Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Rethinking the Process: Formatting Your Novel for Print

*Note: This post is a compilation of what I've learned while putting together my first book, and is in no way authoritative. Everyone's experience is different, but hopefully this post will help those of you thinking about indie publishing, or who are trying to figure out the ropes.

I've discovered you develop an entirely different perspective when you decide to indie publish, especially when it comes to formatting your manuscript.

When you are getting your manuscript polished, formatted, and ready to be viewed by agents and publishers, you get stuck on guidelines like these:

1 - Double space
2 - Use Times New Roman or Courier font only (or else!)
3 - Page numbers go in the upper right hand corner
4 - Use a header to state the title of your book and your name
5 - When printing it out, print on only one side of the paper
6 - Don't add spaces between decorative breaks in the narrative
7 - Word count

And so forth. There are lots of tailored guidelines, depending on the publisher or the agent, but the ones I've listed are pretty general.

But, once you've decided to become the publisher, it's a whole new ball game. You can throw out those guidelines once your manuscript is completely polished, edited, and proof edited.

1 - Double spacing serves to help your editor, or critique partners make notes in your manuscript. You won't need it for your print copy. 14.4 pt. or 1.5 pt. spacing is your new target range. You still want enough white space so your lines don't look crowded, but you don't need as much white space as when you double space. (Different fonts have different spacing built in.)

2 - If you're using MS Word, the Styles and Formatting section becomes your best friend. If you aren't familiar with it, you must do the tutorials to get familiar. It will save you tons of time, and avoid a lot of mistakes and irregularities in your manuscript. You can find Styles and Formatting by looking up at your top menu bar and clicking on Format. Under the Format menu, you'll see Styles and Formatting. Click on it. From there you can set your font and font sizes for different parts of your manuscript. Things like chapter headers, or special pages where you want things centered or in italics; you can set these in Styles and Formatting.

3 - Understanding fonts. Just because your writing program comes with a list of fonts, doesn't mean you have permission to use them. Fonts cost money. And depending on where you are publishing your print book, your printing company may or may not have the rights to print in the fonts you want. You need to check. I went through Lulu.com, and they make it clear which fonts you can use and which fonts you need to purchase. They'll upload a MS file and convert it to a PDF. If you don't use one of their recommended true-type fonts, they'll change your font. If you have purchased a specific font, you need to embed it into a PDF file. Check with the company you are going through to make sure you're following their guidelines and are using a font legally.

Make sure when you choose a font for your text that it is easily readable. Decorative fonts are pretty, but they're better used for party invitations and banners. It's your responsibility to choose a font that reflects the genre/tone of your novel and that is essentially invisible to readers, meaning, they aren't going to stop and stare at your pretty or complicated font instead of reading the actual story.

Some authors like to use a slightly more decorative, or a different font for their chapter headings. You don't have to. It's a style choice.

Likewise, don't make the size of your font so tiny it's hard for most people to read. You'll alienate potential readers. If you've written an extremely large book, think on the possibility of breaking it into two books versus keeping it together. Some printing companies have limits on the number of pages you can have for a book. Don't freak out and try to make your font smaller or reduce your margins to nothing, in order to cram more words on the page. That screams "Unprofessional!" A good average for lines on the page is between 30 - 35.

4 - Forget about the standard 8 x 11 inch paper size. You need to go into your document and resize your paper to the size it will be printed at. For me, that meant resizing to 6 x 9 inches. And boy, does that open up your eyes regarding the size of your book! Forget about word count, you'll be dealing with page count now. Printers usually print 4 pages per sheet. If you don't want unnecessary blank pages added to your novel, make sure your total page count is divisible by 4.

5 - Watch out for widows and orphans, those bits of text that end up on a new page all by themselves, whether it's part of a sentence, or just one sentence or small paragraph. You're using up an entire sheet of paper for that one little bit. You'll either need to take out things from your chapter to get rid of them, or add things to make use of that extra page.

6 - Set your margins, including the side ones (gutters). One inch all around is pretty standard. Decide where you want your page numbers. For hardcover books, page numbers are usually centered at the bottom. For paperback, they are in the right and left corners. Some books have even put page numbers in the center of the side of the page. It's a style issue.

7 - Learn something about book design. Follow book designer blogs and pay attention to what they are sharing. Get a feel for what you like and what elements reflect the tone and subject of your novel. Realize that you probably won't be able to do all the bells-and-whistles on your own (unless you are book designer). There are a lot of style elements you can do, but if you want something really unusual or spectacular, it would be a good idea to hire a book designer to help you.

