I could possibly need with the same input, and move on to more important endeavors like writing and marketing.

  13. I am a WordPerfect user and have been from way back when it was a DOS program. I have intensely disliked MS Word because as far as fast keys and intuitiveness of formatting, etc. it cannot even compare to WP. I am also not a fan of Open Office, though I have not used Scrivener yet. I will have to say that formatting eBooks has been the biggest hurdle keeping me from putting my work up for sale, and it is extremely frustrating. So a very heartfelt thank you to you, PG, for posting about Jutoh. I bought it on your recommendation alone because you always seem to have the right info at the right time.

    • Let me know if you need any help. Once you compile the original .odt file, you have to go to file and tell it to export to the various formats you want. 🙂

      • Thanks Elizabeth!

        I am on WP X3, so ut does not have the formatting option. I may have to upgrade anyway. Thank you in advance for any and all help.

    • Yes, WordPerfect is the Maserati of word processing programs. I revel in an unhealthy degree of schadenfreude when I overhear other writers whining about the many defects of MSWord, in all its infernal versions. And as far as converting to Kindle and other ebook formats, absolutely no problem with it.

      • K.W. I am sure in my own case, it is a matter of preference, and I hate the program just enough to endure the trials and tribulations of WP before I will *ever* surrender to the MS beast! 😉

  14. Thanks for the heads up, PG! It looks like an easy program to use if I ever need more than the setup I’ve got now.

    Francoise, don’t let using WP hold you back. I write in WP, then open a copy in OpenOffice. Save as Smashwords-formatted doc (set up a template), RTF, and HTML, and you’re ready to upload to Smashwords, BN, and Amazon respectively.

    It’s also easy to check for weird format/style errors that OpenOffice or Word can throw into a manuscript by opening the doc in WP and checking with Reveal Code to fix the errors. (I think the newest Word has something like Reveal Code but don’t quote me).

  15. Jutoh looks terrific, I thought, just what I need for a new ebook project I’m working on. But first, I visited the Jutoh site to find out more about it, where the producers are based – and lo – they’re based not two miles from where I Iive, and not far from my favourite Edinburgh pub, Cloisters.

    I shall look forward to trying out Jutoh later today.

    Ain’t the world a small place.

  16. Scrivener is also a good option. It’s mainly available for Macs, but the beta version for PC’s is available right now.

    Scrivener recently did an upgrade that made it even more awesome. You can type in it like a word processor–and this is where I draft, because I can put each chapter into a different file or folder, and the binder lets me see where everything is. This makes it a lot easier to see and organize information. It also has a synopsis and index card view for outliners.

    The upgrade included new features like commenting and a revision mode that’s a lot like track changes. I’d been drafting in Scrivener and revising in Word, but won’t have to do that anymore. Scrivener also allows you to compile the project into many different formats: docs, epub, and mobi are just a few. Once I got it figured out, it only took me about 5 minutes to format for both epub and mobi. It was definitely worth the $40-45. 🙂

  17. I’ve been using Jutoh for about a year now – highly recommended. Saves so much time and is hassle free. I also used it to make Limited Edition eBooks of Tag, my novel,(with my signature in them) for customer.

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