Thursday, March 11, 2010

Turning Your Manuscript into a Book, or . . . Lo and Behold, My Computer is More than a Glorified Typewriter!

It’s true! I first started writing on a Royal typewriter thirty years ago – you know, the kind with the round keys that if you missed them your fingers would get pinched in a wiry web that had the tension of a bear trap? And you had to use carbon paper if you wanted to make copies? Remember this sound: “Tap, tap, tap, tap . . . tap, tap, ding! Click.”? Transition from that to the first computers and, wow, no more need for White-Out, plus a dot matrix printer eliminated the use of carbons. Given what computers can do today (spell-check makes us all look smarter than we are), is it any wonder more people are writing books now than ever?

This past week – or two, it’s all becoming a blur, because this is actually fun if you have OCD like I do – I’ve been formatting my manuscript in Word in order to make it look like a proper book. (Let me mention here that creating a Word document is just one step, after that comes creating a pdf file that your printer or self-publishing company will accept.) If you plan on formatting your manuscript yourself, two books I heartily recommend are: Aaron Shepard’s Perfect Pages and Michael N. Marcus’s Become a Real Self-Publisher. I like the latter for its straightforward step-by-step directions and the former for additional details about specific steps. Then, if those start to make sense, invest in Pete Masterson’s Book Design and Production: A Guide for Authors and Publishers. This last one not only gets into the nitty gritty of various fonts and page layout, but also has an extended glossary on terms that you can refer to during the self-publishing process, as a lot of the terminology will sound like a foreign language at first. Formatting a book interior really isn’t rocket science; it does, however, take time to learn about all the hidden features of Word that you never knew existed and create a professional looking interior. If you don’t have time, but do have money, there are businesses who will provide that service for you. Being the penniless writer I am, with time on my hands, I embrace learning something new. It makes me feel – what’s that word that Oprah uses? Ah yes, ‘empowered’.

So what have I learned in the last two weeks? A boatload. For starters, ‘styles’ is a feature that allows you to be consistent about headings and sections. ‘Headings’, btw, are not to be confused with ‘headers’. I figured out how to alternate the headers at the top of the page so that the title is on the recto (right-hand) page and my name is on the verso (left-hand) page. I also learned how to turn off pagination, headers and footers on specific pages by inserting section breaks and breaking the link to the previous section. Confused yet?

A word of caution here: if you turn hyphenation on in Word, you can be sure it will insert the hyphen in the wrong place within a word at least 25% of the time. That means I sat here with a dictionary and checked every single hyphenated word for hours. I also figured out how to turn spell-checker off for a specific word if I didn’t want it hyphenated by going to the Review tab and clicking on Set Language.

Widows and orphans are something else to be aware of at this stage in the process. No, not women whose husbands are deceased and children who’ve lost their parents. Widows are the last line of a paragraph that has spilled over onto the next page and are followed by the glaring white space of a scene break or the end of a chapter. Orphans are the first line of a paragraph at the bottom of the page following a scene break that stand alone, or they are also a lone word at the end of a paragraph on a line by itself. To the typographer, these are egregious errors that upset the delicate balance of a meticulously designed interior layout, and thus must be eradicated. To the rest of us casual readers, they just look . . . irregular, sloppy, blech. You can set Word to eliminate widows and orphans, but this will sometimes leave you with an uneven number of lines between the left and right pages. The alternative is to finagle individual paragraphs by inserting or deleting words or sentences so that you have neither widows nor orphans and every page contains the same number of lines – which is a huge amount of work.

One last thing: I am in love with Drop Caps – those fancy, oversized letters that shoulder their way into the opening paragraph of every chapter as if to say, “Here I am and I am beautiful.” Yes, you are beautiful, Drop Caps. You remind me of the Book of Kells. You are timeless.

Aside from learning lots of minutia, I’ve also had to make a lot of decisions. What size to I want my book to be? How big should the margins be? What font to use for the text, for chapter headings and for my beloved Drop Caps (sigh . . .)? After all this, I think I may have missed my calling in life. Maybe instead of a writer, I should have become a graphic artist or book designer. I won’t kid you – this is a lot of work and I feel like I am learning a new job for which I had zero qualifications. But, having an end product in mind – that wonderful thing called ‘my book’ – it makes all the time invested in learning worthwhile. Happy publishing!

Until later,


rps said...

I wrote my entire first novel (unreadable rubbish) on my Dad's Adler typewriter in 1985. I used that because the portable Olivetti he'd bought me when I was 7 (now sadly lost) didn't sound as good! I still have typed manuscripts in boxes somewhere in this house.

Great post.


Lisa Yarde said...

As I'm navigating the pros and cons of self-publishing, just know that I'm wishing you every success in this process, Gemi, while not so secretly stalking your every move, so I don't end up making a disaster of my own feature efforts. Lead on.

Jack Ramsay said...

Many years ago I worked in a cinema and had to type out our weekly revenue report, in triplicate (carbon paper smells so strange) - on an old thing with a missing 'e'. Not a great way to spend my evenings.

Ah, you do bring it all back to me, Gemi.

By the way, started reading WDF last night and it's hooked me in already. No surprise there, really.

All the best,


N. Gemini Sasson said...

@ R - Is that you, Richard? The picture is too small and fuzzy on my 'high-speed' dial-up to tell. Thanks for stopping in!
@ Lisa - Yes, I volunteered to be the guinea pig and realize I'm being watched. Someone has to go first, eh? When I went caving with my college geology class, they said, "You're the smallest, Gemi. You go in that tiny, dark crack and tell us what's on the other side." And I lived to tell the tale. Just now.
@ Jack - Here's a dose of nostalgia: Remember computers that used casette tapes? And pay phones? And 33 records? And VHS tapes...

Michael said...

>>it makes all the time invested in learning worthwhile.<<

It sounds like you're enjoying yourself, and that's great. Work can be -- and should be -- fun.

Write and publish because you love to do it. The money is a fringe benefit.

Publishing is addictive. Two years ago I started my tiny publishing company to do one book. I am now finishing my 7th and 8th. I am much prouder of my self-pubbed books than the book Doubleday published for me in 1976.

Welcome to the club, and thanks for the plug.

Michael N. Marcus

-- president of the Independent Self-Publishers Alliance,

-- author of "Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don’t be a Victim of a Vanity Press,"

-- author of "Stupid, Sloppy, Sleazy. The Strange Story of Vanity Publisher Outskirts Press. How do they stay in business?"

-- author of "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)," coming 4/1/10.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Michael, I'm honored. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you outlining the process with such clarity and frankness as you do. It makes this venture a whole lot less intimidating and vastly more manageable. And yes, it has been fun so far. I hope for more of the same.