Friday, May 6, 2011

Adventures in Formatting - Part 1: Going Nuclear

As mentioned previously, I decided to try out formatting by releasing four short stories on Smashwords and Kindle. They're all live -- whoo-hoo -- so it's time for an overview of what I learned.

I found the thought of formatting rather daunting, first of all because you read a lot of anecdotes about the trouble people have with formatting. There's also the fact that so many writers pay to have their formatting done. But since I'm all about the DIY, I decided we would do our own formatting and see how it went. Verdict? Although there were a few bumps and blind alleys, it wasn't hard at all.

We started out with the Smashwords Style Guide, which is a free download from Smashwords. We worked in Word 2010 (this will be an important fact later). You will need to work in some word processing program that will save your file as a .doc file.  I gathered up all the files -- cover, story, bonus content files -- and put them in one folder. (A separate folder for each short story.) Since the stories had all been written at different times and in different word processor versions, I first went with Smashwords "nuclear option". This entails copying your text and pasting it into Notepad, closing Word, then opening a fresh Word file and pasting the text from Notepad back into Word. This, theoretically, strips out all the wonky Word formatting. Please note the word "theoretically."

Two important lessons here: the nuclear option is NOT FOOLPROOF. Regardless of the care you take and regardless of common sense, formatting gremlins in Word are tenacious. You'll still need to double-check your text.  Second lesson learned? NEVER USE THE TAB KEY AND NEVER HIT THE SPACE BAR MORE THAN ONCE. Yes, I'm shouting. Write it on a post-it and put it where you can see it all times. Tattoo it on you hand. Henceforth, you will only indent by using your paragraph format option and you will never try to adjust spacing with the space bar.  NEVER.

Okay. Now that your "clean" text is back in Word, you have to format it. You do this by selecting all your text, going into your paragraph formatting box and setting things thus: Indentation, Special, First Line, 0.3". Then set your line spacing at 1.5 lines. Hit OK. That's it.

Now you want to check. Do a search for ^t and replace with nothing. Turn on your formatting view (Tools, Options, Formatting marks, All) and look for anything that is not a paragraph return at the end of a paragraph or a single space between words. If you find something, kill it. At this point, you'll have to add any special formatting you need, such as italics for interior thought, etcetera.

Now follow the Smashwords Style Guide to the letter in setting up your page breaks, titles, etcetera. It really covers everything in a step-by-step manner that's easy to follow. That's it; you should have a file that is ready to upload to the Smashwords Meatgrinder.

Next up: Adventures in Formatting Part 2: Uploading, or Not So Fast, Pardner

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