The Frustrations of Formatting

It is not my purpose here to talk about the technical aspects of formatting a self-publishRich w:Booked book. Experts abound, and I am eternally grateful for that fact. When I become immersed in the swamp of details or flummoxed by the idiot-syncrasies of Microsoft Word, I head for the chat rooms. This article is meant as an overview; my thoughts on the major challenges, how I deal with some of them, and perhaps as a sympathetic diatribe.

When setting about publishing a manuscript, my initial question is how first to publish it––as an eBook or a print version. Since my major publishing focus to date has been the eBook market, I lean toward publishing a Kindle as my first effort. I tell myself I may not even wish to publish a print book, or at the very least hold off a while, but ultimately the desire to own a hard copy of my work overcomes practicality, and I create one.

The fact is, it is far more difficult to format a book for print than for an eBook. More important, it is an entirely different process. My frustration level tends to reach new heights when formatting for print. Sure, I could pay Createspace to format my manuscript for me, but why do that if I already know how to do it myself? After formatting four books for print, I do know, don’t I?

This past month I published CAT, the fourth book in my Zack Tolliver, FBI series, as an eBook and then as a paperback. I found myself wrestling with the very same issues I had struggled with publishing my three preceding books. You’d think I would remember the process. But there are two problems: first, it is a long time between books and second, details of the process seem to change just a wee bit from year to year, even is the basic problems remain the same.

To create an eBook, it is not difficult to transform your manuscript to a PDF, keeping in mind not to add page numbers but also remembering to insert page breaks chapter to chapter. The trick is to think of the document as a continual scroll, with a space at each chapter heading. The difficulty comes with the TOC (Table of Contents), not required on most platforms but in reality a necessity for the convenience of the reader. And guess what? The Microsoft Word TOC will not function on Kindle. Smashword supplies a simplistic TOC when crunching your manuscript with its machine, but to my mind it is barely functional, and certainly not fancy.

What to do? I go back to the chatrooms to find someone with a solution I can understand. I must be specific in the search, I use Microsoft Word 2011 for Mac. Other versions will not help me. But you’ve got to love Google; the answer is always out there somewhere. The key in my version of Word is I must create a whole series of hyperlinks in the TOC, chapter by chapter. The best step-by-step explanation I have found is here: http://www.engadget.com/2012/05/05/ibook-lessons-creating-amazon-kdp-tables-of-contents-on-ms-word/                                                                                     It is hopelessly tedious, but it works for me––hopefully it will work for you.

As for the cover––fageddaboutit. I am no artist and the cover is too important to end up less than wonderful. Remember, you will be using it for both eBook and print version, thus any problems become exponential. I farm it out to someone who knows what he/she is doing. It pays in the long run.

Okay, so what about the print version? Well, throw out everything you just learned about creating an eBook. Now you do need page numbers, but not everywhere; not in the front matter, not at the beginning of chapters, not for the back pages. How do you make Word do that? Only with a struggle. You also probably want your author name in the header on even pages, and your book title in the header on odd pages. But not at the beginning of chapters, not in the front matter, not on the back pages. Here’s a hint: it’s all done with page and section breaks, set up with specific instructions for headers and footers, chapter by chapter. And if you get one thing wrong––just one thing––all the page numbers you worked so hard to place might disappear, or all your header information on the even pages might go away, or suddenly appear in your front matter. Worst of all, you might not even notice it happened until too late.

That is just one aspect of the process. Don’t forget page appearance, bleed, margins, book size. If the setting is wrong, the material won’t fit on the page. Your margins must be just right to look right for your book size. Your line spacing just right, your font just right. Createspace, for instance, does not have all the same fonts as Word. Here’s another fun fact: font sizes don’t look the same in print as in your Word document. A 14 font, for instance, looks just right in Word but is huge in print, the 1.5 line spacing looks good in Word, but in print looks like the Red Sea between your lines.

So what to do? Head back to those chatrooms. Here’s the good part; I have found I actually do learn from experience, book to book. I don’t remember all the details each time, and some change, but I do remember the gist, which makes assimilating the info from chat rooms easier. In other words, it does get better.

I’ll say a word about the book cover. You will want to use the same cover from eBook to print, of course, but you can’t use the same size. In fact, you won’t know what size you need for your paperback until the manuscript is completely formatted and you have a precise page count. Otherwise, the cover won’t fit. If you do an audio book, you’ll need yet another cover size, but that is topic for another article.

It is not my intention to discourage beginning self-publishers––just the opposite. There is nothing like the feeling of holding your paperback book in your hand, your very own creation from top to bottom. It is well worth it. And when people begin to buy it, when you get your first fan, you tend to forget the time and trouble. The intent of this article is to serve as a gentle warning, to suggest there will be discouraging moments, and encourage you to persevere––and allow lots and lots of time.

Ultimately, you’ll be glad you did.

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