When a friend of mine showed me his self-published book a year ago, I was floored. Not by the poetry, which was excellent, but by the print quality. I knew about “print-on-demand,” but associated it with what poets in years past used to create – thick card stock, white pages (some crooked), the whole thing folded and stapled. But this was…well, it was a book.
I had already compiled a manuscript, and was looking at publishing possibilities. To my mind, self-publishing was an attractive alternative. I figured I would create an account that night, upload my manuscript, have dinner, and check Amazon prior to bed to ensure the finished book was listed. Naïveté – what a place.
The truth is, self-publishing isn’t easy, especially if you’re planning on doing interior layout yourself. To help you decide whether you’re prepared, here’s a small primer on the first steps you’ll take: compiling your initial manuscript and formatting it to the page size you select for your book. Apologizes to Mac users: the descriptions here refer to Microsoft Word 2010 functions.
Before you start, consider this: is your poetry ready “to be abandoned”? A tall order, but at some point editing has to freeze in favor of publication. If you can say it’s ready, consider the order you want to present it. This is your last pen-and-paper exercise. Make a sequential list of poems (in the order you want them), and consider theme. Do you plan on having separate sections based on theme? Write it all down, create a kind of storyboard for your design. Remember: you’re the design team, this is your layout. If your computing skills are strong, the sky’s the limit.
Now, compile the poems in a single word processing document. Don’t worry about fonts, sizes, or other internal presentation elements yet. BUT: make sure you use page breaks where poems end, and NOT a series of “insert” keystrokes. When you use inserts, your word processor concludes the document is just a long, rolling poem that happens to have a large number of blank lines. Think of this: if you compile 50, one-page poems using inserts, and decide you want to add a line on page 20, every line below that shifts down a line. The next poem – and every one after – won’t start at the top of the next page. Inserts are bulky and messy; page breaks are clean. Later, when you’re converting the document to other file types (such as .pdf), the computer will have fewer reasons to get confused.
It’s time to sign on to your self-publisher’s site to decide which page size you want (they offer several sizes). I recommend you pull some favorite books from your own library and measure them. Popular sizes with self-publishers include 5 x 8 inches, 5.5 x 8.5 inches, and 6 x 9 inches, but there are many others to select from.
Based on your measurements, and the sizes your self-publisher offers, you’ve selected the size you want. Now it’s time to make the first formatting change to the manuscript document you just compiled: page size. Your default size is probably 8.5 x 11 inches, which corresponds, of course, to the size of printer paper. Let’s say you decided to go with a 6 x 9-inch format for your book pages. In Microsoft 2010, here’s what you do:
- On the top row, click on the Page Layout tab.
- Under the first five blocks you’ll see Page Setup. Click the small tab to the right of that. A dialogue box appears with the following choices on the top: Margins, Paper, and Layout. Select Paper.
- For page width, either type “6″ in the box, or just tab it up/down with the arrows. For height, do the same until it’s set at “9″.
- At the bottom of the dialogue box is a tab that reads “Apply to”. Make it apply to the “whole document” and click “Ok”.
Voilà: you just formatted your book’s pages to the size you want. If this exercise was befuddling, or if you followed the instructions and still managed to get lost, you’re going to have to decide if you’re capable of formatting your own layout. Luckily, self-publishing companies (like Create Space) are more than happy to format the book for you. But it’s not cheap – Create Space’s “professional design services” begin at $249. If you don’t have certain strong computing skills, that price will certainly go up, since you’ll be forced to ask the self-publisher to create your book’s cover, too.
With your book laid out in 6 x 9-inch pages (or whatever size you selected), you’re ready to format fonts and their sizes, paragraph line spaces, and margins. And, of course, perhaps the trickiest formatting, pagination. If you don’t think you can format the document, you’ll have to decide whether you should pay, keep sending the manuscript to publishers for consideration, or abandon the project. The third option is a non-starter; I want to see your book printed and available.
Good luck. I may continue this as a series of articles dedicated to formatting ideas/pitfalls/victories. If you have questions about manuscript design in MS Word 2010, feel free to email me at email@example.com, or post a comment here.