10 things I have learned whilst formatting a book in MS Word

  1. Apparently, if you’re going to be making changes to your book after formatting, MS Word is your best choice as it’s easier to edit content. That, and InDesign is just scary if you don’t know how to use it at all, really – so what hope would one have when it comes to formatting a whole novel?
  2. You’ll probably start with a font size which will make your book seem shorter. But then you’ll change the page size, line spacing and margins, and suddenly your book will seem longer. Much longer. Not good if you’re self publishing and more pages=less profit.
  3. It is surprising how bookish your book will look with only the things mentioned in (2) formatted. Because yes, surprisingly, there is more. Once you do get to the ‘more’ part, MS Word will start to seem like a living, thinking thing that does illogical things just to annoy you. This sense of working with a living, thinking thing will not deter you from insulting it frequently with all kinds of profanities, however, and you will feel no guilt in doing so.
  4. If you’re a first time self-publisher and have no experience in publishing, well, anything, you’ll inevitably have to refer to other (more traditionally published) novels to figure out what yours should look like. This is useful, and you should do it. Pick one book you like the look of and use it as a point of reference. Preferably something from your genre. After all, you don’t want your crime-thriller looking like erotic fiction (though if it’s all about tension anyway, what’s really the difference?).
  5. Referring back to point (3). You will format, you will think you are done, and then you will notice something that isn’t as it should be. For example, paragraphs breaking on the next page, thus giving you uneven line-to-page frequency. (Tip: if you have this problem, uncheck window/orphan control in format/paragraph for the whole document to fill your pages completely with lots of lovely prose). There will be other things, but at least you will feel accomplished when you fix them.
  6. Even if you do the above and check off window/orphan control, if you have inserted chapter dividers that look fancy, this will knock off your layout on your lovely new-chapter pages. Still trying to figure out how to fix that one without simply changing the font size of the empty line above said fancy chapter dividers (because, somehow, that seems crude).
  7. Headers and footers are important – format them well! Choose ‘different odd/even pages’ and make sure you mirror your margins through format/document. This does something else to make it look more bookish. From looking at various books I have determined that authors usually have their name on the even page and the title of the book on the odd page.
  8. Inserting Section Breaks is an absolute nightmare. Seriously, first you figure out that you’re supposed to inset a Section Break relative to whether it’s an odd page or an even page, then you figure out how to get the page numbers to start at ‘1’ on the fourth actual page, and then you realise through exporting to PDF that each new Section Break has skipped a page number and thus created a ‘phantom page’ with nothing on it before every chapter in your document. Huzzah.
  9. Confident in all the abilities you have learned (as listed above), you calmly go through the document to rectify the problem, only to have one Section Break change reset all the others into a paradoxical chaos of wrong numbers and jumps and gaps where your book is suddenly longer or shorter than it actually is (but not really, hence the number-paradox).
  10. You fix the above (9) without screwing everything else up. But you’re still editing or there’s a few things left to change. You now wish you had finished the final draft before even attempting formatting, because you’re terrified the slightest change might destroy everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Who knows? Maybe a paragraph more or less will confuse everything and you’ll be stuck undoing everything you’ve done in order to redo it properly. Let’s hope not.
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