Formatting: Frustration, Fits and… Fun!

Last year I published my first book (The Friendship of Mortals) in print, after more than four years of being available only as an ebook. Even though I used CreateSpace, I didn’t use the supplied Word template, but did my own formatting from scratch. (Truth to tell, I was hazily aware of the template, but ignored it and just charged ahead). After formatting four books for ebook publication through Smashwords, I thought I was a whiz at that stuff.

Ha. There’s a reason for this post’s alliterative title featuring the letter F.

Among other things, I definitely learned the main difference between designing an ebook and a print book. An ebook is supposed to flow, like an electronic scroll, without impediments such as page or section breaks, headers or footers.

A print book, on the other hand, is a physical object made up of pieces of paper. Pieces of paper with two actual sides, some of which are blank. Formatting an electronic document (specifically, a Microsoft Word document) so it will turn into a book with page numbers, headers, footers, recto and verso pages — well, that’s an entirely different matter than getting a document through Smashwords’ fabled “Meatgrinder.”

(A word to those indies who haven’t done the print publication thing yet: if you tore your hair out over getting your book through the Meatgrinder without Autovetter errors, maybe you should get help if you decide to format for print. Or at least use the supplied CreateSpace template).

So now I’ve just finished formatting the next two books in the Herbert West Series: Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey and Islands of the Gulf Volume Two, The Treasure.

Islands of the Gulf Volume 1 The Journey_3D

Islands of the Gulf Volume 2 The Treasure_3D

With all my hard-won experience on the first book, I thought it would be a snap. Or at least a near-snap.

I was almost right. While not 100% smooth, it was easier, and I now have a procedure that works. What follows isn’t meant to be a set of how-to-do-it instructions, just a bunch of observations as I emerge, rumpled but triumphant, from the formatting jungle.

The trickiest part by far is getting Section Breaks, Headers, Footers and Page Numbering to work together and look right. Fellow indie author and blogger Michelle Proulx recently wrote a good post about adding Headers, complete with screen shots of the current version of Word.

It helps a lot to start with a clean Word document. I used the ones I had created for ebook publication, reasoning that it’s easier to add breaks, headers and footers to a document that lacks them, than to wrestle with the quirks of existing ones.

It also helps to have an actual, properly-designed printed book to refer to as you go along, so you can see which pages need page numbers, headers, etc. That makes a huge difference when it comes to the professional look.

The first thing I did was make sure my documents were in tip-top shape. That meant fixing a bunch of small errors I had noted in a recent re-reading of the whole series. The “handwriting” feature in my ebook reader is great for noting these mistakes. I went through the notes it generated and made the corrections — mostly deleting the word “that.” Bonus: I can upload the corrected ebook versions, thus improving the ebooks and ensuring identical texts in ebook and print.

Then I made copies of the ebook documents and proceed to turn them into a print-ready ones. There are several steps to this process:

 

  1. Make sure the Style in your document is appropriate for your print book. The Style I used for my books is: “Font Bookman Old Style, 10 pt, English (Canada), Indent: 1st 1 cm. Justified, Line spacing exactly 12 pt, Widow/orphan control.” Uncheck the “Automatically update” box in the Modify Style window, or bad things will happen.
  2. Set the margins in Page Setup. Select Mirror Margins in the Margins tab. In the Paper Size tab, you need to enter the exact dimensions for the trim size you’re going to use, the margins and the gutter. For my 6 x 9 books, I went with page size 22.86 x 15.24 cm, margins 2 cm except the outer one, which is 1.5 cm, gutter is 0.4 cm. Headers and footers are 1.27 cm. from the edge. In the Layout tab, check “Different Odd and Even.” This results in a display of 2 pages per screen, sort of like a real book. (If you use the CreateSpace template, I’m sure all this stuff will be set up already).
  3. Add front matter — half-title page, title page, dedication page, etc. Keep in mind that all these pages have versos, i.e. backsides, that can be used for things like lists of your other books, copyright information, etc. Refer to your model book for these details.
  4. Once you have created all the front matter pages, insert an Odd Page Break at the end of the last page of front matter. Note: most of your page breaks will be Odd Page ones, because new stuff usually starts on an odd-numbered page. If something different happens to a header or footer on an even-numbered page, you insert an Even Page Break. Go through your document and insert all Section Breaks as needed. There must be a Section Break every time the presence/absence of a page number or header/footer changes.
  5. Switch to Headers and Footers view and go through the document again, filling in header information and page numbers for each section. It works best to do this last.ย  Something to remember: if you want your header info (your name on the even-numbered pages and the book’s title on the odd-numbered ones) to be on the outer corners of the pages, do this: enter them right-justified on odd-numbered pages and left-justified on the even-numbered ones. Same with page numbers. Trust me. (I have seen books where these items are on the inner sides of the pages, near the gutter, and to me that just looks wrong). A note on page numbers: I didn’t even consider putting them in the headers, which I thought would complicate things no end. I left them in solitary splendor in the footers.

