How To Use Pressbooks to Format Your eBook in under 5 Minutes

I love Pressbooks. I’ll be the first to admit that when I first started using them, and had no idea about text formatting (I’m still not great at it but I can limp along!), I had some problems. That, plus the fact that I didn’t take the time to check all my cutting-and-pasting to see if any errors had been introduced. But one of the really nice things about a Pressbooks generated file is how professional it looks. New chapters always start on new pages. You’d be surprised how many eBooks I’ve read where the chapters all ran together.

However, one of the things I used to find frustrating about Pressbooks was the tedious method of setting up your chapters/sections and cutting-and-pasting all of your information into those areas. I’m pleased to say that Pressbooks has introduced an importing facility that takes all the hassle out of loading up your book.

It is still in its Alpha Phase, but it seems to be working quite well. I tried it out on the draft of my new book and within ten seconds it was sucked into Pressbooks and separated into Chapters. I was so excited I nearly peed my pants. After that, all I had to do was allocate those chapters to front, middle or back matter and I had a book I could export. It took me under five minutes – yes, you read me correctly – to create a mobi and an ePub file I could load up to Amazon KDP.

Now admittedly, the book wasn’t perfect (but hey, that wasn’t the title of the blog!). I would have to check it thoroughly for formatting errors, but it was way, way faster than the previous method – especially if you have heaps of chapters in your book (yes, I’m talking about you Rachel Amphlett!).

So I’m going to walk you through how to load up your Word.docx file and what to look for once you have imported it. (You can also upload WXR, ePub and ODT files, but as I haven’t tried them I don’t feel qualified to talk about them. I am sure it works the same way though.)

If you haven’t ever used Pressbooks I have some information on it at the top of this site under the Formatting Solutions tab. I have also covered, in great detail, how to use it in my ‘How To Self-Publish’ book which will be released next month. (Subscribe to this blog to make sure you find out when it becomes available.) Pressbooks is from the same makers as WordPress, so if you have a WordPress site you will be very comfortable using it.

If you don’t already have an account with them, go to http://pressbooks.com and click on the Get Started For Free button. It is free to use Pressbooks, but if you want to have the watermark removed from your files it’s $10 for both the mobi and ePub (that’s 1 x $10 for both) and $100 for the PDF file.

You will need to set up a web address for your book (only lower case letters and numbers allowed) and the book title. I use a version of my book name for the web address, because every time you add a new book you set up a new address.  Once you have done that you will be taken to the site for that book.

If you already have a Pressbooks’ account but can’t work out how to add a new book (it can be tricky to find) go into My Catalog up the top left hand side and choose Add a New Book.

Right, before you do anything else you need to get your Word.docx file ready to import.  First, add any front matter and back matter that you want to be included in the eBook. Acknowledgements, other books by you, information about you – things like that. If you’re not sure, have a look at other eBooks and see what they have included and where. You don’t need to add a Title Page as Pressbooks will add it for you using the information you put into the Book Info section (more about that in a minute). Now you need to tag your chapter headings as Heading 1 so that Pressbooks can see them.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, don’t panic. It’s not difficult. Look up the top right hand side of your Word document and you will see the Styles section. See the box with Heading 1 written underneath it? Right – highlight a chapter heading and then click on the Heading 1 box. You have now tagged the highlighted section as Heading 1. Simple.

You will need to give your front and back matter sections names and tag them if you want each bit to appear on its own page (which always looks more professional than when they flow together). Once you have uploaded them, you can choose whether or not you want that heading to appear in the eBook file.

Okay so you’ve sorted out your Word file and you’re ready to import. Before you do though, click on the Book Info area in the left hand margin of the Pressbooks’ site. Work down this page filling in all the necessary information. It is especially important that you add your cover image, author name as you want it seen on the Title Page, Book’s ISBN (which should be different than the print version’s ISBN), Copyright information, and Publisher Information (yes, I know it’s you, but you can still develop your own Publisher name).

Now in the Pressbooks’ site go down to Utilities in the left hand margin. Hover over it and then click Import. Choose the type of file you are importing, browse your computer to pick up the document and then upload the file.

If it comes up with only one chapter called UNKNOWN, cancel the import and start again. Once it has worked correctly, a page with all your chapters listed on it will appear. You need to choose which chapters/sections you want to import and whether they are part of the front matter, back matter or chapters of the book. Once you have done that, push the Start button.

You will be taken into the area where your front, back and chapter matters are all organised. You can drag and drop these within their areas if they are in the wrong order. There will have already been an Introduction in the Front matter, a Chapter One in the Main Body and an Appendix in the Back Matter. You will need to either delete these, or check they are not ticked for export.

Now you need to go into each chapter and make a couple of changes. Click into the first section that is going to be in your eBook. The first thing you need to do, and you will need to do this for each section until Pressbooks is able to fix this, is to go right down to the bottom of the edit page to where it lists ‘user’ as the Chapter Author. Remove ‘user’ and leave the field blank, otherwise the word user will appear under each section heading in your book.

