Formatting ebooks has always been a challenge for self-publishers. Smashwords, the original ebook distributor, literally wrote the book on universal formatting with the Style Guide that teaches authors to do it in ways that will convert and be readable at any retailer. Their system is all about keeping things simple, using basic structure and avoiding fancy aesthetics for assured conversion. A functioning solution that was perhaps a bit plain, plus the instruction was difficult for many authors to follow.
Years later when Draft2Digital came out as an ebook distribution service, it distinguished itself from Smashwords by accepting virtually anything uploaded and made an ebook from that using the artificial intelligence of its automated system. Big surprise, a lot of crappy-looking indie ebooks got produced.
Now D2D has done a smart thing, adding ebook templates where authors can display more creativity in titles, chapters and more. Obvious question: does it work? Next one: what took so long? Final question: why doesn’t Smashwords do this? Let’s answer those.
With D2D’s templates you can have extras we thought we couldn’t have in ebooks. Dropcaps, headers, fancy scene dividers and more are now an option. It’s easy enough to do. Just upload your document and then check the Preview tab and choose a Style compatible with the new feature. Then check the Enable Drop Caps button and viola! It will convert the document and allow you to download it in epub, mobi or PDF format to inspect it. You can use a free program like Calibre or Adobe Digital Editions to view it.
If you find it isn’t perfect, which is likely, you may want to play around with your font sizes and layout in your own document and try again. Or try one of D2D’s other styles: romance, sci-fi, mystery/thriller, etc.
It definitely does work but not flawlessly. In some cases of my experimenting, the drop cap letter overlapped with the 2nd or 3rd line of text beneath it. I had to play around with choices and options until settling on one which looked good instead of being able to use them all without issues. Clearly a work in progress.
Admittedly it’s a nice option and one that will hopefully see improvements in the following months. I doubt Smashwords will implement a similar thing since their model has always been based on teaching how-to-formatting for authors while D2D has always been about automation. In the long run, automation has plenty of advantages for those who are pressed to learn formatting or don’t want to.
For now, I’m sticking with self-formatting and using the basics I teach in my course on Formatting Ebooks. However, this option from D2D isn’t a bad way to go. And for those who want to embrace the best of both worlds, there are ebook templates where you can copy and paste in titles headers and chapters one by one, even add drop caps one by one, although that is by far the longest way to get there.
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