A Quick Prep Guide for the Absolute Beginner.
These are basic need-to-know issues for first-time publishers using a print-on-demand (POD) provider who offers free setup services.
After fulfilling your responsibilities to write the very best story you can, and to proofread, revise and polish it to its highest possible luster, you have to learn the role of compositor, to convert your manuscript to print format.
You do NOT need special publishing software to do this. The old standbys are more than sufficient (MSWord, Adobe PDF, Apache Open Office).
Notes on Manuscript Conversion:
Save the trim size decision until you have your first draft editing entirely out of the way. Make extra copies of your edited manuscript for experimentation, to find the right trim size (6 x 9 is a good standard size for most books of more than 100 pages). The smaller the trim size, the thicker the book, and the harder it will be to hold open.
You may want a different font than Ties New Roman for publication; experiment to find what you like, but Garamond is a very good one, commonly used by the big publishers; Palatino Linotype is nice, too. Just make sure it has serifs: Sans serif fonts are harder to read, especially for older folks, and Baby Boomers will be a large part of your audience. Font choice will affect font size, which will affect line spacing (either single or 1.15) and ultimately page count and trim size. Font size, compression, and kerning will affect your page count, as well as the appearance of your book.
Page numbering will follow the trim size, so add numbers to the header or footer when that decision is made (top or bottom page numbers). The number of pages will affect production cost, and therefore MSRP or list price, which determines your royalty. Check list prices for other books in your genre that are approximately the size yours will be, when making your pricing decision.
If working with footnotes, decide whether to put them at the bottom of the page, the end of the chapter, or all at the end of the book. Each option has advantages. Formatting decisions for these will also significantly affect publication length and appearance.
Save inserting illustrations until you know approximately how many pages you have in the desired trim size. The page count will balloon if there are many illustrations. Word wrap formatting for pictures may need to be changed, and the unseen margin of an illustration can play hob with page margins. Temporarily add a line to the circumference of each picture, to see how far that margin extends, because the margin may need to cropped to get the illustration to work. The best graphics format is PNG.
White space in the right proportion on the page is important for readability, so the margins chosen for publication will influence the harmonious interface of all these variables. Look at traditionally published books, and copy a pattern you like. Factor in header and footer space, which, in addition to pagination, includes your name and the name of the book and / or chapter title. Add a gutter allowance of an extra 0.25 to 0.3 inch to the inner margin, and mirror the margins to get right- and left-hand pages. The gutter has to do with the space needed for binding.
If you’re indenting paragraphs, justify the lines for a straight right margin; a ragged right can be used only if paragraphs are not indented (ragged right looks sloppy and amateurish if paragraphs are indented), and is best used for non-fiction. For fiction, indented paragraphs with justified right margins are better, because their anonymous uniformity helps the reader get out of reality and into the story. The length of paragraphs will also affect what margin width feels good to the eye. If using block quotes, there will be some hard work formatting and reformatting margin changes.
For justified right margins, you’ll need to enable automatic hyphenation, to keep paragraphs from looking gap-toothed. The syllables won’t always be exactly correct, but do not use “hard” hyphenation to fix that, because any changes to the text before a hard hyphen will make that word migrate to the middle of a line. The same sneaky techniques that work for manual widow and orphan control work for fixing incorrect auto-hyphenation.
Keep fancy formatting stuff to a minimum (such as drop caps, or first-few-words-of-chapter in all caps, and symbols other than straight lines or asterisks in section breaks), because they can turn into big headaches if you decide to change fonts.
Print some book-fold chapters with the variables of choice, to get a feel for all this in the flesh.
If this is clear as mud, tell me in the comments section, and I’ll try to filter out the sludge.
Look for more Indie Author posts!