Making an ebook —what I did

Although I bragged about being an ebook wizard the last time, I have since been humbled, particularly after spending 2 or 3 full days revising my ebook (primarily because of photos, but more on that next time).

As I mentioned in my last post about this, I decided to use Smashwords to be able to provide multiple ebook formats in addition to publishing on Kindle.

One of the problems I found was that the ebook field is changing all the time. A lot of people have posted helpful advice on the web, but much of it is dated. If you start Googling for help, it can become very confusing, very rapidly. Trust me on this. You  don’t need to know html. You just need to know how to format a document.

My advice is, start at Smashwords. The site is way more helpful than Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) in providing detailed information; the turnaround time is almost immediate so you are able to check your ebook right away and re-cycle if the changes you made didn’t work; and it is not a popular site (I’ve sold very few books there), so I can try things out and not jeopardize my Amazon Kindle product. Then, once you have a good document for your ebook, you can upload it to Kindle yourself.

At Smashwords, under the “publish” tab (the link above takes you there), you will find important, and helpful information. Start with the Style Guide by Mark Coker. It is free and will help you format your document. I downloaded a pdf of it.

The steps I took, as advised by Mark Coker, in a nutshell are:

  1. I made a backup of my Word document and saved it as a doc (not docx). I had been keeping my book in Scrivener, so I first had to generate a Word document there.
  2. I copied the document and pasted it into a text editing program. On pcs I think that is Notepad, since I have a mac I used TextEdit. This strips out all your formatting styles that you inserted intentionally or not .
  3. I opened a new Word document, making sure Word’s auto formatting, auto correcting, tracking changes were all turned off. Then I turned on the show/hide feature on Word. Mark Coker explains how to do all this in the Style Guide.
  4. I copied the TextEdit file and pasted it into the new Word document I had created.
  5. Everything in your document should now be under the “normal” formatting style. From here I defined styles for headings, the front matter paragraphs, the book’s body, and picture captions. Mark Coker gives you very specific advice on how to do this. I used many of his suggestions, and made up a few styles of my own.
  6. Then I scrolled through my document and applied the styles to the headings and picture captions. It’s a simple matter of highlighting the text involved, going to the style drop-down menu in the upper left corner, and clicking on the style you want. Again, it’s very well explained in the Style Guide.
  7. If you have an isolated word that is italicized or bolded, you can just format that manually. I kept a printed copy beside me as I worked to make sure I made all the formatting changes I originally intended.

Once you are happy with your document’s formatting, it is a simple matter to upload it to Smashwords where it will be made into a mobi, epub, etc. I downloaded the mobi and epub (free from Smashwords if you are the author), and checked the books on my computer screen and other devices. If I wasn’t satisfied, I recycled through the process. When I was satisfied, I published it on Amazon’s KDP as well.

The biggest challenge in this whole process is formatting the text. I have never adhered to using “styles” when I am writing. I’ve learned a lot about using styles through this process, and intend to use them in the future from the get-go. If you don’t already know, learn how to use and modify styles. You won’t regret it.

Here are some of the styles I used in Where Memories Meet:

Normal: For the body of the book. I modified whatever Word had assigned to “normal” so that the font was Times New Roman font at 12 pt, the first line of the paragraph indented at  0.3″, and the lines spaced at 1.5 lines.
Center: I used this for anything I wanted centered. The copyright page uses this style. I created a new style using normal as the base and modifying it to no indent on first line and centered text.
Front Matter: This makes the front matter, and end matter in my case, have a block paragraph look. I learned this directly from Mark Coker’s Style Guide. I used normal formatting to create a new style and modified it to no indent on first line, single line spacing, space after the paragraph at 6 pt.
Name: I used this name to define the headings of the chapters, which happen to be names, and used it for all similar headings like Preface, About the Author, etc. Defining the page break and the spacing before and after the name of the chapter ensures the chapters all start on a new page, a little down from the top. I used normal style to create a new style with arial font, 14 pt, bold. Indent 0″, Space before paragraph is 30 pt, space after is 18 pt, Page break before paragraph.

It’s really not difficult to format the text, it just takes a little time to assign the headings and special paragraphs their style. It’s rewarding work when the document ends up looking professional.