Now that you’ve done that you need to go back up to the box where your story is sitting. Look at the top right of that box. There are two tabs – Visual and Text. Visual is how it will appear in the eBook, while Text is the formatting that makes it appear the way it does. We may need to manipulate the Text to get the file perfect. Now before you start screaming hysterically or sitting in a corner rocking, let me tell you that if I can work this out anybody can! I might be able to do a root canal with my eyes closed (when I’ve been really tired I’ve actually given that a go) but I am a total dufus when it comes to computers. (For those of you that are scratching your head thinking root canal? – I’m a dentist by day.)

Most of the changes you will need to make can be done in the Visual field, so go through this first. I found that the centring on my scene breaks were gone, so check all of those, and anything else you had centred. You can highlight them and re-centre then with the choices at the top of the Visual box. You can also add back in any italics or bold if they have disappeared.

The main problems I noted were blank lines disappearing above and below my scene breaks and unwanted spaces appearing in some words that I had applied italics or bold to. You can try adding the blank lines back in on the Visual field, but if you find they are not sticking you will need to do it through the Text box.

TIP – Open Pressbooks in a second window on your computer so that you can look at the Visual and Text on different pages, rather than having to swap between the two on the same page. You will obviously need to save any changes you make in the Text area and go back into the Visual area to make sure they worked, but you can scroll through the whole Visual field on one page and make any necessary changes in the Text on the other, without having to swap between the two fields. When you swap you go back to the beginning of the Chapter and if you swap out of the Text field without saving the draft you lose the changes you have made. Make sure, though, that you are only making changes on the one page.

To add in a blank line that won’t stick in the Visual field, go to the Text and scroll down till you find the right area. (Initially it will all look like a load of gobbledygook but after a while you will get a feel for it.) Hit the paragraph return to create the blank line where you want it, and then on that blank line type    If you want a few blank lines, repeat this procedure but be careful, too many blank lines in your file will look bad on an eReader.

If you find unwanted spaces in your italicised or bold words, scroll down in the Text till you find the right area and have a good look at it. When I italicise the word Blog it appears like this on the text page: <i>Blog</i>

If the word looks like this – B log – in the Visual field, you would find that the code in the Text field has become: <i>B</i><i>log</i>

All you need to do to correct it is to remove the </i><i> from between the B and the log.

It’s the same for Bold except the coding is: <b>Bold</b>

(Please Note: Apparently the correct coding if you are using the italics to emphasise a word is <em></em>, and if you are using bold to give strong emphasis to a word it is <strong></strong>. But hey, they give exactly the same visual affect so I’ll be sticking to <i></i> and <b></b> thanks.)

I have occasionally found that my full stops, question marks and exclamation marks are pushed away from the last word. It only happens when they are involved with a word that has been changed by either bold or italics etc. Check your Text and you will find the full stop etc. has been pushed away from the word by the formatting. Move it back right next to the word and the problem will be fixed.

Before you leave that section for the next one, have a look at your choices to the right of the box. That is where you will find the Show Title in Exports option. Don’t forget to deselect this if you don’t want it. For example if you are working on a prologue but don’t want the word prologue to appear in the eBook. Also don’t forget to save your changes before you move on. (It doesn’t matter if you save the draft or publish the section. As long as you choose to export it, it will be in your file. Those options are for if you wanted to make the document available for public viewing. If you publish it, but don’t want it to be viewable by the public, you can choose to set it to Private on the main page.)

Once you have gone through the whole document checking it, it is time to export your mobi and ePub files. Click on Export in the left hand margin. At the top of that page you can choose to upgrade and have the watermark removed from your file. You only pay this once, no matter how many times you export your file, though you may as well export it first to see if it bothers you.

To the right of the page you can choose to change the Theme. Themes allow you to change the appearance of your file, so play around with them. You can also view the different Themes under Appearance in the left hand margin. The Theme Options is where you can choose whether or not you want to display Chapter numbers in the exported file. If you have named your chapters you will want to choose this, however, if your chapters names are the chapter numbers you will need to deselect it.

Choose your Theme and Theme Option, and the formats you want created (you need to choose PDF even if you don’t want it) and then click onto Export Your Book. It doesn’t take long for your mobi, ePub and PDF files to appear. Download them or open them to check them. You can download the Kindle App to your PC to view the mobi file, and Adobe Digital Editions can be used to check your ePub file. It’s free to download at http://adobe.com/au/products/digital-editions.html. I advise going over them carefully before you publish them as I often pick up things I missed the first time through.

Phew – well there you have it. How to import your Word.doxc file and create a mobi or ePub file you can publish. The errors I had to correct in mine were due to formatting issues in my Word document. If they weren’t there, it actually would have been possible to create my eBook in under 5 minutes and publish it. However, even if you are confident your file is perfect, I would advise you check it well. Some readers (a.k.a. Grammar Nazis) can be utterly ruthless, taking great delight in contacting Amazon if they find an error in your file.

If you have any problems using Pressbooks, you can email the Pressbooks’ team at support@pressbooks.com. They are extremely helpful and prompt with their replies. Or alternatively, feel free to contact me.

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