Formatting Tips and Tricks for Self-published Authors

Things I Learned Along the Way – A Few Self-publishing Basics

I have very recently submitted my second book, Second Stories, to CreateSpace for publication. Doing this has prompted me to share some of the tricks and tips I’ve learned along the way. This isn’t the first article that has been written about this subject, but just another perspective on the whole process.

When I was pretty far along in the editing process, I decided to get a Kindle. Besides being a great little toy to have, I found it to be extremely helpful to me, as an author-now-editor. I discovered I could email personal files to my Kindle, so I sent my MS to it. Always before, if I wanted to read before submission to ensure the errors were gone, I had to print. That’s a lot of paper. Talk about killing trees. Not to mention the ink that ran out every second printing. So it made financial sense to buy the Kindle, and it’s better for the environment.

But on to what I learned in the submission process.

I am never the person who has to have the latest and greatest gadget or electronic device. After it’s been around for a year or two though, I succumb to changes and then I WANT IT NOW!! I’m not a phone person, so I didn’t have a smartphone for a long time after they came out. My old desktop was good enough, who needs that laptop anyway? And certainly not a Kindle! Why would anyone want one of those things? So now I have all three of these can’t-live-without-it items.

I balked at upgrading from Word 98 to Word 2007. Why get into the new millennium when the 90’s were good enough? Word is intimidating sometimes, and I’d mastered one version and everyone said the new version is very different, it’s like learning Word all over again. Oh yeah. That sounded like just what I wanted to do. Not. I’d have to learn those bullets and numbering all over again? As it was, whenever I used them, I’d hit the enter key, hold my breath and hope for the best, and now I was going to have to figure all that out once more?

But I wanted to convert my .docs into .pdfs. You can’t do that in Word 98 but you can in Word 2007. And the reason I wanted to have the capability to create pdfs was because I am self-publishing with CreateSpace and I wanted to have complete control over my files. Not only is it less expensive that way but I’m the one who knows best how my book should look. I’d been through that once before (back in the BookSurge days) and it was a little frustrating when I had to point out formatting errors they’d made.

Okay then, Word 2007 it is. Imagine my surprise (and delight) when I discovered that Word 2007 is a vast improvement, it seems much less twitchy to me, from its predecessor. And once you finish all the formatting and sizing and attribute selection and it looks perfect in Word, you simply upload it to a .pdf file and that’s it! Files are ready to print, and print just as you want them because with pdf, what you see is what you get. WYSIWYG!

First thing is to size your pages, my book is 6” by 9”. On the Page Layout tab, click the dropdown arrow underneath Size in the toolbar. Size you want isn’t there? Click on More Paper Sizes and the Page Setup window appears and you can select any size you want.

Any time you want the Page Setup window, click in the corner of the Page Setup bar on the Page Layout tab.

Next, margins. Same thing here, click on the Margins dropdown and select Custom Margins. I selected 1 inch for the top and .5 inch for the bottom margins, Portrait orientation. Select Mirror Margins under the Pages section. The inside margins are more or less dictated by CreateSpace and a book that is over 400 pages needs to have inside margins of at least .875 inch. Outside margins don’t matter so much, as long as they are at least .25 inch. I made my inside margins, .875 and my outside margins .5.

When I looked at my manuscript, now nicely sized, it seemed backwards. Had Microsoft got it switched? It seemed when I reversed the inside/outside margins it looked perfect. After a couple of bad proof copies and a lot of head-scratching it dawned on me, and it’s a little embarrassing that it took so long, the first page of any book is on the right, but Microsoft displays it on the left, so it’s the display that is backwards and the gutter side will appear to be on the outside. It needs to be viewed then, with the knowledge that left is right and right is left.

Once it’s converted to a .pdf file, there is a “facing pages” viewing option in Adobe Reader. It is very helpful to view it that way. In this viewing option, there is no first left page, the pages start on the right and each set of two pages appears the same as it will when printed.

Now on to the headers and footers section in the Page Setup window > Layout tab. The header will be what appears on the top of every page. I took the defaults with the exception that I checked both the “Different odd and even” box and the “Different first page” box.

The following is the most difficult to understand. I wanted a few pages in the front to be title pages, and a copyright page and a dedication page, (hereinafter referred to as, hmm, let’s see “Front pages”) and I didn’t want these pages numbered. And, at the end of the book, I have a Disclaimer page and I didn’t want that page numbered either. At the end of the Front pages, right before the actual book text starts, insert a section break. On the Page Layout tab, in the Page Setup section in the toolbar, select the Breaks dropdown. You’ll see a “Section” section. (That’s good, a Section section.) Select Next Page under Section. Don’t use regular hard page breaks because when you format your headers/footers it won’t work right. Each chapter must be a section, so go through the file and remove hard page breaks and insert a section > next page break instead. Within a section, you can use hard page breaks, as I did, within the Front pages. Just make sure the last page of each section is a section > next page break.

For the actual book text I wanted a page number on the left side of the left page and the right side of the right page, and I wanted the book title centered on all pages. Except for the first page of each chapter, where I didn’t want any header at all. Because I checked the two boxes on the Layout tab, I was able to do that, and format my headers exactly as I wanted. I didn’t use footers but they work the same as headers.

On the Insert tab, select the dropdown under Header, then Edit Header. The text of the book becomes disabled and the header becomes enabled. You can see the blue tabs with all your sections when you are in Header mode. It’s good to go through and check all that, make sure the front part is one section, and each chapter is a section, and any additional pages at the end are their own section. Enter the information you want in the header for both the left and right pages. They will be different, because of the position of the page number.

While in Header mode, note the Link to Previous option in the Navigation section of the toolbar. The first section’s header (Section 1) will be disabled because, since it’s first, there is nothing to link to. Throughout the text of the actual book, the headers should be linked together. BUT! The first chapter header (which is Section 2) should not be linked to previous, Section 1, which is the Front pages. This is what will allow you to have a header on only your book text. Now any header information that is in the first section can be removed without affecting the rest of the headers in the book text. Same thing with the last section. Make sure that section is not linked to previous either and remove header information.

This was the most frustrating part of the whole process, for me. I finally got it though, and it all looks just how I wanted it to.

Double click anywhere in the text to get out of Header mode.

For each chapter, I removed the header on the very first page, and I could do that without affecting the other pages in the chapter because I’d checked the Different first page box. The other pages in the chapter weren’t affected when I did this.

In the first paragraph of every chapter, I did something special. I wanted a drop cap on the first letter, no indentation and the first few words Small Capped. With the cursor anywhere in the first paragraph, select Drop Cap on the Insert tab. You can select Dropped but that defaults your cap span three lines. I didn’t think that looked good, I wanted less. Select Drop Cap Options. You can change the font if you wish, sometimes you’ll see dropped caps in an old English font. In the Lines to drop: option, I selected 2. Two lines instead of 3. I left the Distance from text: at 0. For the first paragraph only, I also selected no indentation, again by right clicking and selecting “paragraph”. Select the text you want to small cap, starting with the character right next to the dropped cap. Right click and select “Font…” and check the Small Caps box.

All the other paragraphs in each chapter were single spaced with a .2 indent on the first line. Select First line under “Special:” and .2 under “By:”.

That’s pretty much it. I am very happy with the layout of my book, and I like the fact that I don’t have to go through the tedious process of filling out the changes sheet, as I had to do when BookSurge did the formatting.

Hope this has been helpful. I’m not a Word Wizard by any means, but you don’t have to be. That’s the good part.

If anyone has questions, just leave a comment. I’d be happy to assist anyone and please send any tricks and tips you’ve learned along the way!