I’m an ebook wizard

Well, maybe I’m not quite a wizard, but I’m certainly more proficient than I was three days ago.

Smashwords, an online multi-format ebook publisher, uses a “meat-grinder” to process book files. The author submits a word document; it goes through the meat-grinder and out comes a variety of ebooks that can be read on many types of platforms. You’re probably familiar with pdfs. Other formats Smashwords can produce, and then publish, include but are not limited to mobi for the Kindle, and epub for Nook.

This whole ebook business can be pretty complicated. But it’s all about what file types a particular software can open.

For the past two days I feel like I’ve been in a meat-grinder.

I used Scrivener, a terrific writing program and file system, when I wrote Where Memories Meet. Files in Scrivener have to be exported into a particular file type to be used in some way: as a printable document, as a shareable word document, as a pdf, etc. Scrivener is able to produce some ebook formats this way, epub (Nook) and mobi (Kindle) included. And that’s what I did.

I compiled my book in Scrivener and saved it as a mobi file. Then I uploaded it to Amazon for publication as a Kindle ebook. But if I do nothing more, I am limited to only making my book available for Kindle users. Nor can I give away free copies for review, which is a nice feature Smashwords allows.

Smashwords requires a “clean” Word doc (not to be confused with Word docx, which I learned the hard way). I spent nearly every waking moment in the past two days producing the “clean” Word doc.

I think it was worth it. Hopefully WMM will look better across most if not all platforms this way. I think it will.

I ended up having a lot more control of where my page-breaks are, which is important to me because of all the images I have in my book. And I believe I had more control of fonts and overall paragraph styles. The Scrivener software made a lot of those decisions for me when it produced the mobi file. For example, the first file I published on Amazon had a nightmare Table of Contents running about three pages on my Kindle. Who needs that?

So, although it took time, required some reading, and was tedious to do, I think producing a clean Word doc, and then uploading it to both Amazon and Smashwords is the way to go.

I’ll tell you what I did next time. You could do it too.

Where Memories Meet cover

Where Memories Meet – Reclaiming my father after Alzheimer’s
Now available for Kindle at Amazon, and other ebook formats at Smashwords.


What people are saying about Dancing in Heaven — a sister’s memoir

Dancing in Heaven — a sister's memoir“This is very courageous, brave writing. Annie’s story has enriched my life.” Carolyn Walker, published memoirist, and Pushcart Prize nominee.

Christine Grote’s extraordinary memoir, Dancing in Heaven, breaks new ground in the realm of creative non-fiction. It especially stands alone as the most significant, recent personal narrative to examine home caregiving to a physically disabled loved one. In this story about her sister Annie, which gracefully blends time and place, Dancing in Heaven captures the inescapable pain, unpredictable joy, and resilient decision-making that preoccupied her family for over 50 years as they lived with and attended to Annie’s needs – the speechless brave Annie who, not ironically, gave life to her family and countless friends. Although Annie didn’t survive, the miracle of Ms. Grote’s memoir resurrects the unforgettable life she left behind. A story crafted in the greatest love, you cannot possibly get at the stark truth of caregiving any more than this book does.” Jeffrey Hillard, editor & publisher,

“Annie and her family made a significant impression on me and ultimately, on my career choice. Annie’s memory is honored with this intimate, personal tribute.” Jim McCormick, Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disabilities Services.

Dancing in Heaven captures “the combination of constant desperate waiting, dread, confusion and exhaustion you experience when someone you love is dying.  The small kindnesses that seem like miracles.  The utter relief of hospice. . .  Annie was pure love.  In her utter helplessness, she was still able to radiate love.  And her whole family responded to that in a heroic way.”
Nancy Henry Chadwick, writer

“Christine’s love for her sister will never expire.  Her memoir is a lovely tribute to the life of this dear family member. . .” Dogear6, blogger Read complete review.


Self-Publishing Update — making an ebook

A note to my loyal, and greatly appreciated, readers:
You may be hearing a lot about my self-publishing activities in the next days. That’s where my mind is, and that’s where I’m spending most of my time. A lot is happening fairly quickly now. I know that not everyone is interested. I understand if you want to skim, or skip these posts. I feel it’s important to document the project for those readers who may be in the process, or have aspirations, of self-publishing.

