I’m a soft touch when a friend or relative asks for help getting a manuscript ready for uploading to a Print-On-Demand service like CreateSpace. More than half a dozen times these requests have ended me saying, “Just send me the file and I’ll fix it, but before you start another one, you have to promise to learn a few basic skills.” Then I spend hours cleaning up formatting garbage before applying the simple tweaks that convert it to a lean, clean, beautiful piece of work.
For those who grew up in the typewriter age, it’s natural to position text with spaces, both horizontally and vertically. It’s hard to unlearn some of those old habits, but if you want to take advantage of recent developments in affordable and accessible printing technology, you’ll do yourself and your pocketbook a favor by overwriting those mental typewriter files.
The tips below will ultimately save you time and maybe money. If you pay someone to do your layout, they will charge for the time it takes to find all the places you used spaces to center a title or pressed “Enter” 23 times to make a new page. Ebooks absolutely require a squeaky clean manuscript.
Things to avoid and why
Using spaces to center anything. This locks you into a specific font and size, and your approximated efforts will lack crispness.
Center lines by using the Center Align icon on the toolbar.
Using spaces (or tabs) to position anything. As above, this will produce variable results.
Options include using tabs (only if you are sure you won’t convert to an eBook format), altering paragraph indentation (right-click and select the paragraph option), using tables or text boxes.
Using tabs at beginning of paragraphs. This advice may sound odd indeed. It has not been an easy habit for me to break. However, as page sizes, line lengths and font settings change, you may want to change the tab setting. Although you can control the tab setting in your paragraph style, using tabs is not advised for eBook conversion, so you’ll retain flexibility if you stay away from them as much as possible.
Set the first line indentation on the Normal or Default style. More about styles below.
Double-spacing between paragraphs. This is okay in a simple, short letter or story, but controlling paragraph spacing with styles is far preferable.
Bone up on Styles.
Entering two spaces at end of sentences. This is a hold-over from typewriter days, and it’s a really hard habit to break. Problems arise when you justify text to make even margins on both sides. Software distributes the extra spacing in spaces, so a double-space can become glaringly obvious.
Routinely use Find and Replace on completed manuscripts to replace all double-spaces with single ones. Obviously this will also kill any spacing you did with multiple spaces – another reason to avoid that technique.
Things to Do and Why
Learn to use Styles. Using Styles seems cumbersome at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll have a level of control you never imagined and save way more time in final layout than you invested in setting up your styles. With Styles you can
- change things like font size, line-spacing, or paragraph. alignment in your entire document with a single edit.
- change chapter or section headings without affecting paragraph text and vice-versa.
- automatically create a Table of Contents.
- save time and money on preparation for publishing.
- ensure consistency.
If you haven’t used Styles, do a YouTube search for your version of Word (or whatever software you use), and create your own class.
Download the Smashwords Style Book. Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, the leading free eBook conversion service, has written a book that details everything you need to know to get your manuscript squeaky clean and prepare it for eBook conversion. His tips work equally well to prepare for printing. He has generously made the book available at no cost. You can download it as a pdf or any eBook format except Kindle from this link.
Write now: If you’ve never used Styles, open an old document, then watch a couple of YouTube videos, and play around with Styles in your document.