Blog header: Twenty Years a Writer

Twenty Years a Writer, Part 6: Don’t Forget to Justify!

When I published Tales from the Annexe, I had to go back and correct some infuriating mistakes in both the ebook and print versions. The most obvious was forgetting to justify the text for the print version. There I was, admiring the formatted document and thinking formatting had been relatively easy this time, when I realized something. The text was left-aligned (like this post). Unless I justified it, my book would have ragged right margins.

Aargh!

A book with ragged right margins is perfectly okay — except it looks self-published. Some potential readers will reject it for that reason alone, even if the story looks interesting. Unfortunately, self-published book = crap is still a thing.

So I had to justify. And pay attention to other niceties of formatting, even for ebooks. Ebooks don’t need page numbers, headers, or footers, but hard page breaks after the title page and between chapters, or the stories in a collection, are a nice touch. When I first uploaded the ebook document to KDP, it lacked those page breaks. (Now it has them.)

Formatting a Word document so it may be turned into a print book boils down to this: set the margins for your trim size, justify the text, add Section Breaks (odd or even), add Footers (page numbers), add Headers (title, chapter or story title, and/or author). For headers and footers, the crucial thing is Link to Previous. If you want the header/footer to be the same as in the previous section, you leave this alone. If not, you click to turn it off and then make your changes. Look at a traditionally-published book to see which pages need headers or footers.

Always take a good look at your files before you publish. KDP provides online previewers that show exactly how a book (e-version or print) will look. They are definitely worth using. Even so, I overlooked the details I’m talking about here.

Like the print cover image, for example. Only after I uploaded it did I realize that part of the title was ever so slightly off-centre.

Aargh!

At first, I told myself these details didn’t matter; no one but I would notice the ragged right margin, the lack of page breaks, the off-centre title text. But of course some potential readers would notice and might conclude that the contents were probably crap. And those deficiencies would always be the first things I saw when I looked at the book. My book. And because it’s so easy to upload corrected files, I had no excuse not to do it.

So I went around the mulberry bush a few more times — added the page breaks, fixed the cover image, and justified the text, created new PDFs, downloaded and uploaded, and waited the extra days for the book to go “live” again.

Now it’s perfect. Or as close as it needs to be.

Fellow writers and publishers, how much trouble do you take with formatting? Do details like these matter to you?

Tales from the Annexe is a free download from Friday, November 27th until Saturday, November 28th, (midnight Pacific Standard Time)
AMAZON: US UK CA AU

Final part next time: Unwritten and Unrealized.

56 comments

      1. The auto-format in Amazon KDP is what does me in. Changes stuff. Opening para, chapter title placement, etc.
        If I upload the Word doc, there’s no go-to functionality any more, and if I use the Kindle-create, I can’t download it.
        And for Australians, any updates to the book after it’s available don’t get advised to the reader as ‘update available’ – so lots of bugs in the ‘zon itself, even if Word behaves.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I’m not aware of any updates to your books, but I know I’ve received some ‘there is an updated version of this book’ notifications in the past. I don’t think I’ve ever taken up any of the offers, but they do happen. Not sure what the threshold is though.

            Liked by 1 person

              1. I have a feeling there must be some kind of threshold for the notifications. Maybe the updates have to be substantial, however that is measured. Or maybe the writer has to request that notifications be sent out. Truly no idea, but I have definitely received some email notifications about updates.

                Liked by 1 person

    1. I have to admit I don’t work on my ebooks as much as the print ones. I mostly go by the Smashwords Style Guide, which doesn’t recommend being adventurous with fonts. But I did manage to add a little picture at the end of each story in my latest effort, both ebook and print.

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      1. I format my ebooks much more starkly than I set a paperback to maintain accessibility features. However, reflowing can produce really ugly lines around dashes with either full spaces or no spaces, so I wanted to see if any of the thin breaking spaces were supported across the board to reduce the chance of vast gaps appearing.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, I’ve noticed inexplicable blank half-screens in ebooks, my own and that of others. I’ve looked at my Word docs trying to figure out what causes them, but haven’t been able to. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen that often.

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  1. I always justify and divide words at the ends of lines, which sometimes means altering the text, so the print book is always my final edit. Also, I have the problem of having footnotes in some of my books, the ones with conlangs that need explanation. That means more rewriting to prevent the footnote from splitting between pages (I hate that). But the ebooks are worse for footnotes. There is a way to link footnotes that are added at the end, but I decided after reading a book done that way, that nobody would bother to look at the notes, so I devised a way to insert the notes in the text. That’s visible in all my Ki’shto’ba tales and will also be used in Part 8 of MWFB. Nobody has ever complained, except me having to format it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Adding footnotes and nonstandard characters to your books is a formatting tour de force, Lorinda! And you’re right–having the footnotes right there makes for a better reading experience than linking to a footnote list at the end. I’ve read ebooks done both ways and much prefer yours.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, these formatting details ARE important. I like the book to look beautiful, as well as be a beautiful read. (Well, I can try!) Yes, these details are important to me….because they make the book look good. Fortunately for me, I enjoy doing the picky stuff.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So do I, when they work out. The awful moments (or hours) when everything goes sideways are no fun, though. But when the kinks are worked out and the document looks good, it’s really satisfying. Not to mention when you page through the print book and find no problems!

