5 Thing ThursdayThe five top lessons I learned in doing the Best Of Friday Flash – Volume One:

1: Word Processing Beyond The Basics

If you are like me there are style controls built into your word processor that you’ve never used and may not even realize were there. It turns out these style controls, for headings and paragraphs, are essential when laying out a manuscript if you want to avoid stress induced insanity. Some of the key styles I discovered are well worth setting up include:

  • Heading 1 – for story titles, or chapter titles if doing a novel instead of a collection of stories
  • Heading 2 – for authors
  • TOC Heading – for maintaining sanity and generating the TOC (see 2, below)
  • Body Text First Line – Used to make the lead paragraphs non-indented and with a little added space between it and the author’s name.
  • Body Text Indented – Used to indent interior paragraphs, rather than using vertical white space to set them off. It is important to minimize vertical white space where practical as over the course of a manuscript extra white space can significantly add to page count, and thus to list price.
  • Body Text Scene Break – At scene breaks you need a little extra vertical white space to cue the reader on the shift.
  • Body Text Minutia – In addition to indentation and vertical spacing, Styles also defind such properties as Font, Typeface, and Size. I set up Minutia to handle all the text on the copyright page so it did not take up too much space.
  • Body Text Bio – I used a slightly different style for the author’s bios to help set them off from the main text of the stories.

Both Microsoft Word and OpenOffice have Style settings. Until this project I never used them. Now I would not layout a manuscript without them. The advantage is once you have them set up, and you decide you’d really like all those authors to be in Comic Sans instead of Arial Narrow, you change it once in the Style and it applies to the entire manuscript. This saves you a ton of work. Get to know your Styles, they will become your best friends.

2: Table of Contents Tricks

There are two methods for laying out tables of content, one for ebooks and one for print books (see 3, below, for other ebook vs print variations). For ebooks your table of contents should not have page numbers. Readers of ebooks can adjust font size, which of course effects page layout. For most ebook formats page numbers are meaningless (PDF being the exception). Instead, the table of contents should be hot-linked to jump to the title within the text. That is one omission I made on the BOFF, I did not hot-link the TOC. I was simply too frustrated at that point to deal with it. I hope to update the BOFF ebook with a hot-linked TOC sometime in the future, and if you have already bought a copy I will replace it for free at that time.

Print books, on the other hand, need tables of contents with accurate page numbers. Fortunately most modern word processing packages will automatically generate tables of contents for you, based on the styles (see 1, above) you’ve set up. This works pretty well out of the box for most situations, but there is one major oversight. If you try to set up a multi-line TOC (i.e. a TOC based on Header One for Title and Header Two for author) you end up with an horrid academic paper type of TOC. To wit:

Her Migration ……………. 11
Shannon Esposito ……… 11
In Memory Alone ……….. 13
Al Bruno III ……………… 13

and so on.
I’m sorry, that looks like crap in a collection of short fiction.

What I wanted was:

Her Migration | Shannon Esposito …………… 11
In Memory Alone | Al Bruno III ……………… 13

Trying to do this out of the box with the TOC layout tools available in your word processor will drive you nuts. I spent days on this little problem. Finally someone on the OpenOffice forums offered a work around that does the job for print versions, though I would not like it much for PDF. His solution: create a tiny line of text at the top of each story with the title, a separator (I used a pipe | ) and author. Set it up as a special header type in your Styles (see 1, above), and make the text white. The faked out header will not be visible in the printed version and can be used to set up the TOC with the out of the box tools. This will work with PDF output too, but a reader could “discover” these fake headers when selecting text. It’s a rather kludgey solution, but it works.

By the way, the reason for the pipe instead of , by as a separator is it saved horizontal space, meaning some of the longer Title/Author combos did not wrap onto two lines for a more favorable aesthetic.

3: eBook Formating vs Print Book Formatting

I covered a good portion of this when discussing the table of contents, but there are two other main differences between digital and print worth noting – page breaks, and footers. Generally you don’t need page breaks in an ebook. As mentioned before, readers are likely to monkey with their font sizes, which may blow your nicely laid out page breaks out of the water. Avoid the frustration, both on your part in setting them up, and on the readers part when the turn the “page” only to find the last word of the last paragraph in that chapter. Instead, rely on your Styles (See 1, above) to give the reader a satisfying white space separation between between scenes and chapters. (Don’t quote me on that, I am not 100% sure ebook readers respect Style spacing, but I think they do. I’ll know more once I actually have an ebook reader.)

Footers are used to place and format page numbers. Thus you need them in print books and you need to eliminate them for ebooks. Yes, you will end up with two separate and distinct copies of your manuscript when done, one for print (and PDF), and one for digital.

4: Project Set Up At CreateSpace

I could do a 5 Things on CreateSpace alone, but in all fairness, they are very responsive to feedback. The main thing you need to do with CreateSpace is get familiar with their set up menus. I suggest you do this with a fake book you work end-to-end, with no intention to actually print it, and then delete the project once you’ve got it all figured out. The main problem is that CreateSpace uses multiple steps and it is all menu driven. Some of the menu choices are not obvious, some of them are downright frustrating. For example, when setting up CreateSpace insists on an “Author”. I am not the author of the BOFF, I am the editor. There is a sub-category for “Editor”, but it seems to be for listing the editor in addition to the author, like you might see on a textbook. In the post process survey I mentioned this little problem and was please to get a response from CreateSpace informing me that if this should crop up in the future all one need do is request they manually change you to Editor before you commit to print. As I said, they do seem to be quite responsive.

