What’s my writing week been about? Formatting The Trials of Hercules for print. I went half-blind getting through it, but now the proof copy is on its way (insert cheers and applause)!! So I figured this week’s post should be all about showing you how to get the inside of your book looking good.
Yes, everyone is going to judge your book by its cover and an eye-catching cover is mandatory for your book. However, don’t forget what your mom said, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” Okay, she may have been telling you this during a teenage bout of angst over your looks, or when trying to set you up with some dorky guy, but it’s true: If the inside of your book sucks, people are going to question your writing skills. And they may not even read your book.
Now, I’m not talking about e-book formatting here. Once you get the hang of it, e-book formatting is pretty straight forward especially since less formatting is actually better for your e-books. Plus, as long as the book doesn’t have a bunch of funky coding that makes it impossible to navigate, people are pretty forgiving if your e-book isn’t perfectly formatted.
Not so with print books. Print books have to look good. After all, people are paying a fair amount of money for print books (mine are typically about 3 times more than my e-books), so you really ought to give your customers a pretty product.
Along with looking marvelous, your book also need to be formatted in a way that keeps your page numbers down while still being legible. Why? Because the more pages your book has, the more it costs to print. The more your print costs are means either 1) you have to set a high retail price or 2) you have to give up your profits to offer a reasonable price.
And notice I said it still has to be legible. Do not try to save pages by throwing all your text into a super tiny font. Please! Trust me, even if your book is the best tome ever written, most people don’t want to strain their eyes to read your book or hold a magnifying glass over the text as they read. Trust me, I have several books on my shelf I refuse to read because I don’t want to struggle through the teensy tiny font.
Some Basic DOs & DON’Ts of Print Book Formatting
So how do you make a book that’s read-able, but still profitable? Geez, that’s an entire book in itself, but here are some basic tips for those of you who do most of your book formatting through Word (because if you’re using a design program, I’m going to assume you already know how to format books)…
DO pick a legible, non-condensed font. Condensed means the font was created for newspapers so the editors could cram as many words as possible per line. For example Times New Roman. Non-condensed fonts that look great in print include Century, Bookman Old Style, Garamond, Book Antiqua and Georgia.
DON’T go below a 10-point font. Preferably, you’ll save everyone’s eyes and choose 11 or 12 points. Keep in mind that some fonts are just as readable at 11 points as others are at 12 and will save you loads of page space (Garamond and Book Antiqua are good examples).
DO print some test pages to evaluate a few font choices. There are simply some things you can’t judge on a computer screen. Have others vote on the fonts as well.
DO start your chapters on new pages. I know this takes up space, but it looks much more professional in most cases. Start the chapter about one-third of the way down the page and be sure your chapter headings are in a bigger, bolder, and preferably different font than your text.
DON’T fret about starting chapters on only the right hand pages. If you do, you’ll be adding tons of pages to your book. The only chapter you should really worry about getting on the right hand page is Chapter One. After that, left or right, who cares?
DO justify your text. And DON’T forget to add hyphenation. When you justify without hyphenation, Word will add all sorts of funky space between your words. Once you tell Word to automatically hyphenate (it’s in the Page Layout area), your text will look much better and you’ll save a bit of space.
DO look over your entire manuscript before you upload it. It’s easiest to do this by shrinking the view to about 40 to 50% and looking over several pages at once. Look for final pages of chapters that have only one to three lines on them followed by tons of white (aka “profit-eating”) space. Then…
DO play with widows and orphans. In most cases, Word is automatically set to keep widows and orphans together. This means that it won’t place the last line of a paragraph on the next page or the first line of a paragraph at the end of page (or rather, it won’t start or end a page with an “abandoned” line of text). When Word forces lines to stick together, it leaves empty space at the end of a page. For the most part, this does look better and creates a better flow for readers’ eyes and you should leave them, but if you need to save space at the end of a chapter, play with the widows and orphans in that chapter. By telling Word to not keep widows and orphans together (under the Paragraph tool), you can move up those few final lines of text and get rid of that profit-eating white space at the end of the chapter.
DON’T forget your publisher’s margin rules. Nothing is worse than thinking you have a perfectly formatted book then you find out you have to reset the margins to meet your publisher’s requirements.
DO learn how to use the Mirrored Image setting. If you have a book that’s over a certain number of pages (about 150), you’ll need an inside gutter so your text doesn’t get lost in the binding. Now, to save space, you may have set your book with rather narrow margins such as a 0.5-inch left and right margin. But to clear the gutter on the inside, you’re going to need 0.75 inches. Using a 0.75-inch margin on both left and right will add about 10% more pages to your book. Yikes! Instead of setting both margins to 0.75, locate the Mirrored Indent margin under Page Layout and set the inside margin to 0.75 and the outside to 0.5. Voila! You’ll be surprised how few pages this adds to your book and it makes your publisher happy.
DON’T add page numbers to your first few pages such as the title page, Table of Contents, copyright page, etc. Start numbering on the first page of Chapter One. How? Add a section break before chapter one. This is a bit tricky and cumbersome when you first start doing it, but it looks so much better…which reminds me that I need to re-format some of my older books.
DO order a proof copy. Yes, if your publisher doesn’t offer free proofs, it costs about $10 to print and ship a proof copy. But c’mon, you’re saving hundreds of dollars (or euro, or pounds, or whatever) by not hiring a professional to format your book. Spend the ten damn dollars and look over your book. Believe me, there are some crazy obvious things you miss looking at an online proof.