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!