Monday, July 12, 2010

Formatting the interior of your book

One comment that I’ve received frequently is that the interior layout of my historical novel, The Crown in the Heather, is on par with any traditionally published book. Of all the things an indie author can do when putting a book together themselves, formatting the interior is perhaps the easiest thing to do well – and without added cost, since you can do it yourself. In a previous post, I skimmed over some of the elements I used to give my interior a little more pizzazz. Here, I’ll expand on those.

What does it take to create a professional-looking interior layout to your book? Mostly, attention to detail, a little extra time and the willingness to learn about more features of Word than you ever cared to know. Like most writers, my manuscript was formatted in a specific way: 8.5” X 11” paper, Times New Roman font (12 pt.), 1” margins, .5”indents on new paragraphs, left-justified and double-spaced. Obviously, no real book is laid out that way.

How do you transform your manuscript into a professional-looking interior? By first studying books in your genre, using some as templates for your work and then making about a hundred little decisions to customize your interior so that it is uniquely your own. Here’s a list of some – but not all – of the decisions you will need to make:

1. Book size – Go to the library or a bookstore (Wal-Mart will do). What size are books in your genre, typically? Manuals with a lot of pictures, tables or graphs are probably better suited for a larger size like 8.5” X 11”, while paperback novels come in smaller sizes that are easier to tote around.

Initially, I had my book laid out in 5.25” X 8” size. But there were two drawbacks to this. One is that the shorter lines produced more hyphenated words, which meant more finagling to try to reduce how many hyphens were on a page, which led to more wonky spacing problems. Another was that it meant more pages – and like it or not, your printing service will charge you by the page, not the word count. So, I switched to 6” X 9” and got a book that was easier on the eyes and slightly more profitable.

* In Word 2007, simply go to ‘Page Layout’, then ‘Page Setup’, and click on ‘Size’ to choose.

2. Paper type – Although this is something you won’t have to worry about until you go to order your proof, you do need to consider how it will affect your reader. You have two choices: white or crème. White is appropriate for technical manuals or non-fiction with a lot of pictures and tables, but for novels you’ll most likely want to use crème, which has less glare and for long periods of reading is easier on the eyes.

3. Margins – Lightning Source recommends that on the pdf of your text file, that margins be at least .5” on all sides. I’d recommend more and here’s why. People need someplace to put their thumbs to hold the book open and you don’t need them prying apart the spine and cracking it just to see the words in the crease. At the top and bottom, you need a little space for headers and footers. Don’t crowd the page. It may daunt your readers.

* I used .8” margins on the right and left and 1” at the top and bottom.

4. Font – Choose a font appropriate for your genre and one that’s highly readable. You may be able to get away with a sans serif font for non-fiction or a contemporary novel, but Arial wouldn’t be appropriate for a medieval historical. Although we use Times New Roman for our manuscripts, because it was developed for use in newspapers with vertical columns, its letters are narrower and it’s generally not recommended for novels. While you may be thinking this will save you a few pages in the long run, in reality the narrower the font the harder it becomes to read for long periods.

While sans serif (‘without feet’) fonts may look fine and even be preferred on a web site, most novels use serif fonts. Not only are we more used to reading books in those fonts, but the little feet and tails actually make the letters easier to differentiate.

Except for perhaps chapter headings or the occasional brief letter, avoid script fonts.

Some recommended serif fonts for novels are: Garamond (this was my choice), Bookman, Century Schoolbook, and Palatino, but there are many more that work quite well – just don’t get too fancy. The font you choose will also affect your page count, so keep that in mind. Don’t be afraid to try different fonts, print out some pages and see how they look.

5. Point size – Which point size is appropriate will depend on your font. In Garamond, 12 pt. worked well. Obviously, if your book is intended for either very young or very old readers, you’d use a larger point size. Whatever you do, don’t go small just to save on page count. Readers will give up on books with print so small they need a magnifying glass – and I’ve unwittingly bought a few of these online myself.

6. Line spacing – Generally, line spacing of 1.15 works well.

7. Justification and hyphenation – Unlike your left justified manuscript, your book should have paragraphs that are full justified (even on the right and left side). A ragged right edge is the sign of an amateur. Poetry would, of course, be the exception.

Also, I’d suggest you turn hyphenation ‘on’. Without it, you’re likely to have lines that contain longer words get shuffled onto the next line, leaving the previous line with strung-out spacing. But do check each word that Word hyphenates. In mine, it kept hyphenating ‘bishop’ as ‘bis-hop’. Obviously the ‘s’ and the ‘h’ belong on the same line: ‘bish-op’.

8. Widows and orphans – Try to avoid the obvious short word that appears alone on a line of a paragraph or a short, partial sentence on a page by itself. Omitting or adding a word or phrase, breaking larger paragraphs into multiple ones or combining paragraphs can often solve these pesky little problems.

***[Edited to add that I turned 'Widow/orphan control' OFF. Word automatically turns it ON. This can be changed by going to 'Paragraph' in your task bar, then 'Line and page breaks'. Uncheck the box. If you leave it ON, you'll end up with some pages where the last lines of facing pages, left and right, don't line up as Word shuffles things around. Much better looking just to leave it OFF and adjust manually where needed.]

