Book formatting for print

One task I’m often asked to do is to produce a version of a book for print. So what does this involve?

Preformatting

Firstly, I have to scan through the document to see if there are any tricky bits – sometimes a book will include sections such as letters, or newspaper articles, or something else that needs to be treated differently from the main text. There might also be areas where italics are used, for example. I apply styles to these, and to the chapter headings, and to anything else that is in other than the normal body font.

 

Some books bring real challenges, and it’s important to have an ongoing dialogue with the author over how he/she wants the issue handled.

Typesetting

The next step is to create the document to the right size in InDesign and import the Word file. I then check through the import, making sure that all the styles have made it across safely and all chapters start on a new page.

 

Next there’s a tweak of settings like hyphenation, and orphans and widows (usually issues with paragraphs split across a page break unevenly), and a check that we don’t have issues like blank pages or just one or two lines on the last page of a chapter. With InDesign, I have much more flexibility than in Word to squeeze an extra word on a line or spread the paragraph out a fraction so that more is carried over to the next line.

 

The beauty of using styles for the document is that it becomes very easy to change whole chunks at a time – if the author decides to go up or down a font size, for example, it can usually be changed in a single place. A change of fonts for the chapter headings is also achieved in one step, or adjusting how any special issues are addressed.

 

When I’m happy with the main body of the book, I can sort out the half-title, title page and imprint page, and anything else that’s needed for the front matter and end matter. There’s also the headers, footers (if needed) and page numbers to sort out, and checking that these only appear on the pages they’re needed.

Export and check

I export to PDF and scan through the file to make sure that all is as it should be, and then send off the PDF to the author for them to check. With InDesign, fonts are embedded in the file, meaning that the viewer will see the document as created, which isn’t always the case with files produced from Word. Ideally, a proofread would be carried out at this stage, to check for formatting issues as well as text issues. Sometimes I’m asked to do this, while at other times it remains something for the author to deal with.

 

Any issues can be dealt with fairly quickly, as the bulk of the work is done, and then I can create a final PDF if needed. By this point, it’s clear how many pages the book will have, which is vital information for creating the spine of the cover design. Again, I have some flexibility in page count as I can adjust settings easily to add pages (removing is trickier to do without affecting the overall look of the text).

How can an author help?

These days, authors often create the document with formatting as they imagine it should be. While traditional publishers might frown on this, I find it a help to see what the author has in mind, as long as it’s not too fancy.

 

It always helps if I’m prewarned about any issues that might arise, as I can be on special lookout.

 

If you know how to use styles, then applying them in Word rather than using ad-hoc formatting is useful.

 

Above all, it helps if the author is prompt with checking through proofs or letting me know if there’s a delay. As in  many things, communication is the key to success!

 

 

Writing strong scenes

When writing your novel, it’s important that each scene carries its weight. How about using a checklist? Each time I look at a scene, I ask myself:

  • How has this developed the storyline?
  • What have I learned about the characters?
  • What have I learned about the setting?
  • How have I developed the theme of my novel?
  • Is the right person telling the story here?

Do you have any other suggestions for ensuring a scene is strong?

 

How much does an editor cost?

One concern of a writer getting ready to publish is how much an editor will cost. I’ve seen much resentment on all sides, from professional editors accused of high fees, from writers convinced the editor is charging far too much, and from those who charge very low fees and are surprised that others get upset.

 

So just what is a reasonable fee editing a novel? First of all, ask yourself some questions.

How long have you spent on your novel?

Just for fun, take a rough guess at how many hours you’ve spent on your novel. Bear in mind that in the NaNoWriMo challenge, some writers have managed to churn out 50,000 words in 24 hours, working flat out. Then there’s the time spent staring at the screen, trying to work out the best way of phrasing something. And the time spent working out your plot and whether things happen in the right order.

How long would it take to read through your novel?

If a reader were to sit down and read through it, how long would it take them? Okay, reading speeds vary, but you can get a rough idea. If we take a very rough estimate of 100 pages per hour, at 250 words per page, that’s 25k words per hour. And that’s reading very fast, not taking in every detail. So for a nano novel you’re looking at two hours minimum for a readthrough. That’s the reading time for an edited, published novel, though, not for a raw manuscript that still might need a lot of work. That can easily take four or five times that reading time.

How long would it take to edit your novel?

How long do you think it would take for someone to read through your novel carefully, line by line, making notes, checking every word, ensuring it all makes sense, ensuring continuity, and becoming as familiar with the text as you are?  This is very hard to estimate, so I would suggest that as an absolute minimum, take the reading time and multiply it by ten. The time taken will vary widely with the quality of the original writing, of course. Some texts only need a clean-up, while others will need a lot more work, entailing not only close reading but constant checking backwards and forwards. Novels written by someone who is not a native English speaker can be even more complex.

What’s a decent hourly rate?

The minimum wage in the UK is around £7 an hour. The recommended rate for editing in the UK is £20 – £30 an hour plus, depending on level of edit needed and quality of writing to be edited (Society for Editors and Proofreaders).  Editors with a great deal of experience might well ask for a higher fee, while some jobs are more complex than others. Don’t forget that an editor is also usually self employed, so responsible for covering their own tax, pension, sickness cover, holiday pay, training, national insurance and costs of running their office, such as heating and lighting. Admin also takes up part of their time, so time available to do paid, chargeable work is reduced accordingly. One estimate is that of any hourly fee they take in, around 75% maximum is actual net income, so here we’re talking about earning around £15 an hour net.

