Preparing a Novel for Print #1: Document Set-Up

As a self-publishing author, it's fairly likely that you will be doing most, if not all, of the preparation for publication and as such, there are a few things you can do early on in the process that will keep the journey relatively bump-free in the latter stages.

In this post, I outline some of the steps you can take to ensure that the document you write into is set up properly from the outset. Once you've created a document formatted exactly the way you want it, it's a good idea to save it as a template for future work.

The Software
The proliferation of word processing packages available for free hasn't changed the reality that Microsoft Word remains the software of choice for most writers and sometimes it really does seem to have a mind of its own. Bullet points automatically de-align themselves from previous bullet points; type fonts appear to randomly change without warning; tabs and indents don't stay where you put them.

Settings / Preferences
One of the first things you can do to avoid all of this auto-formatting is to change the settings / preferences to suit your requirements. For instance, auto-correction of typing errors such as capitalisation of second letters and mistyped words can be quite a useful tool, but as a UK author, I find the correcting of UK to US spelling (behaviour to behavior, realise to realize etc.) is really not something I want done on my behalf. Thus, you should play around with the settings until they perform to your liking.

For more on the pains of auto-correct 
(and a little light relief - adult language - you have been warned):

Next, set up the styles as a template for this and future publications, saving these to the global template if all you ever do is write novels. There are some standards that work for most paperback formats:
  • 11pt Times New Roman font
  • Justified, single line-spaced paragraphs
  • 0.5cm / 0.2in indent at the beginning of paragraphs
Set up a minimum of 2 styles - 'Normal' for your default text is the least labour intensive; something like 'Header' or 'Heading 1' works well for chapter titles.

Page Setup
The size of your book depends on several factors:
  • The industry standards for the type of work you've written;
  • The options available from your printing company;
  • Your own preferences.
Where possible, you should set up your page size and layout first, because more often than not, copying and pasting your novel from a standard word processing document into a 6x9 paperback document will result in your new set-up being overwritten by the original document's dimensions. The outcome is that the 'Page Setup' properties will tell you that the document is the correct size, but there's every chance it won't be.

If you do need to format an existing manuscript, then the failsafe way to do this is to copy a bit at a time from your old document and paste it into your newly formatted one, checking that your settings stay put after each action and saving regularly. Keeping the document on multiple page view will also highlight any sudden changes in page size.

Most of the companies offering printing for self-publishing purposes provide very comprehensive information on page size, margin widths and so on, but it does differ from one company to the next, so have a good read of the information provided beforehand. Depending on which service you opt for, your manuscript might be returned to you with a report on any problems you need to rectify (which is good), but they might just shrink it to fit your selected page size (not so good).

You're also going to need to create at least 2 sections: the first section is for your copy pages (title, copyright, dedications and quotations) and doesn't usually have page numbers; the second section is for your novel and should have page numbers.

Concluding Thoughts
Getting professional results from your self-published work can take a bit of time and know-how, so experiment with your word processing software - try a few different packages, layouts, settings etc. until you find what works for you.

If you can, create a template document in advance - not only does it save a lot of hassle later on, it's also fun to see your novel-in-progress looking like 'the real thing'.

Finally, if you just haven't got the technical stomach, then no fear! This is one of the services that we at Beaten Track offer and at a very reasonable price!