Paper Books in an Electronic Age

A lot of writers these days are publishing ebooks only. Even old-style publishing companies will now only offer ebook-only contracts to new authors. There are a number of reasons for this. Foremost among them is the lower cost and higher return on investment in producing and distributing a book in electronic form as opposed to its paper version. Indie authors may also go on at length about the perceived rush to ereaders and the ability to offer low prices to the consumer. All of these are valid reasons. But the main reason, I suspect, is that ebook publishing is just plain easier to do than paper. Put in another way, formatting for paper is a royal pain in the ass.

An ebook file, you see, is one page long. Oh, the page may go on for several hundred screen shots that masquerade as pages. But it is really one uninterrupted page of reflowable text. What that means is that it’s the reader and not the author who has the ability-through a menu on an ereader or tablet-to configure the font style and the size of the print, making page numbers redundant. So all the author needs to provide is a clean manuscript using a standard font (Garamond or Times New Roman, for instance), with chapter headings marked using the Styles menu in Word. Most ebook publishing platforms accept either .docx or .doc files, which they automatically convert into .epub or .mobi files as needed. Then all you do is hit the publish and voila your ebook is instantly published. No fuss, no muss.

Paper, on the other hand, requires some attention. First, you need to decide what size your book is going to be. Six by nine, the standard for hardcovers? Or five by eight for a trade paperback? If you want to go larger or smaller, check with your print on demand (aka POD) publisher. The measurements may not be exactly what you think they are. Then click on the page layout tab in your Word program, and resize the page.

After you’ve done that, you need to adjust the margins. Pick up a paper book that you like the look of and measure how much space there is from the block of text to the edge of the page. You need this measurement for the top and bottom of the page as well as inner and outer edges. The inner edge should be a bit wider than the outer edge to make allowances for the binding. While you’re at it, make sure that your pages are set for mirrored margins. There ‘s a small pull-down menu on the page layout tab. You should see it when you set your page size.

Of course, the text itself should be fully justified amd single-spaced. The font size for most books runs between ten and twelve points. Anything smaller than that is too small to be read comfortably-ten point font is really pushing it-while fourteen points is considered large print. If you want to publish a large print version, go for it.

Then you need to separate your front matter, which is the title page and copyright notice, plus any dedications and list of previously published books, from the main text. Insert a section break here. You will find it under the page layout tab under “breaks.” Make sure it is a section break and not a page break. Use “section break, odd page” so that the beginning of the first chapter starts in the right place. At the end of the first chapter, insert a “section break, next page” until you reach the end of the book.

Next, you need page numbers. Hit the insert tab at the top of the page and click on “page numbers” to proceed with formatting. This part is tricky. You need to click on the “link to previous” box to disable it. Otherwise, you’ll end up with page numbers on the front matter, and you don’t want that. Do a right click on the “page numbers” menu to format how you want them to look. Then do the same with succeeding chapters until the end. Just make sure that when you are formatting after chapter one, that you click on the box marked “continue from previous” so that you don’t end up with each chapter marked 1-2-3-4-5-etc. It will save you a lot of frustration.

Then you’ll need to add the running headers on the top of the page. This is the little banner which announces the author, title, and possibly chapter name of the book. Go back into the “insert” tab and select “headers.” Right click on that and select “edit header” to proceed. You’ll need to do this every time. Be sure to check off all the boxes marked “different first page”, “different odd and even pages”, and so on. Don’t forget to disable the “link to previous” too. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a running header on your front matter, and no, you don’t want that, either. Then start with the second page of the first chapter, select the header style you want, and type in your first and last name or the chapter name, if it has one. Gon on to the next page and do the same thing, only this time put in the book title. Proceed until the end of the book.

When you’ve finally sweated it out and have your formatting done, you need to save it as a PDF file. Look it over, making sure that the pages are in the right places and you’ve remembered to put the section breaks where they need to be.

Log in to your account at your POD publisher and follow their directions in uploading your PDF. There is usually a twenty-four to forty-eight hour delay while they check your file for printability. They will not check for anything else, so any spelling or grammar errors are on you. If something comes back showing an error, you’ll have to fix it in your .doc or docx file before converting the corrected file to PDF and resubmitting it. If they say all is okay on their end, you need to proofread the finished file before giving the final okay. If it’s your first book, then order a paper copy-this is not free-and read it carefully before approving it. People have reported weird things happening to the text during one file conversion or another, and it’s best to be careful. If you have more than one book under your belt, then either use an online reviewer (warning, they don’t work with all browsers, enlist tech support if needed), or simply download a PDF version and read it from that.

Then, at long last, if everything looks satisfactory, hit the publish button and in 3-5 days, your book is ready for purchase.

All of this is by way of explaining my mortification when I reread my proof copy of A City of Stone last week to check on some detail of the plot, and discovered that two whole sections had missing italics during nonverbal communications with one of the ghosts of the story. Which rendered those passages nearly incomprehensible, since there was no way to distinguish the POV character’s thoughts from the communication he was getting. Upon investigation, I discovered that all of my various PDF files had that same flaw. Which meant that I had to make a copy of my ebook file and start the whole formatting process from scratch. Which is another way of explaining why this blog post is a week late.

Sorry about that. Sometimes these things happen. Here’s hoping for smooth sailing from here on out.



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