An absolutely crucial detail with headers and footers is understanding “Same as previous” (in older versions of Word; in the current version it’s “Link to previous”). Every time you enter Header or Footer information for a specific Section, you have to figure out if it should be the same as in the preceding Section. Once you get this right, victory is near. See Michelle’s post (link above) for a clear explanation.

Something that drove me crazy was inexplicable inconsistencies between documents I thought were set up identically, and (even worse) things that didn’t work the same way in the same situation within a document. Word gremlins at work, obviously. Short words starting with F and S were uttered frequently until these issues were resolved, usually by studious comparison with other documents, trying different settings, or desperate searches of the Internet (which often yield helpful results).

Remember, if things look really hopeless, you can just scrap that document and start again with a new copy.

And where is the fun in all this, you ask? Well, once you figure out all that tedious stuff about section breaks, headers and page numbers, and get it all working, it is fun, or at least satisfying, to see real book-like features appearing as a result of your handiwork. Selecting fonts, adding little glyphs and other decorative elements (sparingly, I would advise) — can be fun. Then you upload your document to CreateSpace and use the interior checker, which shows you exactly what it will look like in print. Once you’re happy with that, and have assembled the package (cover, interior, metadata), you can order a proof copy for a final check. It’s a thrill finally to flip through real pages and see the results of your efforts — first writing the thing, then embodying it in an ink-on-paper artifact.

 

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15 comments

    1. Thanks for thinking of my blog and considering it award-worthy. I must decline the honour, however, because I find the rules for these awards to be quite time-consuming. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for the recognition.

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  1. It all remind me that I’ve got books that need putting out in paperback. I’ve done it before and the page numbering always stumped me: getting the numbering to start from chapter 1. It’s all a chore along with so many other things to do.

    Still, yours is done now and looks very good in the photos.

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    1. The secret of page numbering is section breaks. And when you’re inserting page numbers, it’s worth clicking on the Format button, which lets you tell Word where to start numbering from. (I use an ancient version of Word, so not sure if it’s the same in more recent ones).

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  2. Formatting a print book is a pain in the caboose, a point which I believe you covered quite nicely in this post ๐Ÿ˜€ I’m glad to hear your own formatting journey is going smoothly(ish). Also, I’m totally getting my brother a copy of Friendship of Mortals for Christmas! I’ll try to convince him to tell me what he thought so I can pass on the message, but his comment to pretty much anything is usually “good”, so if you don’t hear back from me on this matter, please assume he thought your book was good, lol.

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    1. I’m getting Books 2 and 3 ready for print publication (hence all that formatting). They will, I hope, have lower prices than The Friendship of Mortals, because (she blushes) I set the line spacing for that one too generously, making it a big, fat 554 pages. Slimmer and trimmer for the rest of the series. I do hope your brother enjoys the book.

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    1. Part of the self-pub thing is knowing which parts you can do yourself and which ones you have to hire out to an expert. For me it was cover design. The interior design and formatting I managed myself (after a bit of craziness and hair-pulling). ๐Ÿ™‚

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