Two writers on worldbuilding, fantasy, and whatever else comes to mind.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Adventures in Self-Publishing, Part II

While we wait for proofs, let's talk about print layout!  A manuscript is usually in 12-pt double-spaced Times New Roman with half-inch indents, on letter-sized paper with one-inch margins.  A finished novel is not.  Getting from one to the other isn't hard, exactly, but it does take work and care and patience.  I find that using styles (Normal, Heading 1, etc.) saves a lot of time.

I am not a professional typesetter, and I'm not about to fool anyone who is (for one thing, I'm working in Microsoft Word).  My goal in formatting has been to avoid anything that would stick out to careful readers as obviously amateurish.

Page Layout

Trim size (that is, page size), if one's using the standard CreateSpace sizes, will most likely be in the 5" x 8" to 5.5" x 8.5" range; anything much larger stops looking like a novel.  Margins are mirrored (inside/outside rather than left/right), with extra space on the inside for binding.  I tried 0.4" outside margins, but that left the pages far too cramped; they've ended up over 0.6".

The pages with the story will have page numbers and running heads (those lines at the top of the page with author name and/or book title and/or chapter title), except the first page of a chapter, which has a page number only.  Front matter pages (title page, copyright page, table of contents) and blank pages don't have either page numbers or running heads.  Page numbers and running heads should be centred or mirrored (e.g., left-justified on the lefthand page, right-justified on the righthand page).

Normal page numbers start on the first page of the story, which is always a righthand page.  So any two-page spread in the finished book should have an even number on the left and an odd number on the right.  (In older terminology, the right/odd page is the recto and the left/even page is the verso.)

The running head is usually different on odd and even pages; author--title seems to be a fairly common pair (for left/even--right/odd).  In Word, this can be handled by section breaks between chapters and the 'different first page' and 'different odd & even pages' checkboxes on the header design ribbon (and by judicious fiddling with the 'link to previous' setting; Philipp's version of Word seems to change header/footer margins spontaneously).

Paragraph Settings

Typical body-text for a novel has:

  • justification (to both margins);
  • fairly small first-line indents, perhaps 0.2"-0.3" (not a manual tab!);
  • no extra space between paragraphs;
  • a serif font.

Common, default fonts (like Times New Roman) look very MS-Word-y.  Variations on Garamond come up quite high on most lists of recommended typefaces, so I chose one of those.


A chapter heading usually falls partway (perhaps a third of the way) down a page.  We played with several different designs (typefaces, decorative elements, etc.) for chapter titles and printed sample pages before deciding on one for each book.  Using the Heading 1 style for chapter titles lets one easily generate a table of contents (from the Reference ribbon).

The first paragraph of a chapter isn't ordinarily indented.  A drop cap (large first letter of a chapter, usually with the rest of the word in all caps or small caps) can be a nice touch but doesn't always work properly in Word: letters that are broader at the bottom than at the top (e.g., A or L) leave too much space before the rest of the first word and (comparatively) no space before the first word of the next line.  One workaround is to make a clear textbox with the first letter (in the right typeface and size) and place it where a drop cap would be, behind or in front of the other text (that is, without wordwrap); the other text can then be positioned around it, using spaces, line breaks, and possibly some distributed justification.  (Note that spacing around text boxes can change in unpredictable ways when a Word doc is converted to a PDF.)

Tweaking Things

Once the general settings are applied, it's time to go through the whole text and fix awkward-looking spots.  Things for which to watch:

  • large gaps in justified lines;
  • very short end-of-paragraph lines;
  • very short end-of-chapter pages (e.g., 1-4 lines);
  • stacks of words or punctuation (e.g., several lines beginning with the same words or ending with hyphens);
  • widows/orphans (first or last line of a paragraph stranded at the top or bottom of a page).

These things often depend on personal taste; e.g., I tend to prefer a widow/orphan (as long as it's close to a full line) to pages of uneven length.  I was able to fix most awkward spots by tightening them with hyphenation or slightly-condensed spacing (using the second tab of the Font dialogue; I condensed some lines by 0.1 pt, or 0.2 pt when really necessary, but never more, because that looked too cramped to me).  Hyphens make words slightly harder to read, so they're best used only in common nouns (that is, not in names) and only in standard positions (not always predictable, but marked in most dictionaries).  If all else fails, one can alter the text to something that fits better.  (I mostly tried to avoid this.)

After all that, print layout still isn't done!  Converting a Word doc to a PDF can introduce new problems, so the PDF also has to be checked carefully.

By comparison, ebook layout is easy enough that I don't have anything to say about it.  The next post in this series is likely to cover assorted things that come up before release.

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