Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Formatting Tips for Self-Publishers

Since putting together the first annual* book festival in our little area last year, I’ve made it a quest to pick up and read fellow local authors’ books, for the support and to help me get to know them. I’m of the opinion you don’t really know a writer until you read their work, no matter how much time you spend with them personally. Also, I can’t say I support indies if I don’t physically support them. That would be awfully hypocritical and hypocrisy is one of my biggest pet peeves.

Anyway, it’s a different thing to read indies in electronic format, which I’ve been doing for years, than it is in print format. They are different things.

And they must be formatted differently.

A few reminders and tips for authors trying to double their roles and format their own print books (which I also do, so yes, it can be done right by a lowly author **joke intended**).

I am not a publishing professional, other than doing my own books over the past twelve years. I learned the following by studying big-pub prints and doing plenty of research, and sometimes by making mistakes with my own books. All rules can be debated, of course, but I’m a big believer in first knowing the rules before you decide which not to follow.

~ Let’s start with the cover.

1) Look at books in libraries and bookstores. Do any of them say “by Author Name”? Only a few children’s books do that and it’s to differentiate between the author and the illustrator, since illustrations are as big a part of children’s picture books as the story. Even then, in most cases, the author is simply listed and the illustrator gets an “illustrated by” tag. If you don’t write picture books, do not put “by” in front of your name.

2) Be careful about throwing a photo on the cover and just adding some text. Play with borders and effects and collages, but be sure it doesn’t look like you grabbed a few stock photos and just threw them all together. That screams amateur. If your cover screams amateur, it won’t matter much how professional your writing may be.

3) The spine and back are part of the overall look with a print book. Don’t spend all of your focus on the front and then just throw the rest together with some text. Make it a full picture, not necessarily one picture wrapping all the way around, but an entire work of art combined carefully to package your precious book.

~~ For the inside:

1) Again, look at professionally printed novels. They all include a cover page, a copyright page, sometimes a second cover page with publisher info. Pay attention to whether these things are on the left or right side and do it the same.

2) Most novels do not have or need a table of contents. For ebooks, yes. Not for prints. Take that out unless you have a very long, complex story divided into sections other than only chapters. Even then, it’s probably not necessary. If you feel it is necessary, look at how it’s done in professionally formatted books. A long row of

1. chapter 1
2. chapter 2
3. chapter 3…

looks unprofessional, especially when it’s left-aligned like the text.

3) Your front matter, everything before the first page of chapter one, should not have page numbers. Most novels don’t include the page number on page one of a chapter, either, but that’s at least acceptable. Your front matter doesn’t count as “pages” and should not pretend to count. Page 1 is page one of chapter 1.

Different software handles this formatting issue differently. I use Word to write and format, which isn’t the easiest program to use for that, so I’ve heard, but I use section breaks to accomplish cutting out the page numbers in the front matter and not having page numbers on the first page of each chapter. It is a learning curve, but there are online tutorials to help you accomplish this.

4) Use serif fonts, not non-serif fonts. Why? It’s easier on the reader’s eyes and better for flow. What’s the difference? A serif is the little line at the end of a stroke. This blog is typed in a serif font called Georgia. See the little extra marks on the bottom of the letters? That creates flow. This, on the other hand, is Arial, the most common non-serif font. It looks far more staccato (sharp and detached). Cambria is a common printed book text. So is Garamond, and it might be the most used among professional self-publishers. Georgia works, also. You can use Times New Roman, but I would stick with something prettier and less all-purpose for print books. It works well for e-books, though. If you use a non-serif font, use it purposely for effect, but be aware it might be a bit off-putting to your reader. Novels should flow. Keep your font at 11 pt or smaller, also. Print a page of it and compare it to a professionally formatted novel. Slight differences are fine. Big fonts look unprofessional. (Obviously this doesn’t apply to picture books.) Even that little difference in fonts makes a difference in overall reading experience, and print book readers are about the experience!
**I meant to use each different font within this paragraph, but Live Writer isn't working so I have to make do. 

5) Do not double space. Double spacing is for submissions, not for printed books. Use your word processor to add some extra space between your lines, like this blog post, but not double. That makes it look like you want your book to appear longer than it is, just filling up page count, which seems disingenuous. Also, do not leave extra wide margins, since that gives the same impression. There are plenty of resources online to help determine how big your margins should be. For my 5.5 x 8.5 books, I have the top margin at .6 to allow space for my header that includes the page number, and the rest are at .4 with a .25 gutter with mirror margins so the gutter stays on the correct side.

6) Also, do not double space between paragraphs. Keep it the same as the rest of the text and indent paragraphs! This is different than for ebooks where it’s common practice to double space between paragraphs. That’s fine, although there is some debate about that practice, as well, and it has flowed over somewhat into print books to leave space between paragraphs rather than indenting, but look at big pub books. How many are doing so?

7) Left-align or justify? This can go either way. It’s becoming more acceptable to left-align books. If you do this, you’ll want to use hyphens so you don’t have huge gaps at the ends of lines, but you want to hyphenate sparsely. Your word processor should give you the choice. Most of my books are justified (which could make a good joke), but for my very long Rehearsal books, I decided to left-align instead because I wanted that extra flow. After printing the first one I did myself (book 3, since the 1st two were formatted and printed through a company I’m no longer using and will be redone), I noticed too many gaps at the end because of no hyphenation. I don’t like every other sentence to hyphenate, so I took them out, but that was too extreme. I’ll be reformatting that book to include adding sparse hyphens. (You live and you learn!)

I may be forgetting a few things. Do you have any tips or annoyances to share relating to formatting? If it’s something of which I’m guilty, I’d rather know than to blindly keep doing it wrong or annoying the reader. I may annoy them now and then with a character’s opinions or actions, but that’s just part of the job. ;-)

*Yes, “first annual” is a correct usage for an event that will be a continuing event. Annual says it will continue. First says it’s the debut of a continuing event. In this case, it’s not redundant, but only an attention-getting modifier.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Help Literacy on Giving Tuesday

I often support Toys for Tots through the Marine Corps. Giving a charity money can feel, as a friend said recently, like you’re throwing it down a black hole. You’re never sure where it’s going exactly. I’ve supported a lot of different things through the years, but lately, I’ve been focusing on local groups that put it right back into the community.

I don’t, however, take toys. I give books. Sometimes they’re cute ones I find at my local indie bookstore. Sometimes they’re my own.

When Grammerly put out the call to help support literacy on Giving Tuesday, I figured I’d combine the two.

I’m taking 5 copies of Stanley: A Raindrop’s Story, paperback version, to our local Toys for Tots drive. Kids need books. Some kids desperately need books. Stanley is a little raindrop who discovers why he should always keep looking up even through hard times. If you want to add to the number of these books that go out to children, I’m running a Giving Tuesday special. Order a hardcover of Stanley through My SITE via the Paypal links at the bottom, and I’ll donate an extra paperback to Toys for Tots.

Of course, you can also go to Grammerly’s site where they have global literacy giving links.

Global Literacy Infographic