Update or Re-edit? Revisiting Word docs

An excellent piece of advice to authors publishing a new book is to add information about it to the back matter of all their existing books.

Easy, right?

Well, it depends…

The back matter is found — well, at the back. Meaning the end of the document. Unless you zoom directly there (Ctrl + End) with your eyes closed, add the description of the new book, save and exit the document, you’ll inevitably notice things. Things like typos, problems with quotation marks, not enough white space, and other details you just wouldn’t find acceptable if you were formatting that document today.

You do a couple of small fixes. Then some larger fixes. Next thing you know, you’re doing a seat-of-the-pants unplanned re-edit and/or reformatting.

I don’t recommend this approach, unless you enjoy chaos.

I’ve just revisited 16 — yes, that’s right, sixteen — Word documents to add info about my latest book to the back matter of my eight published books. The oldest doc was created in 2010, the newest in 2016, using two different computers and different versions of Word. There is a Smashwords document and an Amazon document for each book. The docs are nearly but not quite identical. (In my experience, a Word doc correctly formatted using the Smashwords Style Guide will have no problem being processed by Amazon).

In formatting my latest book (She Who Comes Forth — still on pre-order at a special price, by the way), I rediscovered the magic of creating my own Styles in Word, including a handy one called “No indent,” to be applied to paragraphs whose first line should not be indented — the first paragraph in a new chapter or section, for example. This adds a “professional” touch to the text, and Lord knows we self-published indies need to look professional.

As with so many other features of Word, you have to be careful with Styles. My advice — before you do anything, uncheck the “Automatically update” box in the Modify Style window. It’s disconcerting when you discover that a little tweak in one spot has unintended effects all over the document.

So far, only one of my 16 documents has had problems on upload. It got through the two automated checks on Smashwords’ infamous “Meatgrinder,” but the subsequent detailed review revealed blocks of 14-point text among the intended 12-point. Not pretty.

Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to figure out that my newly-created “No indent” style was at fault. Its definition said Times New Roman 12-point, but I suspect that when I created that style, my cursor was sitting on the one and only instance of 14-point text in the entire document. Every paragraph to which I applied this style ended up as 14-point once it was turned into an Epub. This didn’t show up until I downloaded the Epub and viewed it in Adobe Digital Editions, as the good people at Smashwords advised me to do asap. Because this document had been around since 2010 and jumped the hoops several times over the years, I assumed it was clean. But of course the new style was an add-on.

So here’s my advice, for those who are looking at revisiting the base documents for their ebooks…

  1. Decide in advance whether you are going to do more than add the new info to the back matter. If there’s been something about the book that’s been bugging you since you published it (known typos, misaligned text, presence or absence of bolding or italics), this is an opportunity to apply fixes. If reviews have mentioned errors, it’s definitely worth doing. But if you consider the book to be okay, don’t start looking for trouble unless you have the time and energy for a systematic re-edit or re-format. This is especially true if you’ve paid someone to do that stuff for you. If it’s okay, don’t mess with it.
  2. The longer a document has been in existence, the greater the chance of problems developing if you tweak something. If it was originally created using a 1990s version of Word — or maybe even WordPerfect! — playing around with it may have unintended consequences. If you must tweak, be mentally prepared to deal with unpleasant surprises.
  3. If you’re uploading to Amazon, don’t skip the online previewer. It’s right below the spot where you upload your file, and you can use it as soon as the file has been ingested. It shows you what your doc will look like after being converted to an ebook. Go through the whole book, even if it’s 10,000 “locations.” If you find problems, you can deal with them immediately and upload the corrected document.
  4. Smashwords doesn’t have a previewer. If your document passes the Autovetter and Epub checks, you get an email telling you that and suggesting you download your newly created Epub file and look at it using Adobe Digital Editions. (This is the step I omitted with my oldest document). Some problems invisible in the Word document show up beautifully when viewed this way, so it’s definitely worth doing. As with the Amazon previewer, page through the entire book. You may find and fix problems before the Smashwords folks send you an email telling you there are problems with your baby.
  5. Once you’re happy with your updated Word docs, save them extravagantly! Save to your flash drive, your external hard drive AND to a cloud storage service like Dropbox. Sure, your books are published and available everywhere, but you need those base files if you want to make any more changes to them.

