Hazel Buchanan

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In the formatting jungle, on the path to despair..

Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 23 January, 2016 at 2:30

I quite like formatting. I know many authors don't, but I guess it appeals to a particular facet of my personality. ('Anal', I hear a close friend of mine suggest.) I'm going to go with 'analytical'. Either way, I've always been prepared to put in the hours to achieve the end result. And it has to be a good one. I don't stop until it is. I wouldn't call the process creative, but it brings its own reward.


Surviving Anna was already formatted when I made the decision to self-publish. Or, so I thought. The manuscript over which I had sweated and cried for a number of years was formatted to present to an agent or trade publishing house. I had carefully gone through and replaced all my instinctive italics with word underline. Tabs marked the beginning of every paragraph, except each chapter's first. Double line spacing and left justification in 12 pt Times New Roman was consistent throughout.


And then I discovered KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and their e-book specifications.


I'd have to say, to start with, I took it on the chin. I know a bit about formatting for websites and different browsers, so I understood the need to make my file available for multiple online platforms. Still, the process took me a surprising number of hours. I think removing the paragraph tabs was the part I found most frustrating, until I discovered an online post by a smart and helpful soul. It's easy, once you know how. The paragraph indents, to replace the missing tabs, took quite a while. Creating a copyright page, redoing the headers, working out fonts, re-centring the little stars I have in a few places where I want to break up the text without creating a new chapter - it all takes time.


And that's quite aside from working out whether or not I need an ISBN for an e-book, and whether I want to risk taking part in KDP Select. Or risk staying out. Royalties and pricing all need to be considered and added to the growing list of 'tasks for another day'.


And then there's the cover. Why hadn't I thought about the cover? I guess that was something I had always assumed my publisher would take care of. But, of course, that person is me. So, now I have to decide if I'm willing to pay $500-$600 to a graphic designer, or if I'm happy to get a cheap and cheerful stock design for under $200. Frankly, neither of those options seems like a good one. Instead, I talk to my son. Not the oldest boy, who is busily learning accounting to sort out his tax. I go to the youngest, who has just won a $500 prize for his artwork in a local competition. I describe roughly what I'm after and offer to pay for the result. He wants a percentage. (Smart lad - something's rubbing off from his big brother.) I refuse and offer a flat rate, which subsequently seems to have been going up by the day. He probably senses he's got me over a barrel. I want his artwork. I want it NOW. And I'd rather part with my hard-earned cash to him than to anybody else. Frustratingly, he's in the middle of an English assessment which is very nearly due.


Patience! Not one of my virtues.


In the meantime, I've uploaded my reformatted file to the KDP website, published it cover-less by mistake and had to depublish it. Not a big deal, and actually a worthwhile error to make, as it turns out. Looking at it on a Kindle app on my laptop, it's not a bad result. I can't say I like it, but everything's in the right place. In iPad view, it's quite a different story. My chapter headings and the little stars are independently off-centre. And on neither platform does my wretched Table of Contents actually work. I had my suspicions about that when I was making it. KDP insists you remove the page numbers and leave the chapter headings, because e-books resize and number their pages according to the viewer's choice of font and size. But the hyperlinks are surely embedded in the page numbers, and, unsurprisingly, disappear when deleted. I'm going to have to Google that one and figure out exactly where my Table of Contents went wrong.


So KDP's on hold, while I'm waiting for my artist son to draw up a cover. I've got some reformatting and a Table of Contents to work on. But I feel like the e-book is kind of in-hand. My next step is to check out Print on Demand with CreateSpace and see what the requirements are there.


Naturally, they're totally different. This time, I need to right justify. I get to choose the fonts and, so long as they're embedded, I can apparently go to town. But only when I'm finally uploading do I discover that the old Word for Mac version I'm using doesn't do embedded fonts. Then I actually have to find out what they are. Fortunately, converting the file to a PDF solves the problem.


Choosing the fonts really ought to be fun. I look around on Google or a while and end up deciding on Garamond 11 pt, because there doesn't seem a good reason not to and I want to move on. My tabs could go back in, but in the end I stick with paragraph indents. If only margins could be that straightforward!


I spend hours reading about typesetting, trim sizes, inside and outside margins, the 'golden ratio', line width, white space, leading (pronounced ledding), gutters and drainpipes. (Okay, I made up the drainpipes.) At the end of the day, I realize the book I want to design is going to have a zillion pages and cost a fortune to print. I sleep on it, and the next morning enlist my husband in picking which of the paperbacks we own are most pleasing to the eye. We fairly quickly agree on a trim size. Margins take longer. By this time, I've abandoned the separate gutter idea, so we're focusing on a decent outside margin and a larger inside one.


Although when writing, it is normal to centre the text on the page, typesetting for print requires something different. For a black-and-white fiction book, the most critical margin is the inside one (left on a right-hand page and vice versa). This margin needs to be big enough to accommodate the binding and allow words on the inside edge to be clearly visible despite the inevitable curve of the page. We look, we study, we criticize - other people's books, that is. We get out a ruler. We measure the covers and outside margins of the books we like the look of, and subtract the second from the first. At last, we have our inside margin measurements. Except that no two are the same. With mounting desperation, we measure the width of the visible text. I want it to be wide enough that the block of text on each page looks chunky and inviting, not skinny, tall and mean. I'm very taken with the 'golden ratio' and the aspiration of 65-70 characters on a line, but I'm also mindful of the cost per page and the difference between printing 340 pages and nearly 400. It's all a compromise. Together we come to a decision, and I resolve then and there not to give margins any more of my head space.

Categories: Getting Published

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