Self-publishing: making arrangements

Display at the Bullock Texas State History Museum
Display at the Bullock Texas State History Museum

Sometimes making arrangements for a trip can be frustrating. Aunt Martha only receives visitors between 10:00 and 11:00 in the morning. But that’s exactly when the presentation you really want to see at the museum is showing. Trying to make arrangements so all the details fall into place may make you wonder if the trip is worth it.

A self-publishing journey’s most potential for frustration arises from formatting, in my opinion (that’s IMO in critique lingo). Before you upload your manuscript (that’s MS in publishing lingo), you’ll want to have it as accurately formatted as possible to prevent the even more frustrating process of trying to fix glitches and errors once it’s on the website.

Authors often complain about the horrors of the self-publishing experience, and most of those complaints are related to formatting struggles. Be prepared to do a little research in order to figure out how to do what you want to do. Then resolve to adopt a patient Mr. Rogers attitude of taking your time to do it right.

An earlier post gave some tips and links about picking fonts, and I recommended determining page size early on. But you must prepare everything about your MS so that it looks exactly like you want the pages to appear in your book. That means figuring out front matter and chapter setup.

The items in the front of the book include a copyright page disclaimer, title page, book dedication, table of contents, and anything else you want to appear before your first chapter.

Here’s the question you must answer: How will these pages be numbered? Some of them shouldn’t be numbered at all. Sometimes you see those cute little lower case Roman numerals on front matter pages, but never on a title page. How can you number these pages differently from the rest of the MS?

And then you must consider the chapters themselves. You need to ask: How do I want each page to appear? You’ve seen those snazzy headers (or footers) in books, perhaps the book title on the left page and the chapter title or the author’s name on the right.

If you want to format page numbers and headers differently for different parts of the MS, you’ll have to set it up in sections. I’d always inserted page breaks for new chapters, but a much better method is to insert a section break. This allows you to format sections differently, separating the front matter from the chapters and each chapter from the next.

This page contains many links with helpful information about working in sections. For my older version of Word, I inserted section page breaks and formatted even pages with book title headers and odd pages with chapter title headers. But I spent hours trying to figure out how to format each section separately (even after I’d indicated “this section only”), until I finally found the extremely helpful Legal Office Guru website with online tutorials.  That dear sweet lady (bless her heart) kindly explained how to break the link between sections by deactivating “Link to Previous” so that the “Same as Previous” no longer appeared in the upper right corner of the header. What an eye opener!

Maybe you already know all about that. I didn’t, and it had frustrated me to the point I posted a Facebook status about being amazed if I still had all my hair by the time this book was formatted. After that, Facebook kept showing me ads for women’s hair loss products.

Speaking of hair, here’s another formatting tidbit that could save you a lot of research time. Know that tiny space appearing between a single quotation mark and a double one? It’s thinner than a regular space and is called a hair space. And I had no clue how to format it. An extensive online search finally yielded the answer. For my ancient version of Word, it’s ALT + 8202. Maybe knowing that will save you some precious time. You’re welcome.

Your formatting nemesis may be chapter title pages (no page numbers on those!), or margins (you’ll want wider margins on the inside edges where your pages are bound) or something entirely different. CreateSpace provides templates that may save you some of these formatting headaches.

Like a temperamental two-year-old, I wanted to do it myself. But my frustrating first experience led me to save that finally-formatted MS as a new document and plug in the text for my second novel. No way was I going to put myself through that section-formatting meat grinder again!

I can’t tell you exactly how to format your document, partly because I don’t remember it all myself, but mostly because your situation and the knowledge you bring to bear on it differs from mine.

But I sure wish someone had explained that “Link to Previous” thing to me earlier. It would have been like someone saying, “But the show time has changed. It doesn’t actually start until 11:30, so you’ve got plenty of time to chat with Aunt Martha before heading over to the museum.”


5 thoughts on “Self-publishing: making arrangements

  1. I’ve published several books and am working on another one this year. I know whereof you speak. Thanks so much for the helpful hints. I’m going to save this helpful post to file for future reference. Thank you so much, Glenda!

  2. For those interested in how the actual order of pages in the front matter and back matter of a book should be–and generally what the standards for professional style are in published books–the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, is an invaluable guide. The actual hardcover book is quite expensive, but you can subscribe to an online edition that I, a frequent user as an editor, would definitely recommend: It is worth the price for authors and writers.

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