The Basics of Text File Formatting, from A to .ZIP

pdficonLet’s say your book is done and you want to begin the self-publishing process. You’ve settled on a POD website that you like and want to submit your manuscript, but the company need a bunch of different types of files from you that you’ve never even heard of – what’s a .ZIP file, for example? How do you turn the text you’ve been working on into a PDF? What is a PDF? And what kind of ebook format will the POD company use to make your book available to e-readers?

It’s important to have a working knowledge of this information so you’re not completely confused during the printing and publishing process – if you’re your own publisher, after all, there’s a lot you need to know beyond how to write! Here’s a primer on some of the most popular text files that you’ll probably need to use during your publishing process.

Writable text files – these are files that you are able to edit and change using some kind of program like the ones we featured in our last couple of how-to articles.

.DOC and .DOCX – Word Document files; this is the type of file used by Microsoft Word, so it’s become very popular in offices and home environments alike.

.ODT – Open Office document files. This is the type of file used by Apache’s Open Office, which we featured in our recent blog post about the different types of word processor tools. It is similar to .Doc files, though the formatting tends to be specific to Open Office software (meaning when you open it with other programs, it can look different than it did in the program you used to create it).

.TXT – Plaintext files. This is a totally barebones kind of file that really doesn’t have any formatting to it – you can’t change the font, for example. However, text files ARE readable by most e-readers, though they don’t support DRM (Digital Rights Management, which is a type of file-lock that prevents piracy).

.RTF – Rich Text Format. This is a file format that’s a step above plaintext.

.HTML – Hypertext Markup Language. This is the type of file that is used to create websites. You use a kind of language called HTML coding to format the text in your document, and when you read it on an HTML viewer like iWeb or this editor, you can see how it ends up looking. HTML is sometimes also used for particular kinds of e-books, though it’s not very common because there’s no way to add DRM.

Untitled This is what HTML looks like. It’s less complicated than it looks!

Non-writable files – these are files that cannot be altered.

.PDF – Stands for Portable Document File. This filetype takes all the formatting you originally put into it and locks it in place so that your text looks the same whether you’re reading it on a Mac, a PC, a Linux, or even on your smartphone or tablet. This is a very common file type in the publishing world because more secure and easier to send across email than your typical .DOC file. Some ebooks are also published straight to this format, and they do support DRM.

.ZIP – Zips aren’t exactly for the creation of text in the same way that all these other files are – they’re more for compressing and archiving one or more files to reduce their size and make them easier to send across email. To retrieve the data, you need to “unzip” the files with a special program.

Ebook reader files – These are also non-writable, but they’re readable by various types of e-readers. Some have DRM in them and some don’t, so if that’s something that’s important to you then it’s important to make sure the company you’re working with uses the right kind of file for you.

.EPUB or IDPF – the most popular and easiest type of ebook format. It supports DRM, tables, images, word wrap (which fits text to the viewable window so you don’t have to scroll from side to side), and so much more. You can read it on every single e-reader except Amazon Kindles, which have their own kind of system.

.PRC or .MOBI – Mobipocket, another fairly popular ebook format. It works on most e-reader programs, including Amazon but not including the Barnes and Noble Nooks, and it supports DRM, tables, images, and word wrap.

.AZW – Kindle files. They’re only readable on Amazon Kindles, Mac OSX and Windows, but they support DRM, images, tables, sound, interactivity, word wrap, and even video.

Those are the basics! Next week we’ll do the same but with image files that you’ll need to know about for your cover art or illustrations. We’ll also be showing you how to convert from one type of file to another, so keep checking back!

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