Formatting a book’s interior: Blissful tedium

There are few feelings better in this writing life of ours than when a project is nearing its completion. The heady early days of The Idea are long gone, the creative bursts of the planning stages when all the world seemed at your fingertips have passed, the love/hate relationship of the first full draft has already become simply the hate of the edit, the edit, the edit, the edit that just will not end – and then it finally does. Your bleary and blood-stained eyes at last can glance into the rearview mirror and see something of substance left behind. You are on your way to holding your book in your hands, and what a moment of glory that will be. Yet prior to that lie the finishing interior touches, and dealing with a few of them is what I want to consider in this week’s post.

If you are trad-pubbing you will have limited input on the aspects to be considered, but if you are self-pubbing then your project is YOUR project and a myriad of details will demand your attention. What size will you make your book? What font will you use? What font size? Do you want all chapters to begin on the right side (odd-numbered pages) of the book or don’t you care? Will you try to limit the total number of pages or let them run as they will dependent on the book’s dimensions? How will you divide your chapters and/or sections? Will you insert illustrations, images, photos, etc., or won’t you? If you will put them in then how? There is very much to consider.

In my own case with my forthcoming Freedom’s Mask the size question was easy as I wanted to make it the same as Tomorrow, as the Crow Flies and Randolph’s One Bedroom. (For Green Skies Eric and I opted for a physically much bigger book as it suits the graphic format better.) With that answered, what next? CreateSpace offers templates of all of their various sizes but I didn’t find the files terribly useful (somehow they simply didn’t work with the way my brain does; I have heard good things about them from others). It came down then to changing everything manually, which was easily enough done through Word’s Page Layout tools. But then another issue immediately came up: margins. Having dealt with this now at the end I would recommend doing it at the beginning. Decide on what you want to set them at and then, again through Page Layout, make the necessary adjustments, keeping in mind that you’ll first need to choose the option for “open spread view” (or whatever your version of Word calls it; mine is in Japanese and I’m uncertain of the US type’s title on that) so that you get the interior and exterior choices and not just top, bottom, right, left. (The interior margin will need to be slightly bigger than the exterior to account for binding.) The margin sizes you choose will also, of course, have a big impact on the total number of your pages.

With that set I’d also advise taking care of the page numbers. If you want your first page to begin with the first chapter (and not right at the opening of the file where things like the title page, dedication, matters page, etc. will go) then you will need to use the section break option (found in the Insert tools). With your chapters in a separate section you can put the page numbers in to start counting from that section rather than starting with the whole file, and while you are at it don’t forget to choose the option that sets odd-numbered and even-numbered headers (or footers) differently. Your page numbers will either be in a header or footer and so dealing with that at the same time will make everything easier; check under Word’s Design tools. By doing the odd/even headers or footers separately you can make the odd-numbered pages (again, the right side of the book as you hold it) be right-oriented and the even-numbered pages left-oriented, meaning that for both the page numbers will appear on the outside of the page. This is also the time when you can set any text you want in the headers or footers too, and if you really want to get fancy you could even make each new chapter a section break and then assign the header/footer accordingly (e.g. with that chapter’s specific title). Don’t neglect to add a new section break at the end as well or otherwise your book’s final pages (if you want to insert any) will have the same page number and header/footer settings as your chapter pages do.

One final practical note connected with all of this is on spacing. We naturally think of spacing when it comes to book size, margins, fonts, what have you, but what can escape our attention is the word to word spacing within the text itself. These days everyone (quite justifiably – pun intended!) has their content set to justified so that the word processing software stretches and squeezes as you go along. Problems can come up, however, when your A4/letter-sized file gets shifted to its book size file. Suddenly a string of words that was just fine before comes out looking odd with giant spaces within some sentences and none at all within others. This especially happens if you have hyphenations as they are read by the software as a single – and therefore mandatory to hold together – word. One trick that I learned is to insert a technically unnecessary space within the hyphenated phrase to trick the software into alternative spacing. What I mean is that if you have something like “her adversary’s ne’er-do-well-but-do-it-anyway attitude” which is gumming up your otherwise evenly spaced and fine-looking paragraph then you guess and check on how the phrase might be split to even out the spacing by inserting an extra space anywhere within the string of “ne’er-do-well-but-do-it-anyway”: perhaps after the “well-” would work, or after the “it-“. In such a way the phrase will be adjusted to wrap from one line to the next the way long words used to be split when writing them in notebooks or on old typewriters (for those of us who remember writing by candlelight). That little trick proved quite useful for me.

The bottom line when it comes to interior settings though is this: Be prepared to go through the entire document many times and be prepared for many headaches when making all these adjustments. (Discipline yet again, does it ever leave us?) The payoff, though, is a book that looks just as pretty on the inside as it does on the outside.

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