Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
Once you write and rewrite and edit your manuscripts, do you ever wish you’d get one more chance to make sure that everything is perfect?
If you publish with a traditional publishing house, you will get to make changes. It’s likely that both an editor and a copyeditor will make suggestions for changes.
And if you’re planning to self-publish print books, you’ll definitely get that final chance to tweak your text.
Today’s subject comes courtesy of my adventure with formatting the print version of The Magic of Fiction. The formatter was unable to do the honors, so I’ve been working like mad the past week or so to format the book myself.
I’ve learned a lot—I’m still learning—and I hope to include some of the specifics of formatting a self-published book in another article. But I wanted to point out that formatting needs may lead to changes to what you assumed was the final version of your story.
Aside from guarding against widows and orphans, fiction writers may not face as many issues with formatting as writers of nonfiction will face, yet all writers should know that they may need to do a little tweaking to make a manuscript look good on the printed page.
If you’ve got headings or text of different heights or sizes, your text won’t fall uniformly on the pages of your book. But good design encourages uniform text breaks at the bottoms of pages and text that aligns on facing pages.
Good book design calls for fixing the lonely last line of a paragraph that gets stranded at the top of a page, separated from the rest of the paragraph on the previous page. A good design would also include very few (if any) instances of the first line of a paragraph as the last line on a page. (CMOS sees this a bit differently and allows for a paragraph beginning at the bottom of a page.)
And we all know how odd a single word sitting all alone on an otherwise empty line can look. It’s infinitely worse when that poor word is a hyphenated one.
If you’re self-publishing and formatting your books, you get to be the one to deal with such issues on a page-by-page basis.
Yet at the same time, formatting gives you an opportunity to tweak phrases and sentences one final time.
What’s bad about that is that sometimes the text is perfect as is, except for the look on the page.
When word choices and sentence structure and meaning and rhythm are all in sync but formatting design suggests the reader will get a better experience if you follow good design principles, you should probably see what you can do to make adjustments.
If every word on your page is perfect and you can’t see a way to make a change, go back a page. See if a change there—adding or subtracting words or combining or splitting sentences—might not correct the design problem on the following page.
Most of the time, however, you’ll not be faced with the perfect-page scenario, where you can’t make a change without destroying the beauty of the passage you created. Most of the time there are still multiple ways to change text, even after you’ve changed it a dozen times already.
If you’re self-publishing print books, be prepared to make additional changes to your text as you format. If you’re writing nonfiction, with loads of nonstandard text and/or tables or graphics, expect to spend a lot of time formatting.
Some changes may be as simple as changing to a shorter word so that a sentence doesn’t extend to an additional line.
Some changes may require adding text or rearranging paragraphs.
Reordering paragraphs will be easier for most nonfiction projects than for fiction, and some rearranging can prove fun. For example, reordering items in bulleted lists can turn into a game, something like putting together a puzzle. If you need to move a shorter item up so that a bulleted section doesn’t break with a page break, you can do it. (I’ll admit to feeling great satisfaction, as if I’ve accomplished something noteworthy, when an adjustment works without creating the need for additional changes.)
When you format, be prepared to make those additional changes. And don’t speed through them. Not only will you not want to create additional design problems with your fixes, but you won’t want to mess up the flow created by the original words and phrases.
You won’t want to repeat yourself and you won’t want to cut out words necessary for meaning or conflict or mood.
You’ll want your changes to be positive ones, so don’t make changes without thought just so you can get on to the next step of the publishing process.
You gave the writing and rewriting of your manuscript plenty of care and attention; be prepared to give this step the same care. Schedule time to format correctly so you can format without damaging your text.
Or hire a formatter to do this step for you.
FYI, my adventure in formatting has so far increased my word count by over 3,000 words. I did lose some words, but in the aggregate, the book has gained. A very short section on formatting for self-publishing wormed its way in and added to the new total.