Thursday, April 12, 2018

Learning from My Mistakes, or Professional Book Formatting for Amateurs. Sort Of.

I need to be more regular on this blog, and I've told myself I can't read the latest Business Musings post from Kristine Kathryn Rusch over at (a high point of my week) until I've produced something of my own.

So, take this as a glorified apology for not having blogged since last autumn.  My only excuse is that I am doing the formatting on my book myself.  Which is why it's mid-way through April and I haven't yet published The Single Eye.

Yes, I know there are lovely professional services and remarkable tools out there that will do the job for me.  But I can't afford them, and besides, I know what I want and I haven't seen it available commercially. 

I've been working steadily.  Just being aware of the pitfalls in doing things myself brings out the rabid perfectionist streak in me.  I want my book, both versions of it, to look as professional as it can.

But that doesn't mean I've been working efficiently.  Oh, my, no.  Which is why it's mid-April and, despite a good three to five hours spent on this per weekday, I'm only now scenting the end of the trail.

What I've learned in the process.

  • If you're working to format a big file, split it up into sections.  There's less of a chance of corruption, and if the inner coding on one page is the issue, it won't drag your whole ms down with it.
The Single Eye, at around 145,000 words, is not a short book, and the formatted-for-print version made for a pretty hefty file.  In December I started to have issues with saving it, and in mid-January it crashed altogether.  Thank heaven I was able to remember the edits I made when the latest version of my manuscript refused to open, but several days worth of reconstruction was required.  That could have been averted by breaking the file up.
  • If you're working in Dropbox, save a copy of your latest working copy on a thumbdrive or at least in another directory on your computer.  
When my Dropbox file took a nosedive on my laptop, the desktop version went down at the same time.  And thanks to the efficiency of the Internet (she says ironically), the copy on my cloud backup service was toast as well.  Not only that, but the corruption spread somehow to other recent versions that were in the same Dropbox folder.

Thank heaven I was able to find an earlier version that wasn't messed up and restore the edits out of my memory and the ebook version.  But having to do it really slowed things down.

Which brings me to something else:
  • Assuming you're doing a print book, format it first.
Gosh, I wish I'd tumbled to that last autumn!

Why do it first?  Because you'll pick up on a lot of typos, grammatical errors, and plain old writing that needs to be revised when you're going through your print version page by page making sure your hyphens are in the right place and your bottom margins line up.  Get that done first, then when your ms is nice and clean and edited, start playing with your ebook file.  Do you really want to be like me and correct your ebook file (with all its wonderful html entities) every time you make a change?

No, you don't.

  • If you don't know how to already, learn to use Styles in your word processing program when you first compose your text.  
Doing that from the beginning would have saved me hours of work updating and correcting features like chapter titles and opening paragraphs one at a time.

What else?  
  • The best way to get your quotation marks, apostrophes, em-dashes, ellipses, and so on to look right in the ebook version is to convert them to html entities yourself. 
I've learned some effective ways to do that, but it's been another long day, and yes, I want to see what Kris has said on her blog.  If I'd been blogging about this last fall when I learned it . . .

Well, never mind.  Next time we can talk about something more cheerful, like DIY typography.


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