Before I get started, I want to thank everyone for answering my questions last week. I’ll be pulling your responses together and posting the results in the next few weeks (assuming real life settles down. It has been “interesting” of late).
Recently, formatting has been a topic of discussion with some of my writer friends. I knew I’d written about it before but was surprised to realize it’s been more than 2 years. So I thought I’d revisit the topic. Much of what I wrote before still holds but, as with anything, there are a few tweaks to the articles I’d like to make.
I’ll start out by saying I’m lazy. When I start a new project, I set up the document so that I have to make minimal formatting changes when it comes to converting it for either print or digital formats. The only real change I have to make is in line spacing. When I write, I have line spacing set at 1.5 o 2 lines. When I convert to digital that gets changed to 1.15 line and print depends on several factors but it, too, is usually around 1.15. But more on that later.
I also write in Word. No, I’m not going to get into a debate about what word processor program is best. I use Word for several reasons. First, it is the one I’m most familiar with. Second, it’s review function is, in my opinion, the best one of the major word processing programs available. Third, old Word Perfect (which rocked) does not convert well into e-books. Yes, there are issues with Word but the advantages outweigh them. But that doesn’t mean you have to use it. My only caveat is that you need to do two things with regard to any program you use. First, you have to make sure you understand the licensing you are agreeing to. Some licenses do not allow you to use the program for commercial purposes. Others restrict where you can use that file for commercial purposes (Apple). You also have to know what sort of licensing you are getting when it comes to the fonts included with the program. So read the boilerplate, even if your eyes start to glaze over.
The second issue is you have to understand that each of these programs have junk code written into them. That code can cause problems when your files are being converted into e-books. There are ways around it, ways that don’t require going old school and hand-coding the html. More on that later.
I’m not going to completely recreate my original post on formatting your document at the writing level. You can find it here. When you are getting started, here are a couple of things to remember. Don’t ever, EVER use “tab” when you start a new paragraph. Set first line indent in your paragraph formatting box. Don’t use two spaces at the end of a sentence. (It is no longer taught in keyboarding classes, so it is an indication you are not “young”. Yes, it can matter.)
Now, another general comment. Most of the online outlets require a table of contents for e-books. Don’t panic. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to manually create one. In fact, I haven’t included a ToC page in a work of fiction in the last five years. Instead, I use what’s called an “Active Table of Contents”. If you use the Headings options in your word processing program, the Active Table of Contents will be automatically generated. That will satisfy Amazon and the other major players. More importantly, it means you don’t have to worry about whether you have put the ToC in the proper place in your book. (Remember, Amazon has now forbidden placement of the ToC at the back of a book because less than ethical authors were doing so to work the system of page turns in Kindle Unlimited.)
Now, for the nitty gritty of formatting. This is all general information and can be tweaked to fit what you like the best. Remember, this is initially for writing the manuscript and for digital conversion. (Note: I tend to increase the font size on Heading 1. I haven’t done so here because some sites like Smashwords have a font size limit and I can’t remember it off the top of my head.) One other thing to consider. You want your e-book or print book to look as “professional” or “traditional” as what readers are used to. That means you have to do your homework and discover what is standard for your genre. The information below is a starting point and can — and should — be tweaked to make it look the best for your genre and length.
Heading 1 (for section titles or chapter titles)
- Font — Georgia
- Size — 14 (you can go to 16 if you want but I wouldn’t recommend going any larger. Remember that a lot of folks read on their phones and a larger font will do odd things on their screen)
- Special characteristics — Bold Italic
- Alignment — Centered (Check to make sure first line indent has not be applied.)
- Spacing — will correspond with what I use for the rest of the book.
Heading 2 (used only if I am using Heading 1 for anything other than chapter headings)
- Font — Georgia
- Size — 14
- Special characteristics — Bold
- Alignment — Centered (Check to make sure first line indent has not been applied.)
- Spacing — will correspond with what I use for the rest of the book.
Normal (used for the body of the text)
- Font — Georgia (This is my personal preference, but you can use Times New Roman, Garamond or others. My recommendation is to check to see what other books in your genre use.)
- Size — 12
- Special characteristics — None
- Alignment — left
- First line indent of 0.3 to 0.33
- Spacing — 1.15
Here are a couple of things to remember:
- No tabs.
- No spacing before or after paragraphs.
- When you have section breaks within a paragraph, use something to denote the break. I use * * * to do so. It is centered and, using the paragraph options dialog box, I remove the first line indent. You can use other indicators but, if you use special characters, make sure you have the license to do so.
- Also in the paragraph dialog box, be sure you turn off the widows and orphan option.
- Have a “page break” at the end of each chapter. This will make your reader have to “turn the page” to begin the next chapter, thereby making your e-book more like a “real” book. To insert a page break, you can either go to “Insert” at the top of your page and then click on page break or your can simply hit CTRL and Enter at the same time.
- When showing internal thoughts, most authors use italics. That is what the reader is used to, at least here in the States.
- I keep my margins and paper size — at this point — at 1 inch all the way around and at 8 1/2 by 11.
Something else I have been doing for some time now is not indenting the first paragraph of each new chapter. That first line is left justified. I then capitalize and italicize the first word to three words. I don’t tend to do more than that because of the varied font sized readers can select on their own. The last thing I want is to cap a long phrase or the entire line and then have it looking weird to my reader because they have increased the font size and the flow of what looked find on my screen now takes up several lines.
They key is that our e-books needs to look as professional and “traditional” as anything our readers might buy. The second key we have to keep in mind is that not everyone reads our e-books on their phones or tablets. Some read on dedicated e-book readers. Despite what some of the so-called studies say, dedicated e-book readers are still popular and will continue to be as the population ages. Why? Because an e-ink screen is better for the eye. There is less reflection off the screen than there is from a tablet screen or even the printed page.
But that means we have to keep in mind that some of the fancy font work we can do for print or for files read on a tablet can’t be done for an e-ink reader. So, if you want that fancy first letter in a chapter, you need to consider doing it as an image instead of font. Why? Because it won’t translate properly to e-ink and your reader can be left with something that looks not only odd but might not even appear. Of course, the downside to using an image is that Amazon charges a transmission fee and the more images you have in a file, the larger the file size and the more that transmission fee will be. So, you find other ways to make the first line to “special”. That’s why I cap and italicize the first few words. I can get fancier with the print version.
If you do all this while writing, you have set yourself up for a very easy road to conversion for your e-book. Better yet, you have very little you will have to change for your print version. Most of those changes will be global search and replace, a few minutes at best.
I know I haven’t gotten into the nitty gritty of the conversion process yet. I’ll save that for next week. In the meantime, if you want to jump ahead, here’s a link to the earlier post about it. Yes, things have changed. But it is a good place to start. Otherwise, I’ll be back next week with an updated version.
Until then, ask any questions you might have, either about today’s post or about what you’d like me to cover next week.