“How Do I Format My Book?”

‘The Tragicall Hiftorie of Hamlet’ is only slightly sadder than ‘The Tragicall Hiftorie of Formatting’.

I’ll be upfront right away — if you need a good formatting how-to, Google onward or better yet, run off and buy Catherine Ryan Howard’s Self-Printed .  It will make the job easier.  However, if you’re about to lose your mind and want some comfort and camaraderie, then you’ve come to the right place.

Now, if you my age (mid-thirties) or older, you might have grown up wanting to be a writer, but you never thought once about growing up to be a ‘formatter’.  You honed your writing, and thought about book readings and tours, working well with your agent and editor, but you never thought much about self-publishing.

When I got serious about writing in the mid 90s, ‘vanity presses’ were still the main name for do-it-without-a-publisher printing.  For you youngsters, they were called that because — you guessed it — it was seen as vanity to publish a book the ‘real’ publishers didn’t think was good enough.  Of course, that’s a total fallacy, but a lot of people believed it.  It also might cost you $10,000 and you’d wind up with 1,000 copies out in your garage.

So I just assumed I’d never have to think about covers, copy editing, and FORMATTING.  I probably didn’t even know what that really meant.  Fast forward to this year, when I bought the above-mentioned book and started seeing my Athens Writers Association buddies bringing these beautiful, professional books into the world.  But behind every beautiful book came a horror story about formatting.

Still, I was a patient and smart woman — how hard could it be?  (long break for weeping here).

First, I couldn’t find any program that could save files as plain .DOC, not .DOCX (which I needed for Smashwords i.e. getting my e-book on Nook etc) except for Microsoft Word.  But I had never owned MS Word; I have gotten hooked on MS Publisher years ago and, like someone still typing that first draft on an old Smith Corona, I had never moved on.  So I broke down (despite a Windows 8-related grudge match with MS) and downloaded a trial of MS Office so I could try Word (verdict: LOVE it.  Must be an entirely different group than those Windows 8 tile-lovers).

So life was good, until I actually tried formatting.  See, following the advice in Self-Printed, I didn’t try anything fancy for my Kindle and Smashwords e-books — since an e-book is really a scroll-type document without real pages, it limits what you can do.

Not so with a paperback.  As soon as I started formatting my book ‘How To Come Alive: A Guidebook to Living the Life of Your Dreams’.  Two things became immediately apparent: I loved how beautiful and professional a real book could look and demons, DEMONS, must be in my computer.  At first the advice in the book helped me, but this was the brand-new Word and so I got a little lost, started pressing buttons randomly, and went way off the beaten path.  It was only the Headers and Page numbers that got me.

I would go through, think things were looking good and then, BOOM, everything would change and look wrong again.  It was also heartbreaking when it looked perfect in Word and then I saw my ‘digital proof’ copy from Createspace (the POD company that’s doing my paperback) and things were messed up AGAIN.  But I got it fix, for reals this time, and my good-looking, correct, paperback proof is now winging its way toward me.  If I can do it, you can do it.  Trust me.  And here are some tips I learned —

What I Wish I’d Known About Formatting

  • Use Page Break sparingly.  They have their place, but I was using them everywhere in the beginning and they were my chief problem when my ‘digital proof’ mysteriously looked bad.
  • ‘Link to Previous’ is the Devil.  Okay, say page 35 is a blank page and so you don’t want a page number on it — well, remember to click that button to un-link it (go to Insert-Header-edit Header to find the button on the Header and Footer tools area).  You’ll need to click on the page 35 page number area, then uncheck ‘Link to Previous’ as well as the page 36 page number area and uncheck ‘Link to Previous’ there.  It’s kind of like a chain of friends holding hands — Cindy 35 lets go of Lucy 34 so Cindy can do her thing (have no page numbers) but Joann 36 need to let go of Cindy 35 if she does want her and 37, 38, and 39 to have page numbers.
  • I kept having magical unwanted lines appear right below my header in the header box.  Don’t know why but they are easily gotten rid of — go to Home and then see a little square dotted-line box in the middle of the screen next to Styles.  It’s called Borders, click on it and then select No Borders (you need to have clicked on the header you want to change first).
  • Never give up.  I’m so glad I fought to get the headers, page numbers, and black pages I wanted — because the finished book is going to look incredible.
  • Spell check and proof read your work three more times than you think necessary — I let a few typos slip in during my e-book release and I have been eating humble pie ever since — not fun.

Formatting is hard, but some of the most rewarding things are.  It was hard to write a great book and now think how close you are to putting it in its best tuxedo so it can meet the world looking amazing.

YOU CAN DO IT.  Now go eat some chocolate and get this done!  Let me know below if you have any specific questions.  Good luck!

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