The other problem with CreateSpace is if you make a change to your cover or your content, or if they find a error in your uploaded manuscript which violates one of their set up rules you have to fix it and then wait up to 48 hours to have it reviewed again. It was not until layout was completed that I discovered the bar code box overprinted the bottom text of the back cover. I had to contact the cover artist and ask her if she would move the bottom text up some to eliminate the overlap. Then I had to upload the new cover. Then if they find another error you repeat the cycle. I did three or four cycles, which chews up considerable calendar time. So what kind of errors are we talking about here?

Your cover indicates your are J. M. Strother, and your copyright page indicates you are Jon M. Strother. The author must match between cover and copyright. My bad. 48 hours.

Your cover indicates you are J. M. Strother and your copyright page indicates you are Jon M. Strother. The author must match between cover and copyright. What? Oh no, my name is in the minutia twice. I only fixed one! My double bad. Another 48 hours.

We have found a reference to Amazon.com in your text body. If you list Amazon.com you must indicate at least two other markets your manuscript is available from. Say what? That one just seems insane to me, but who am I to argue. I deleted the reference to Amazon.com (sorry Christopher) and resubmitted. Another 48 hours.

You get the idea. In the post process survey I suggested they point out multiple errors the first time around so they could be fixed all in one cycle. They got back to me right away and said they would look into doing just that. I kind of like these CreateSpace folks.

5: Book Pricing

CreateSpace has a list-price estimator. It’s kind of hard to find, and not all that accurate. It guesstimated the BOFF would cost $8.99, about two bucks more than I would like, but a price I could live with. But when I got done and asked to finalize it the actual list price came out to $10.99. I was dismayed. As much as I love the BOFF I thought most folks would pass at that price.

I expressed my dismay online and Laura Eno suggested I try a different format size (6” x 9” instead of 5” x 8”), and to use Arial 10pt instead of Times New Roman 11pt. I made those changes, which significantly reduced the page count. This was accomplished in no time via (drum roll please) the Styles (see 1, above). Then the cover had to be resized and both cover and content uploaded again. Doing all this brought the BOFF in at $7.99, much better than eleven bucks. At this price we make 5 cents on each copy sold via Amazon, and $1.65 on each sold through our CreateSpace eStore. (By the way, adding just two more pages to the BOFF would knock that Amazon royalty down to 1 cent. Tightening up stories by controlling vertical white space is critical.)

Conclusions

So, the lessons learned here are: get to know your word processor’s Styles and Table Of Contents tools, preplan your manuscripts both for print and digital formats, and try to minimize your page count. I suggest you make a fake book and take it up to, but not including, the approval stage at CreateSpace so you can familiarize yourself with the menu structure. Then just delete the sample project and go for it. Also, ask for help when you need it. It will save you untold amounts of hair.

Let me know if any of these points need further clarification, or share your own tips in the comments below.
~jon

  10 Responses to “5 Thing Thursday: Lessons Learned”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by J. M. Strother, Eric J. Krause. Eric J. Krause said: RT @jmstro: 5 lessons I learned in bringing the Best Of Friday Flash to print – 5 Thing Thursday: Lessons Learned: http://bit.ly/h8LIXK [...]

  2. It seems to me that your main problem is you don’t know your name… ROFL! Sorry…
    This is an awesome breakdown of particulars for others to follow. Good job!

  3. That was amazing. If I had known you were putting that much effort into it, I would have offered way more help. Almost makes me think you need more cookies ;)

  4. Wow, Jon, thanks so much for the info here, but even more for all your hard work!!!

  5. Jon – You are a superstar. I really hope that next time (there WILL be a next time, right? ;-) you will be able to delegate more. You have gone above and beyond the call of duty and every #fridayflash writer owes you big time!! And you’ve done a great job at sharing this very specific info on formatting that will benefit many of us. Thanks!

  6. This is very instructive and very generous of you Jon. Thank you for taking the time to post all this info. My fingers and toes are crossed for BOFF’s great success! :)

  7. Jon, wow. Congratulations on not going insane (completely) through this process. You should be very and justifiably proud of your achievements!

  8. Jon, for all the work you’ve put into this project you deserve no less than ten bottles of the bubbly, and then some! Thank you so much not only for your time in putting BOFF together, but for sharing the experience with us. I know it had to take a while just to figure out what in the world you did, much less type it up for us. :)

    I use Word a lot at my “real job” to create forms and templates, and, even though I’ve used Word for years, it was still quite frustrating to learn the styles, and especially the TOC….crap. I still hate doing that part, and I still learn something new every day. The most I do with Word outside of that is using it to type my stories. As I’ve been working on my manuscript I’ve done nothing more than write, have not yet played with formatting to make it look like a book. Your helpful guidelines here will be a huge help when that time comes, I know. Thank you!

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