I think the most difficult, grief-inducing part of self-publishing is formatting. I say that because I am still getting into the marketing part, but stay tuned, because I might change my tune later. But I spent a good two months getting my manuscript into a form–no, I take that back–THREE forms–that would deem it acceptable to book distributors.
The three forms are (1) print, (2) eBook ePub, and (3) ePub mobi. Print is pretty self-explanatory, although not easy, necessarily. ePub is the most common eBook format and you can find services that will turn your manuscript into an ePub file, but you have to do some work upfront to not have aforementioned manuscript kicked back to you as “not ready to be turned into an ePub yet.” mobi is just a fancy word for the format used by Amazon Kindle, which in their infinite near-monopoly wisdom is different from every.other.eBook.seller.everywhere, who of course all use ePub.
For self-publishing, I went with the Print on Demand company Lulu, and they will gladly format the interior and cover of your book for you… for a fee. Being a hands-on DIY
control freak kind of gal, I opted to do as much of my own formatting as possible.
Word up on book formatting: it helps to become an expert in Microsoft Word. I suppose there are other word processing programs out there in the vast universe, but I know for a fact Word will get it done. And there is one word for how: Styles.
When I was writing my novel I never worried about this thing called “Styles.” I wasn’t even sure what it was, other than I had to mess with the “Normal style” a bit every time I got a new computer, ’cause I hate the default font and tabs, etc for the Normal style. Styles define the font, the text orientation (L-R-C), line spacing, etc for a block of text. If you give the entire manuscript the same style, then all you have to do is edit the style to change the entire manuscript in one fell swoop. I set up separate styles for the story text vs. the chapter headings vs. the section delimiters (which were always centered in my manuscript).
Knowing how to create a custom style or two and how to change its settings when you need to will save you oogles of time in formatting your book. Also, knowing how to use headers and footers, page numbers, margins, and knowing how big you want your print book to be. Trade paperbacks come in a few set sizes, and the size of the pages in your manuscript need to fit the size you envision your book being. I went with 6×9, which is actually a bit bigger than standard trade paperbacks.
My basic strategy was to keep pounding at my custom Style in Word until my manuscript looked like a couple example trade paperbacks in my possession I liked the look of.
For font face, New Times Roman or Garamond are the best bets. There’s nothing like the tingle you get the first time you set your book Style to Garamond and see your words looking like the words in a Real Book.
For font size and spacing, there is a formula I found online to tell you the optimal spacing given the size of your font. (Add 2-4 points to the spacing vs font, so Garamond 11 is either “Exactly” 15 pts line spacing or 13 pts line spacing, Garamond 12 is either “Exactly” 16 pts line spacing or 14 pts line spacing.) Wish I had known about it before I “published” my print book and ordered my first proof copy of it. It made the difference between a book that was 590 pages and a book that was 487 pages. (note: the text in books generally is never double-spaced.)
Having to deal with a page total change was a headache mostly because of complications in how I had had my book cover done. Short story long, I used Lulu’s premium cover design service to turn an artist’s rendering of my main character into an actual book cover. They did the whole kit and kaboodle of designing the front and back cover according to my specifications, adding the ISBN block, and getting the proper dimensions for the book cover and spine to fit the 6×9 book size. The proof copy looked great–except for the pesky interior line spacing being too wide.
Once I changed the font size and line spacing and got WOW! over one hundred pages knocked off the length of my manuscript, I had to resize the book spine to match and worked diligently on that in Photoshop Elements. Lulu has a book-spine width calculator based on the type of paper you are using, your book dimensions, and your page count. I followed it diligently, republished my book, and ordered another proof copy.
I was dismayed to notice that the colors on the front and back cover were now “off”–the text on the back cover had less contrast with the background color and was therefore more difficult to read, and the boots my main character was wearing on the front cover had gotten orangey. The maroon background color of the book was more of a candy-apple red. This was an artifact of the way Lulu does its color printing. They use a color model called CMKY, my Photoshop Elements uses RGB. The original PDF of the cover created by the cover service was in CMKY already, so when it printed, it looked good. The new version of the PDF was done in RGB, so they had to covert it to CMKY before printing, and that conversion messed up the colors.
By the time I figured this out, of course, the grace period for asking for alterations on the original book cover service had passed. If I wanted Lulu’s help, I was told in the Lulu user forums and by at least one customer service person, I’d have to pay them more money for it. This sort of pissed me off, but so much time had passed since I had wanted to have the print version of the book Done Already, I was willing to pay it. I put in a support ticket with Lulu asking their advice on how to proceed, and another support person told me I could redo the changes I had made to the cover myself, as long as I saved it in CMKY. They gave me all the instructions for doing so. I had to get my hands on regular Photoshop to do it, but they helped me through the whole process, and the most recent proof copy of the book looks fine.
I do have to say, there were several times in using Lulu I was on the verge of getting seriously pissed with them for dumb methods they have for doing things or what have you, and each time, in the end, some customer service or support person figured out how to solve my problem without too much headache or expense. But I had to be persistent and not take their initial response as gospel.
Other things you need to think about when formatting your own print book: having a copyright page, an ISBN, and a title page. ISBNs are the catalog numbers that allow bookstores and libraries to look up the exact edition of your exact book title quickly. You need a different ISBN for a print book and eBook, for example. In the U.S., you can pay Bowkers $125.00 per ISBN (less if you buy them in blocks). I opted to take the free Lulu ISBNs, which they of course buy in huge blocks. That “officially” lists Lulu as the publisher of my novel, although on my copyright page, I can list myself as the publisher and the Lulu label happily appears nowhere on my book.