Formatting

If you’ve ever read a paperback book, or an eBook, you already know there’s a certain formula to how they’re put together. There are standard fonts and font sizes, a certain way the chapters and sections are separated, front and back matter, forewords, afterwords, tables of contents, etc. It’s a science that can be mastered, but a lot of times, it’s easier to just let professionals do it. Here’s why:

  • Word processors sometimes do hinky things, and they’re not always things you see until you actually get your printed proof or check your eBook on an eReader
  • Certain elements must always be present, and they’re not always intuitive (Table of contents–front or back of the book? List of other titles–yes or no? Licensing notes and copyrights–where and how?)
  • eBooks sometimes have problems with special or uncommon characters during conversion and these can show up as blank squares or question marks in the final version
  • Print books need margins and gutters (yes, that’s a thing) adjusted based on page counts
  • Print books need to allow for orphans and widows (formatting speak) which need to be fixed manually
  • Graphics come out differently on a printed page than they do on a digital screen and some decorative elements around chapter headings might make the text unreadable

The good news is that these things can be learned, and once you make one good template, it can be reused for anything, any number of times, which makes future formatting projects easier and a lot faster. But getting to that good template is the hard part.

eBooks are relatively easy, since they’re a simpler format. You don’t need to worry about headers or footers, page numbers, margins, or gutters. Your main concern with eBooks will be paragraph styles and graphics (if applicable), and those can be standardized fairly easily in MS Word, or OpenOffice.org. One thing that may trip you up is persistent inconsistent styles, which can only be fixed if you completely strip all formatting first and start from the beginning. I won’t go into detail, but there are manuals available on how to do this.

Print books are trickier. You have to start with a trim size first, then set up the template so you have facing pages. Industry standard is to use justified text, and have the author name, book title, and page numbers in the header. Pick up any printed book to see how it’s supposed to look, then read up on tutorials to learn how to achieve that look. One thing that might trip you up is that there will be pages where you don’t want to show the header or page number. Read up on how to achieve this. It’s actually a lot simpler than you might think.

NOTE ON PROOFING YOUR FORMATTING:

If you’re with a publisher, you likely won’t get an eBook proof, just the final version in all its formats. You should still check every format you can and let your publisher know immediately if you see errors or problems. You might get a proof of your printed book for your approval. You should definitely check it and let your publisher know immediately if you see errors or problems.

Things you should look for in eBooks:

  • Is the table of contents correct?
  • Does each chapter have a page break after it?
  • Are the heading styles consistent?
  • Are the paragraph styles and line spacing consistent?
  • Is there anything that stands out (such as one word in a paragraph being ten points larger in font than the rest, or odd characters in the middle of the word or sentence)?
  • Is the front and back matter correct (especially your author bio, website URL, list of other titles, etc.)?

Things you should look for in print books:

  • Are the margins comfortable (not too big or too small)?
  • Is the gutter the correct size (flip to the center of the book and see if you can still read the inside margin)?
  • Are the chapter headings and section breaks correct and clearly marked?
  • Is there anything that stands out (such as any page with only a line or two on it, blank pages, inconsistent scene break marks, etc.)
  • Are the dropcaps (if applicable) readable?
  • Are there widows or orphans, or gaps at the bottom of the page that look like unintentional scene breaks?
  • Is the front and back matter correct (especially your author bio/photo, website URL, list of other titles, etc.)?

Things you should look for in both (which necessitates actually reading the proof):

  • Residual typographical errors
  • Style errors (such as wrong or missing italicization or too much of it, like an entire chapter instead of a paragraph)
  • Missing words, sentences, or paragraphs
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