Well, magic is happening. Kind of. I spent hours and hours Friday and Saturday formatting my book for the Kindle and other ebooks. I was surprised to find out that I may need to upload separate files, formatted by different means, to different sites. More on this later.

Bob Mayer has an excellent blog post on formatting ebooks. Between that and Mark Coker’s indispensible Smashwords Style Guide, I think things are beginning to come together. My book is particularly challenging because we wanted to separate the sections of each chapter by using separate fonts. Additionally, I have a lot of images in the book. I’ve still got some things to work through.  Anna revised the font and paragraph styles in the manuscript for me yesterday. And this morning I implemented them. I think the only way to find out if the file is okay is to upload it to Smashwords and try it out.

Publishing ebooks through Smashwords

Smashwords distributes ebooks through two catalogs: a standard and a premium catalog. You want to get your book into the premium catalog.  The premium catalog has a larger distribution to major online retailers and other distribution outlets, but the book has to satisfy higher formatting and quality standards.(Mark Coker)

Smashwords accepts a word doc. that they run through their “meatgrinder” to convert to different formats for different devices like the Kindle, iPhone or Sony Reader. In some formats page breaks are not maintained, so your .doc file has to be properly formatted to include blank lines between chapters, or any other place you want a physical separation of the text.

For the Smashwords file, I followed Mark Coker’s advice to go “nuclear,” and basically remove all previous formatting by copying the document into notepad on a PC. Rogue formatting that Word inserts into documents can cause ebooks to malfunction, so he recommends removing everything and then reformatting in Word without the aid of  the “autoformat” and “autocorrect” options that Word is not so helpful with. I spent Saturday doing that. I created styles for the chapter titles, picture captions, two main text sections, etc. And then I went through the document page by page, highlighting text and applying the appropriate style. I also reinserted all the photos I had re-sized yesterday to keep the book’s file size small.

Publishing ebooks on Amazon for Kindles

It’s my understanding that Smashwords, although they provide a Kindle option, does not publish the ebook at Amazon. If you want to be on Amazon, you have to upload your ebook there. (This may also be true for Barnes and Noble, I need to find out more about this.)

The Kindle is a Mobi file. You can upload a Word doc, HTML, mobi file or an ePub file. Bob Mayer does not recommend beginning with Word. He recommends starting with InDesign if you have a Mac, as I do, to make a ePub file. You can convert the ePub file to a Mobi file using free software called Calibre. The ePub file can also be uploaded to Barnes and Noble for their Nook.

Friday, I tried to follow Bob Mayer’s advice and work with an inDesign file of the manuscript. I tried to follow Mark Coker’s instructions about no tabs, no more than four line returns in a row, simple font styles, small picture sizes, etc.

The whole thing is a bit intimidating. I would be completely and irredeemably lost without Mayer and Coker.

Overall, my take on ebooks is that it is doable, but not as simple as falling off a log.

Self Publishing Project Overview:


I’m pretty much done with the writing portion of the project.


If the third submission of our print book is okay, (and three is the charm), once I get the ebooks done, I’ll be pretty much done with this job.

Business Manager

I got my QuickBooks file started with a little help from my accountant. I’m still keeping handwritten records too. It’s a trust thing. I hope to give you an overview of this project’s finances in the days to come.


Hello world. Here is where you will find me over the next week and months.

Yesterday I signed up for Google alerts as recommended by April L. Hamilton in The Indie Author Guide.   I will get e-mails if anyone puts anything on the web about “Dancing in Heaven,” “Christine M Grote,” or “Random Thoughts from Midlife.” It’s a way to catch anything good someone might have to say as well as monitor any negative press. Hopefully that won’t happen (the bad, not the good).

My first priority is a website. I feel the need to have something up soon. I created a page, although I haven’t added any content to it yet, for Dancing in Heaven that appears on the menu at the top of this blog. For the time being, I plan to put up a one-page simple website at (don’t go there, it’s not up yet) and link folks back to the page here.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me. If you have any good marketing, or publicity ideas, now would be a great time to tell me.