Slaying the dreaded Formatting Dragon

In the ninth post on my journey to publication, I am going to talk about a topic whose very thought filled me with dread – formatting. I have heard nightmares of books turning up real shabby and all over the place on Kindle. Or it looking decent in the font you have set but getting totally distorted when a different font is selected by user. So much so that I wanted to pay someone to do it. Costs as high as 25 Rs. per page kept me from this move.

Over the Diwali weekend, I braced myself and decided to get on with the onerous task. I googled and found some long videos on how to do it. For the first time I learnt about stuff such as styles, headers and breaks. And I learnt for a Kindle book, you should not use empty lines or empty spaces for positioning a certain word or sentence. The thing is all the positioning gets changed based on the device and the font. So I spent an entire day poring over video and applying my learning on my manuscript. I learnt how to make paragraphs and set indents. I learnt how to create 2-3 styles and use them throughout for uniformity.

Finally, after a lot of struggle the formatting was done. But I could see it only after the final proof read from editor. For that was when I converted it into a .mobi file and loaded on my Kindle to see. Later before final launch I came to know Amazon also gives a preview option.

Now this is the story of formatting for Kindle. After the experience with Kindle formatting, I thought formatting for print was going to be a piece of cake – open word, change size to the desired size and presto! You have book ready for print. Well, well! Not so fast my friend. Formatting for print is altogether a different ball game. We see all those paperbacks and take it for granted it comes the way it is. But someone has to work to ensure a book looks like a book and not your  school rough book. You know there are so many things – headers, page numbers, margins to the sides, chapters to name a few. And decisions to be made – which size to pick, what to write in the header, what font to choose, where to place the page number. And then there are a few things one needs to pay attention to – chapter start pages should not have header, the first page of the first chapter has to be on the right side, you can’t have the separator between two sections on the start of a page, you can’t have just 2-3 words in the last page of a chapter. There are quite a few such things to be taken care of. And you don’t have a step by step formatting for dummies that teaches you all this in one go.

I actually did not even have the idea of going for a print edition when I started out. But when I loaded on Kindle I noticed they had a section for KDP print. So I was curious and wanted to try it out. I chose a size of 5 by 8 and they had a template in which one could put the book. So I downloaded their template, put the book into it, added headers and footers, adjusted the contents page etc. It took me an entire day to get all this done. But KDP print was not available for India. For India people were suggesting Pothis. So I submitted the one I formatted for KDP print there as well. There was some hard work adjusting the cover for KDP print and Pothis. Then for 250 Rs., I was able to order a copy of the formatted book from Pothis. It was looking decent. But depended on what you were comparing against. Definitely better than my school and college project reports. But nowhere even closely resembling a novel. I found 5 by 8 a bit longish. Also, it did not look like a proper book with the double spacing. Then section breaks appearing on top of pages was appearing amateurish.

So I had to start work on formatting for print all over again. This time instead of using a template, I researched articles from the net and did everything from scratch. Then I asked a friend who has also self-published book for tips. With this help finally, I got it in shape. It was a long struggle though. Even a simple thing like getting the first page of the actual book on a right-side page was a big struggle. And in some places, I had to cut the foot to fit the shoe – some text had to be trimmed to ensure section breaks appear on end of same page and not in the beginning of next page.

Even after my friend had checked everything and confirmed it was fine, I was apprehensive. My fears were finally allayed when the final printed books arrived at my door step. Thus the fearsome dragon of formatting was conquered.

Comments

  1. I am learning, learning... Perhaps someday I will tread in your footsteps.

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    Replies
    1. For your quality of writing, I am sure you will get a contract from one of the big houses one day. But self publishing is still something worth just for the whole experience of doing everything yourself.

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