I don’t think it is possible to say this too often: Electronic books are not print books. They need a whole different approach to editing. Once your paper version has been edited and the copy arranged attractively on the page, you can step back and admire it. Both edges are justified, the lines are well spaced. No obvious gaps appear in your words. If you’ve had a specialist do your layout, you can feel confident that there are no rivers of white space running through your page to distract the reader. And best of all, that page layout will never change into a form you do not like.
None of that is true of an electronic book, simply because the nature of an e-text is to be fluid. One reason a lot of people like their Kindles lies with their ability to increase or decrease the font size to suit their own visual needs. I’ve touted that myself. But you understand what that means, right? Increase the font by two points and words are no longer the same length. A hyphenated word may look fine in print, but come off very badly in an e-book, because the hyphen may now appear in the middle of a line.
One early reviewer of Beyond All Price criticized the book severely because she thought I had been trying to make fun of a speech defect by putting in random hyphens. The attack was so wrong-headed that Amazon pulled the review, but the situation warned me of the problems that can result from failing to examine an electronic version carefully enough.
Another source of trouble lies with hidden codes, such as spacing between words. Even if you turn on a program that lets you see the coding, the tiny dot that indicates a single space can be almost invisible. I strongly recommend that before you convert your text to any electronic format – and before you let someone else do the coding for you – you use the search and replace function of your word processor to comb your document over and over again. Here are some of the things you need to look for.
1.First, remove all automatic hyphenation. Only the person doing the final layout can determine when and if a word needs to be hyphenated. Leave the right justification to an expert.
2. Next, look for hyphens used in place of a dash. We all use hyphens this way, I suspect. There’s no dash key except in special symbols charts, so we substitute a double hyphen. Sometimes, our word processors automatically change a double hyphen to an em dash. But if yours doesn’t, you will have to search for two hyphens and then do an automatic replace with the correct dash. You’ll also need to note that when two hyphens separate numbers, they need to be replaced with an en dash, which is slightly shorter. But you’re still not done. You also need to search for dashes with spaces on either side and remove those spaces. I know. I know! I like the appearance of the space, myself, but it will not translate correctly to an electronic version. Trust me on this.
3. Remove all tab stops, even those that you’ve been trained to use to indent the first word of a new paragraph. Indenting the first word of a paragraph can cause horrible alignment problems on a Kindle. And don’t substitute five spaces for a tab stop. That will only make the situation worse.
4. While we’re talking about spaces, do a search and replace for two spaces in a row, and automatically replace them with one space. My old typing teacher insisted on two spaces at the end of a sentence, but that no longer works. You may know that, but your right thumb, which adds the spaces, will betray you if you are a good touch typist.
5. Search for abbreviations and put them in small caps: 6 AM not 6 A. M. or 6 a.m. You’ll find the small cap function under format and then font.
6. Forget what your English teacher told you and put all punctuation marks inside quotation marks: ?” Never use ”?
7. And speaking of quotation marks, change all straight quotes to curly quotes. Then be prepared for more trouble. If you have had to use a single quotation mark to create an apostrophe at the beginning of a word to indicate pronunciation, it will probably be curved the wrong way. Consider this sentence: Y’all don’t come from ‘round here, do ya’? Look at y’all and don’t and then compare it with ‘round. To turn that curly mark around, you will have to type it like this: a’round. Then remove the a and you get ’round. For your sake, I hope you never even have the problem, but for me it’s a constant annoyance as I try to duplicate slave speech.
8. Check your numbers to make sure you’ve used the numerals 1 and 0, not the letters l and O.
9. Finally, check your hard returns (paragraph markers) to make sure you have not used more than one to create vertical spacing.
The process of cleaning up these tiny errors can be tedious and time consuming, but it is a detail that marks the difference between an amateur and a professional. If you want your book to translate to an electronic version and still look good, take all the time this process requires.