Well, I think I’m just about finished with ebook formatting for now. My next challenge — should I decide to take it on — is formatting She Who Comes Forth for print publication.  This time I will use KDP, since CreateSpace is no more, but first I have to wrestle a Word document into a proto-book, that will eventually be turned into an actual physical thing. I’ve done it four times already, but not for a couple of years — long enough to forget important details. I anticipate weeks of frustration, distraction, and going around muttering things like “recto,” “verso,” “odd page,” “even page,” “section break,” “keep with next,” various four-letter words, and AAAAARGH!

Woman at computer, surprised.

Where the !@#$ did THAT come from?


Images courtesy of Pixabay




    1. The advantage of Smashwords is you can get your book into other ebook stores (B&N, Apple, Kobo, etc.). The disadavantage is you can’t be in Amazon’s KDP Select, with its 5 free days per 3 months and countdown deals. So it depends what works best for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Good information to know for the experienced authors and the yet-to-be published writers like me. Good heavens, some bits sound worthy of pulling out hair! Thanks for sharing the info. If you decide to go for it, good luck with formatting She Who Goes Forth for print.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Frustrating, isn’t it? I’ve only self-published once so far, and there’s so much work involved! Good for you for slogging through it all, and good luck with the print version.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is great information. My road to hell is paved with unsent Christmas cards, unwrapped presents (birthday, holiday, christening, etc), unanswered email, unwritten blog posts. I think I will probably not get to the stage where I can actually use the info, despite how useful it really is.

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  4. Excellent advice, Audrey. I’m formatting a paperback right now on Word, and every keystroke brings a wave of anxiety. I’m resisting the temptation to revise sentences as I go too. Can’t imagine doing 16 files! 😳

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know just what you mean about that wave of anxiety, Kevin. I just experienced a whole bunch of them while working with the Word doc for the print version of SWCF. The 16 files were for ebooks, so no headers, footers, section breaks, margins, gutters, etc. For some reason, it’s comforting to know there’s someone else out there struggling with this stuff. Good luck with your project.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can totally sympathise – Word is a HORRIBLE programme for doing any kind of formatting & the way it invisibly preserves styles you’re trying to get rid of (and keeps re-styling things to them if you backspace over the invisible space) is particularly frustrating. But the Kindle ‘generator’ algorithms seem to be optimised for something that is built around styles. All the best for your print formatting – it’s definitely a different world with its own jargon!

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  6. Oh, you just gave me a case of the doubts.
    Online previewer isn’t accessible with screen readers so i never used it. But smashwords did send me a message telling me my book was accepted for the premium catalog…. And no indent at the beginning of a section or first chapter… do you mean they have to be aligned left and right? argggg! I know i’ll be needing to go over the file again. Sigh.But thanks for the heads up.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If your book was accepted for the Smashwords premium catalog, all is well. And as for that indent, I learned about it recently and decided to make the change in my ebooks while I was adding the new book info to the back matter. The text of the first paragraph of a chapter or part doesn’t need to be justified (not in ebooks, anyway); you just remove the indent. But really, it’s OK to keep that indent. It’s just a small detail. If you’re in the premium catalog, your book is fine as it is.


  7. I update the lists in the upcoming books, because the old ones are already printed and if modified for another printing batch, would need another ISBN. At least, in my country these are the rules.

    In 2 cases – and they will be 4 soon – out of 11 published titles – I decided a revised and completed second edition, with a different ISBN, but these had their own reasons (connected to having learnt something more in the meanwhile) and the others will not be changed. (The 2 titles upcoming a second edition are actually a series, and they will turn into 4 volumes by better splitting the action, each volume able to be enjoyed also individually, which at first was not the case).

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