Novel Layout Tips

News Alert: I am happy to announce that my third novel, The Copper Witch, has officially signed with 5 Prince Publishing for release this coming spring. Updates will continue as release draws closer. So for now, a post about publishing:

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I will be the first to admit that I am not generally a layout person. I do have some experience with it, and now have software that would let me do it pretty simply, but I’m generally an editor, not a designer.

Now, we all have our specialties, it’s to be expected. Being a good editor doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good writer, and being a good writer definitely doesn’t mean that you’re good at graphic design. As more and more people go the self-publishing route, however, it’s falling on authors to do their own formatting (at least if they aren’t going to pay for someone else to do it, which is sometimes advisable). As an editor, a lot of my work comes from people planning to self publish. I’m sure there are likewise freelance designers out there to hire to get a book up to professional quality without the help of a publisher and their in-house designers. If you’ve decided to strike out on your own, please keep a few things in mind that even I, with my limited layout experience find annoying in self-published novels (my reviewer self will thank you).

1. Indents and margins. Luckily for self layer-outers, the combination of publishing platform uploaders and many word processing programs saving to PDF make it simpler than ever to turn a manuscript written in Microsoft Word (or the like) into book format. It’s important to realize, though, that traditional manuscript format (8.5″x11″ pages, double spaced, 1″ margins, 0.5″ indents, 12 point Times New Roman font) does not magically become book format just by changing the page size. Most people realize without being told that books aren’t often double spaced, but what people seem to often miss is that indents and margins that seem normal on a 8.5″x11″ page suddenly are giant when something’s 6″x9″. One of the simplest ways of pointing out a book is self-published (or published by people who aren’t used to doing layout) is by looking at the formatting. Indents of 0.5″ rather than 0.3″ make it seem like someone shrunk Word pages rather than formatted a book. Likewise, margins should be made smaller on a 6″x9″ page. Just think about it. 1″ margins on each side of an 8.5″x11″ paper leaves you with 6.5″ of writing space across. On a 6″x9″ page, that’s only 4″. Everything should shrink in proportion.

2. Chapters start on new pages. When writing in manuscript format, it doesn’t always matter if you do a page break or not at the start of a new chapter. In book format, however, each chapter should be on its own page. This can be done simply by just inserting a page break in the document you are using, or you can be a little fancier and have a chapter start slightly down the page from normal. If doing the second, make sure that you use the ruler function on the side of a Word document so all the chapter headings line up on the same part of the page.

3. Scene breaks. When typing in manuscript format, you generally are expected to use some set of markings between scenes (most commonly it is either *** or #). These marks (especially the hash mark) arose as a way to tell typesetters there should be an empty line there as a scene break. While most books just use a “hard break” (an empty line before the next paragraph) for a scene break, using a hard break in a manuscript would make it possible for a typesetter to miss a scene break should it be pushed to the bottom or top of the page. When laying out your own book, however, this shouldn’t be an issue. Get rid of these “scene break” marks for a more professional look.

4. Font choice. Some typesetters have a strong dislike of Times New Roman (feel it looks amateurish) but for someone who isn’t a designers, I truly have no problem with it. The larger point is to use a “professional” font that is serif. After that, Times New Roman, Georgia, or Garamond–I at least couldn’t tell you the difference.

5. Text alignment. While typing in manuscript format, left text-alignment  is generally the best so you don’t have any strange gaps between words while writing. When laying out as a book, however, justified is the gold standard. If you look in most published books, text is justified to give it a more formal, professional look. Doing so with your own book will lend your layout more credibility.

There are a million other little things that a professional typesetter would be able to tell you about layout that I’m sure I’m missing, but if you take care of these five things, I likely wouldn’t notice it–which at least gives your book a leg up when it comes to first impressions.

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One thought on “Novel Layout Tips

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