Formatting It’s a Bitch

formatWith all apologies to Mr. Jagger and Richards. So you have your plot all dialed in, your characters live and breathe in your readers’ minds and your grammar is spot on, not a comma out of place. All that remains now is to get your work in a proper format for your publisher. If you are fortunate to have a traditional publisher this becomes someone else’s headache. For independents it’s time to either open up the checkbook or break out the Tylenol. I have just completed the formatting of my latest work, Undead Heart. It was tedious, it was fraught with peril, hardships and even a few mistakes but in the end I am very proud with how it turned out. Which brings me to this post.

First off a word on drafts. I do my writing on my tablet so my rough draft is a text file with no formatting save line returns. When finish the work I format the paragraphs into 1/2″ indents and double space lines, clean up any obvious keyboard errors and add simple footers to make the first draft. I edit by sprucing up the descriptions and actions and any dialog that needs it for the second draft that I then let my wife read. Her edits and suggestions make up the third draft. Once I’m done with that I let a copy editor go over the manuscript from top to bottom. The final draft is completed once all those edits have been addressed. My work is now ready to be formatted for printing. I know some writers who will rework a piece ten or twenty times but that isn’t me. I have had works that I had to give up on because I could not get them into shape after several passes. You know better than anyone when you are just whipping a dead horse.

The formatting for print and eReaders need to be handled separately so you do not want to be making changes to the manuscript that you have to recreate in the other so make sure your edits are done because you will be making three copies of the file, one for print, one for eBook and one to have in case you really screw up the other two. I usually format the print version first. I pick my font, set the paragraphs to single space with extra space at the end of paragraphs. I set the page to the template size of the book, in this case 5.6 x 7.01. I use a 0.79″ margin with a 0.14″ gutter. I add different headers for the odd and even pages. My name goes on the left page top and the title goes on the right. The page number will go on the bottom of all pages except for the front title pages and my author bio in the back. I do not have a header or footer on the first page of every chapter. To achieve that you need a separate section for each chapter. The trick now is to make sure your page numbers are correct through all the chapters. I find it helpful at this point to zoom the view out so that I can see 2 pages at the same time. I check to make sure all the chapters have the proper page numbering and it is ready for the printer.

For the eBook version I take the final draft and turn the it into one large HTML document. I use MS Word filtered Web page setting. This creates a document with the least amount of junk tags. Now it’s HTML editing time. I use my text editor too strip out much of the CSS in the document. I then use this document to build the Kindle or ePub versions.

There are plenty of resources to get you there if you aren’t ready. A friend of mine, Greg Lundberg, has a very informative book available on Amazon, How to Publish an eBook For Under $350. If you are going the eBook route, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords also have a very large community of writers and support that can answer most of your questions on formatting for their platforms. These are some of the few that I have used and learned from in the past. You print publisher will have guidelines as well as to what type of file they accept and how they want it to look.

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About Vincent A. Alascia

Vincent is the author of, "In the Presence of Gods," "Xristos: Chosen of God," and coming soon, "Undead Heart," available on Kindle and paperback, as well as works that have appeared in anthologies and online. Originally an East Coast native, he makes his home in the Phoenix area of Arizona with his wife and three attention grabbing felines. Vincent is an active member of the West Valley Writers' Workshop and an Adult Services librarian at the Maricopa County Library District Northwest Regional Library in Surprise, Arizona.
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