A Quick Prep Guide for the Absolute Beginner.
I am by no means an “expert” on independent publishing, but I want new writers to know that it can be done with run-of-the-mill hardware and software.
We’ll be talking about basic need-to-know issues for first-time publishers using a print-on-demand (POD) provider who offers free setup services.
To get your book setup for free, you have to perform all the roles of traditional publishing, including proofreading, content editing, copy editing, and setting type. Figure on its taking 9-18 months after you finish the rough draft to get to publication. It looks like a lot of work, and it is, but don’t let how it looks scare you off. It’s like learning to drive a standard transmission vehicle: itemized on paper, the steps look harder than they really are.
But first things first: getting the story out of your head and onto virtual paper.
While Writing Your Book:
There’s absolutely no need to invest in special writing software: to do so just adds length to your learning curve as an author. Whatever regular word-processing program you’re used to using (Apache OpenOffice, Microsoft Word) will serve just as well, if not better, because of the lack of distracting bells and whistles that come with the special software.
It’s a big temptation to try to format for printing as you go, by writing your book’s first draft in a trim-sized template, but don’t do it. Even if you’re writing a very short novella, trying to write in final format leads to more headaches than you likely have pills for, because the massive amount of revision that goes with proofreading and editing can affect the outcome in ways you don’t expect and don’t want in a print-ready copy, and which you’ll have to keep fixing every time there’s a re-write.
Make it easy on yourself, and do the initial creation in the traditional way: Type the first draft double-spaced with 1-inch margins on 8.5 x 11 virtual paper, but use a basic proportional font with serifs, such as 12-point Times New Roman (TNR), instead of Courier, and modern conventions (use italics instead of underlining). This will give you a hard copy you can read easily to start the proofreading and editing process.
Save your chapters separately: It’s easier to wrestle baby alligators than to tackle The Big Momma. Use the standard convention for scene and / or section breaks: a line of extra white space with three centered, spaced asterisks is easiest to find when scanning the manuscript.
Turn off extra spacing between paragraphs, unless you’re writing nonfiction and will not be indenting paragraphs. If indenting, set your paragraph indents to 0.25 or 0.3 (don’t use the tab).
Use manual page breaks, and not rows of carriage return / line feed (CRLF) to get to the start of a new page. Also, use the “space before paragraph” setting to get accurate white space heading the tops of new chapters, instead of rows of CRLF.
A widow is part of sentence standing alone at the beginning of a page, or the first line of a paragraph standing alone at the end of a page; an orphan is the last word of a paragraph stranded at the top of a page. These situations are immaterial during the rough draft stage. Turn off widow and orphan control until you convert your edited manuscript to your chosen trim size; until then, you don’t need it, and it doesn’t do you any good, anyway, because it can skew your page count. Leaving widow and orphan control on will also yield goofy-looking pages, because the bottom margin usually gets too big in an irregular way. You may choose to leave widow and orphan control off forever, and manually correct for widows and orphans. There are several sneaky ways to do this, which I’ll cover in a future post.
If all this is clear as mud, tell me in the comments section, and I’ll try to filter out the sludge.
Look for more Indie Publisher posts! Next time: “setting type” on your manuscript.