9. Headers and footers – Your headers (at the top of the page) will be your Title and Author Name. Usually, your name goes on the left-hand page and the title on the right. For these, you can choose a slightly fancier font, perhaps one that echoes what you’ve used on the cover, but again, keep it legible. Most often headers are centered, but they can be left/right justified, depending on which side they’re on.

Page numbers generally appear in the footer space (either centered or in the left/right corner), but will sometimes be placed in the upper outside corner. I’ve seen variations on headers and footer arrangements – some work, some don’t. If in doubt, check out several books in your genre and choose what looks best to you. For headers and footers, go to 'Insert', then click on headers or footers. When you click your cursor in the header space on the page, you can edit there.

10. Styles – This is the one feature of Word that, prior to designing my book’s interior, I never knew existed, but now I can’t live without it. Using Styles (shown at the top of your task bar) will allow you to remain consistent about chapter headings, for one. If you want to change which font you use for all your chapter headings or how many lines you put between the chapter number and subheadings, simply right click on the Style you use for that and re-format it to your specifications. This is a huge time-saver.

11. Front and back matter – If you are including acknowledgments, historical notes, a list of resources or anything else that may fall into either of these categories, pay attention to how they are arranged in traditionally published books and then do the same, including the insertion of blank pages to set them apart and whether they appear on the right- or left-hand page.

12. Fancy features – Yes, I get excited about Drop Caps (found under the ‘Insert’ tab). These can add a little flare to your book, but not all books need them. Again, pay attention to whether they are generally used in your genre or not.

I also used small caps (found under the ‘Paragraph’ tab) for the first four words of each scene to signal to the reader that there was a change in setting or time. Again, use selectively. It's possible to get carried away and overdo it.

***[Edited to add:]
13. Section breaks - While it might be tempting to just put page breaks at the end of a chapter, use 'section breaks' instead. This will let you turn headers off on the first page of a chapter, and page numbers off where you might have blank pages between the sections (Part I, Part II) of a book. To create a section break, go to 'Page Layout', then in the 'Page Setup' tab, click on 'Breaks'. You can add a page break that begins on the very next page, or the next odd- or even-numbered page.

To link your page numbers or headers to a previous section, simply click on the header or footer area and you will see a small tab that says 'Same as previous' if you want to repeat the headers. If, for example, you want to turn the page numbers off altogether (like in the back matter of the book), simply click on the 'Design' tab, go to 'Navigation' and unclick the 'Link to previous'.

As Lisa said in the comments to the post, this is one feature that can drive you batty learning it, but it's worth mastering.

There’s even more that I could add here, but these are the basics that you can probably get by with. Do take the time to lay out your book’s interior so that it’s virtually indistinguishable from a traditionally published book. A sloppily prepared interior will only give the self-publishing naysayers one more shell to load into their rifles to shoot indie authors down with.

Set your book above the rest. Take the time, make the effort to do it right, so that anyone who picks up your self-published book and starts reading it has as pleasant an experience as possible.

Happy publishing!


Anonymous said...

Excellent advice. It's so easy to do these little things, even though it takes time - but for goodness' sake, you've spent how many years writing the book, so isn't it worth spending a little time on the presentation?

Lisa Yarde said...

Interior formatting "the easiest thing to do well" - sorry, I have to beg to differ on that one. Odd vs. even page breaks frustrated me to no end. Your care and attention to detail shows in Crown in the Heather. Still reading.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

@Lisa - I should've qualified that with 'once you figure out how'... It took me longer to learn where everything was than it did to do actually do it. I set my second book up in less than a quarter of the time it took to do the first.

@Diiarts - I certainly appreciate and admire all the people behind the scenes at publishing houses now.

Jen Black said...

Thanks for this post - it made me really look at my ms for the first time in a while. A couple of hours this morning paid dividends. My work now looks so much neater, even if I'm still not sure what widows and orphans are all about!

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Jen, I admit that was kind of foggy to me for awhile, too. I've decided it's a bit subjective. Even traditionally published books will sometimes have a single word at the end of a paragraph by itself. I decided not to get too anal-retentive about it. The key is whether, when you randomly open to a page, if it looks neat and tidy or not. But it is kind of weird-looking when you flip to the last page in a chapter and there are only two words on it. Yeah, that I'd change.

Michelle Gregory said...

thanks for the reminder. i'd forgotten all that stuff from the last time (it was 2007). it's way off in the current novel's future, but i'll file this away for later.

Toby said...

Gemi this was excellent if I have to go this route. Thanks for sharing!
BTW, I'd love to be on your blog roll,

Putting yours up on mine. The new website looks amazing too.

Lexi said...

All very helpful - I wish I'd come across this three weeks ago! Totally agree about widows and orphans; common sense needs to be applied.

I'd add a tip from Aaron Shepard re linespacing:

Choose “Paragraph” from the Format menu, then for “Line spacing” select “At least” or “Exactly” and a point measurement. For normal book text, a good point measurement would be 2 to 4 points more than the font size—for instance, 14 to 16 points for 12-point type.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Ellie, I have found this just as I am about to do mine. Wonderful article, thank you. How do you fancy doing some like this on Authors on Show for our weekly page?

This is the sort of advice we all need so badly. Please say yes.