Indie Author-Publishers: Talent Unbound! (Part 4).

Sneaky Text Tweaks for Indie Author-Publishers.

As promised in prior posts in this series, here are some tips that can help manually manage widow and orphan control, unsightly gaps in justified text, and faulty automatic hyphenation, when preparing a manuscript for Indie Publishing.


The merest fraction of an inch more or less in a side margin can change the width of a line of text, and a similar increase or decrease in a top or bottom margin will affect the number of lines on a page. Changing a side margin may be enough to do away with any of the above-mentioned problems, while changing top or bottom margins will remedy widows and orphans (check the page with a test print to see which is least likely to draw attention to itself). You may need to format a whole chapter in that margin size, so it won’t be noticeable.

Font size.

Did you know that font size doesn’t always have to be a whole number? Try adjusting the font size in increments of 0.5 (i. e., 11.5, 12.5, etc.). You may need to format a large amount of text in the new size, so there won’t be just one word standing out that’s just a hair bigger or smaller than the rest. This works best with more decorative fonts, and on pages that have text which is broken up by illustrations.

Font compression or expansion.

Font compression and expansion are sometimes expressed in percentages. They can often be fine-tuned in increments of 0.5, too. A very small compression or expansion of a single word in a line may be enough to shorten or lengthen that line enough to get rid of a gap or a stupidly placed automatic hyphenation, or to tighten or loosen a paragraph enough to eliminate a widow or orphan. Keep the squish or the stretch as tiny as possible, so it doesn’t draw attention to itself. If necessary, a whole sentence or paragraph can be compressed or expanded to take care of stubborn spacing problems, but be careful with large-scale compression or expansion, such as for the whole book (something you might want to do to economize on page length, to reduce printing cost): Text that’s squeezed too tight can become hard to read (and in the worst cases, the letters can begin to overlap), and letters that are too far apart just look goofy (it’s that gap-toothed grin thing, again).


This kind of text compression is usually a single on/off setting. When kerning is turned on, what it does is to selectively place certain combinations of letters closer together, which only microscopically shortens individual words, but over the length of a whole paragraph, the compression makes a significant difference in line length without looking odd (the way simple compression can sometimes look). Kerning also enhances the overall appearance of the text. It can be done for just a sentence or paragraph at a time, or for a complete manuscript. If enabled for the whole book, it can sometimes reduce the page count a little.

Ligatures function in a similar way to that of kerning.  They are often characteristic of serif fonts (serifs are the tiny dots and flourishes that appear at the tips of letters). A common example of a ligature is when the terminal dot at the top end of a lower-case “f” connects with the jot above a lower-case “i.” This does away with a possibly messy double-dotted appearance, and has the effect of tightening up that pair of letters, somewhat like kerning. If ligatures annoy you (we all have our little pet peeves), you may be able to get rid of them by expanding the words in which they appear, but that may turn out to be more work than it’s worth.

Font style.

Not all 12-point fonts are created equal: 12-point Times New Roman has different sized characters to 12-point Garamond, so they take up different amounts of space. Changing fonts will therefore change total page count. Proportional fonts (like TNR) also have a bit of kerning built into them, often including the use of ligatures, whereas in a monotype font (the classic example is Courier, which replicates traditional typewriter output), all of the letters are always the same distance apart.  Changing from a monotype font to a proportional font will also change total page count, as well as affecting where auto-hyphenation occurs and modifying the widow and orphan incidence, although problems with line or page appearance may still appear.

There are screen fonts and printable fonts (often called “TrueType” fonts). A screen font is one that will only appear in your own virtual copy, often because the license to use it exists solely for the exact software package that came with the computer. Screen fonts  will not display or print on someone else’s hardware (including that of your print-on-demand provider), and they cannot be embedded because of the digital rights management that goes with them. This problem can run into money wasted on faulty proof copies, until you figure out what to substitute that will work. I once had a ghastly problem with a font that would not embed, preventing the printing of a symbol, and I ended up converting the desired character to a graphics element, in order to get it to display properly in print.

Line spacing.

This adjustment can alter the length of paragraphs and pages, pushing lines up or down to split paragraphs at different levels and thus get rid of widows and orphans; however, it’s best done for the whole manuscript, to keep the appearance uniform. In addition, the visually appropriate amount of white space between lines is limited: add too much, and your book begins to look like a primer for beginning readers. Most traditionally published books space their lines at 1.15, which is the easiest to read and the most attractive arrangement. Single-line spacing will do, if you’re in need of shortening your overall page count, but tightening up the line spacing too much has a similar crowded effect as does text that’s been overly compressed, making the printing hard to read. Double- or triple-line spacing is not done in fiction publishing, except for occasional special visual effects (make sure your genre justifies its use); in non-fiction, widely spaced lines of type may appear in some kinds of textbooks or workbooks, or books for young readers.

A word of advice.

When fiddling with formatting, be sure you have saved a clean backup copy of your manuscript, because any of these manipulations can have unexpectedly nasty results. If you haven’t already adjusted your editing preferences to enable a large number of “undo” operations, I’d also strongly recommend doing that before engaging in any text-tweaking virtual typesetting.

Finally, always print a short excerpt in book-fold format, to see how your changes turn out in the flesh: WYS on the screen is not necessarily always WYG on paper.

(If you’re curious to learn more about the typesetting aspect of publishing, you can probably find out more in any good encyclopedia.)


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