8 - Learn recto and verso. From The Chicago Manual of Style 16th Edition:
"Publishers refer to the trimmed sheets of paper that you turn in a printed-and-bound book as leaves, and a page is one side of a leaf. The front of the leaf, the side that lies to the right in an open book, is called recto. The back of the leaf, the side that lies to the left when the leaf is turned, is the verso. Rectos are always odd-numbered, versos always even-numbered."

Certain pages are expected to be either recto or verso. For instance, your half-title page and title page are always recto. Your copyright page is usually verso. The first chapter of a novel is always recto. I have divided my novel into three parts, so I had to make sure the Parts pages landed recto with a blank verso page after them before starting the next chapter. (Don't forget to factor in your blank pages into your overall page count!)

9 - More on page numbers. Your front matter (the pages that come before your actual story starts) aren't numbered. The same goes for your back matter (the extra pages that come after your story ends). You will need to learn how to use section breaks to divide up your novel in order to start and stop your page numbering. There are online tutorials for using section breaks and adding and altering page numbers. I didn't know before that there are two ways to add page numbers and that one way is trickier than the other.

10 - Use page breaks for each of your chapters. If you go up to the top of your MS Word toolbar and click on Insert, choose Break, then you can access both page breaks and section breaks. Page breaks are handy because they keep the text of one chapter from bumping the text of the next chapter down the page. So your chapter heading formatting doesn't have to be double-checked and realigned. Don't use hard returns (hitting the Enter key on your keyboard) to separate one chapter from another because it's a formatting nightmare (time wise) to fix.

11 - The pilcrow button is your friend. If you look up at your toolbar, you'll see a button with what looks like a colored in, backwards P with a line running parallel behind it. This is the pilcrow button. If you click it, is shows the formatting in your manuscript; nifty things like spacing between words, hard returns, page breaks, and where you've used the tab key. This is a great tool to help you spot places where you have hidden formatting issues.

12 - Want a drop cap at the start of each chapter? (A drop cap is the over sized first letter at the beginning of the first paragraph.) Highlight the letter, go up to your toolbar and click on Format. There should be a Drop Cap button. Click on it and you're taken to a little window with drop cap formatting options. *Note: Not all fonts work well with drop caps. Some fonts will make the drop cap letter too high or low compared to the regular letters. You can click and drag your drop capped letter to realign, but it doesn't always come out right when you print the page.

13 - For easier uploading to your printing company, keep your entire novel in one file instead of a bunch of little ones. (Learning page and section breaks will help you format everything just the way you want it.) *Note: Do not include your cover art in the same file. Just the interior of your novel.

14 - If you have illustrations or maps, make sure they're resized to the proper page size and that you've inserted them properly into your manuscript. Don't use a link and hope it sticks. Also, bear in mind, that if you want them in color, it's going to cost more to print the book. If you want to keep costs down, make sure your color pictures are converted to grayscale or black-and-white.

15 - You've been used to using a left alignment in your manuscript. Guess what, you'll need to change it to justified before sending it off to the printing company. And along with justifying the text, is deciding where to break up larger words to avoid huge gaps in your lines. Don't go overboard with dividing words. It's okay if there are some small white gaps, you just want to avoid really big ones. Another thing to watch out for is having the same word right on top another. This usually means reading through your newly formatted manuscript with a fine-toothed comb, slowly, with your focus on spotting gaps, too many broken words, or stacked words.

16 - Spacing between gaps in the story. Some people will insert an extra return so there is one line of space to indicate a change in the setting, POV, or that you're heading into a flashback. More common for the first two is to insert something symbolic or a tiny illustration between story sections. You need white space above and below these so they don't look crammed. It's a style issue. Keep your readers in mind. If you use a tiny illustration, make sure you own the rights to it.

A lot of these tips are good for formatting for ebook too, like using the pilcrow button, learning Styles and Formatting, etc. I've included some resource links to help get you started in your research. Don't be frustrated by all you have to do and learn. Once you get it down, your next published book will be easier. Take your time and do it right.

Helpful Links:
Front Matter, Back Matter, Why Does It Matter?
Indie Writers: Make MS Word Work  for You Instead of Against You
The Book Designer

*Note: Createspace is the more popular printing company, but I went with Lulu because they put out hardcovers as well as paperbacks, and I liked their simpler pricing and payment structure.


  1. Thank you! Hopefully it will help others figure things out too.