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  3. I’m obsessive about it. Little things like centered chapter titles have to be centered on the margin, not the indent (which happens sometimes). Spacing above and below chapter-break symbols has to be consistent. It’s OCD heaven to check formatting!

    Luckily, Amazon also provides excellent instructions for all of these steps.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It was an eye-opener for me to realize that if I had paragraphs set to indent, that indent would appear with centred text, making it off-centre. Learning how to use Word’s Styles made things easier. I started with the Smashwords Style Guide and have stayed with it for all my ebooks, but you’re right–Amazon KDP has guides for both print and ebooks.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m with you on using the Smashwords guide for ebooks, as it works for Amazon as well. For paper, my biggest problem in LibreOffice is trying to get page numbers off the front, title & copyright pages. I can get it to start numbering pages at “1” for the first page of the first chapter, but the six pages before it get their own numbers as well, no matter what I do. My work around is using a white box as an image to cover up the numbers. I don’t bother with headers, since I think that if someone doesn’t know what they’re reading, headers aren’t going to help them much. They’re just one more thing that can go wrong.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Without pulling up a Word document, I think it lets me start the numbering on a specific page with a specific number. So I start on the first page that should have a number, and specify page 7, for example. The first 6 pages would be in a separate section, footer-wise, and I uncheck Link to Previous when I set the page number in Section 2. Of course I’ve not used LibreOffice so don’t know if it works the same way. And you’re right–an ebook document formatted using the Smashwords guide is accepted by KDP.

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      1. It should work like that. You can specify how many “first pages” you have, but I can never seem to get it to work right. I’ll have to see if there is something like the link to previous in Libre Office. That may be the problem. (For my next book.)

        For my first couple of books I had to import the old Apple version of LibreOffice files to format the books on a Windows PC. I spent several days getting them to work. But these days, it’s pretty routine, save for the page number issue… And the fact that for some reason, LibreOffice does not always run the lines of text to the bottom margin on some pages. I can’t understand why this happens. And so there is more space at the bottom of some pages than others. Luckily this does not bug me, as it might others. It’s always something, isn’t it?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m one of those guys who rarely cares about those things, but I know that some do. What does matter more (You don’t have this issue) is when a book is riddled with errors, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

    By the way, I just started reading Tales From the Annexe last night. It will be my nighttime reading for a bit unless it scares the bejeebers out of me. 🤣 Good thing there’s plenty of hours in the day.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t mind small formatting irregularities in other people’s books, as long as the writing is good. But when it’s my book, they bother me. And I agree with you–typos and other language errors bug me if there are a lot of them.
      I hope you enjoy TFTA, and any shudders you experience are good ones!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree with you, Audrey. I think these things are important. I’ve order hard copies of Indie books and been disappointed by the terrible formatting which can make the book difficult to read. Badly formatted ebooks are even worse. It is important to pay attention to this detail.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I’m working on formatting a book of tanka with accompanying photographs for three formats: print, mobi, and ePub. I’m getting close, but it has taken me months. I’m obsessive about the details you mentioned, including right-justifying my author’s bio in the back matter.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’ve never formatted poetry, and the only illustrations in my books are small glyphs for ornamental purposes. I can see why your project has taken months. That said, it’s amazing that we writers can undertake these sorts of efforts at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh yes…formatting MATTERS!

    It’s like that old saying about women – to be successful in a male dominated industry, a woman doesn’t have to be as good as a man, she has to be /better/. Same thing applies to Indies. Our books have to look as good as traditionally published books while the contents have to be even better.

    I think most of us shine on the content part – because we can be creative and innovative instead of fitting a cookie-cutter template of ‘what sells’. But none of that matters if potential readers don’t trust in us, and sadly, first impressions are powerful beasts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s why those of us who do our own formatting should take as much care with ebooks as with print. Potential buyers can have a look at the first few pages, just like bookstore browsers–except most of our books aren’t available in bookstores. So our ebooks aren’t second class products.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes. The Look Inside feature is really important. If it looks messy, I’m sure some readers will be put off. After all, you expect at least the first few chapters to be so polished that they gleam. If they don’t…. :/

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I sweated and sweated all those details with ‘Prelude’, and then sweated them some more … then I previewed it, then I ordered a print copy … and only then did I hit ‘publish’. and I have to say, I haven’t opened my copy since then! 😀 … I don’t know how I will fare with this next book (I suspect the same) but I can’t see myself doing much differently. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If it looked okay on the preview, it’s probably okay in physical reality. Except for those inevitable little gremlins that don’t show up in the preview–the missing period, the extra space, the absent quotation mark. Etc.

      Liked by 1 person

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