 

Look at those figures in relation to your estimate of time taken. What do you notice? For your nano novel, we’re talking about a minimum of around 20 hours of editing, at £140 minimum wage or £600 recommended rate. And most novels are more like twice that size. As the size grows, so does the complexity of the edit. For the 100k novel, we’re looking at a very rough estimate of £280 ($360 approx) at minimum wage and £1200 ($1500 approx) recommended rate. And that’s  for the bare minimum level of work on a very clean original. If you’re paying a lot less than this, then what’s happening?

Why are some editors much cheaper?

You will always be able to find editors offering to work on your novel for a low fee. This probably means one of the following:

  • They’re just setting out in business and trying to get experience and testimonials.
  • They cut corners and don’t give your work the time it needs (some may well just run the spell and grammar checks and claim to have edited your work).
  • They’re just editing as a hobby, and the money is an extra bonus.

Each group has its own drawbacks:

  • The first group lack experience and are likely to be inundated with requests. They will either buckle under the pressure or soon find they can’t afford to work at that rate for long and their fees will rise with their experience level.
  • The second group – well, just don’t expect them to add much quality to your novel. If you’re lucky, they won’t actually do any harm.
  • The third group forms more of a grey area. On the one hand, if your writing is a hobby, then maybe a hobby editor is suitable. I’m sure there are some out there who can consistently offer a good service at or near minimum wage. On the other hand, they are likely to lack the experience that a professional editor has gained over many years of working in the business, or they might be tempted to rush through the job or not understand the full implications of editing.

How hard is it to edit?

Editing is a highly skilled job, but a good edit is invisible, so it’s far too easy to get the idea that anyone can do it. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing – be very careful of editors who apply rules rigidly, for example. In all writing, but especially with fiction, an editor needs to understand when a rule may be broken, and be aware of regional variations in usage, among many other issues.

 

Editing is not just a question of being good at grammar, punctuation and spelling. Your editor should also be drawing up a style sheet – noting anything from whether to use anymore or any more, or where to hyphenate, to whether John has blue eyes or brown, and the fact that Jane is left-handed and lives in a bungalow. The style sheet can be very complex, for example if writing fantasy, and will be used to check consistency throughout the manuscript in conjunction with a style guide that advises the editor on whether capitalisation is needed, where italics should be used, how to deal with abbreviations, and many other issues.

 

If they’re carrying out developmental editing, they may well also have many other tools such as a timeline they can check against and a way of checking the progress in each scene for balance between action and backstory.

 

A fiction editor also needs to understand the intricacies of issues such as consistent point of view, consistent use of tenses and how to retain the author’s style while polishing it ready for publication.

 

Always remember that there are three aspects to editing, as in many things: good, cheap and fast. You can always get one of the three, and usually two. But three out of three? Never! Which are you willing to sacrifice, and which is most important to you and your novel?

 

 

 

 

 

Your first chapter

Within the first few pages of a book, a reader decides whether to continue or to give up. Writers focus a lot of attention on those first few pages, and with good reason. But what should you be looking for?

 

Don’t get stuck on your first chapter. Write something, anything, and then keep going on the rest of your novel. But when it’s time to edit your work, pay close attention to that first chapter, and how you use it to set up the rest of your book.

 

One issue that I often discover when I beta read is that at first I struggle to find my way in the book world. Is this a fantasy world? Is it our world? Are we talking current day, past or future? Who are these people? What’s the relationship between them? Who should I be focusing on?

 

These days, we tend to prefer books that go straight into some sort of action, but is that action detailed enough for readers to pick up what they need? You don’t have to explain everything at once, but make sure there’s enough detail to be able to follow.

 

Book two (or three or four) of a series provides a special problem. It’s so tempting to follow straight on from the previous book, but you know these characters and situations far better than the reader, who might have a large time gap between books. Are they going to remember that character? Are they going to remember the setting? Do they understand the significance of that event? What about the reader who glances at book two without realising it’s a sequel? Will they be interested enough to find the backstory, or will they be completely lost?

 

All this is why putting a manuscript to one side for a while and then reading with fresh eyes is a very good idea. Then make sure you read what’s actually written, and you don’t fill in the blanks with your memory. Is it clear who that person is? Have you indicated the time, the setting, the main drive of the story? Is the genre clear (or at least hinted at) from the start?

 

Sometimes, all it takes is a few extra words, or an extra scene, to make the difference between an opening chapter that leaves the reader floundering and one that pulls them onwards, already deeply engrossed in your story.

 

Writing books – Writing Deep Point of View

2016-01-26 08.47.57Point of view is one technique that many beginning writers struggle with. Writing Deep Point of View by Rayne Hall is number 13 of a series of 16 Writer’s Craft books. This one explains the appeal of deep POV to the writer and to the reader, and guides you through strategies to hook the reader and pull them into the story and into the narrator’s mind.

 

Twenty chapters take you through topics such as the sensory experience, trigger and response, male and female POV, switching POV, and cover topics such as how to get across what other characters feel and what’s going on elsewhere in the world.

 

The book is available in both kindle and paperback formats, although the kindle version offers much better value for money. I found it very useful as a reminder of the purpose and techniques of deep point of view, and it covers the topic in suitable depth, with plenty of examples. As a bonus, two complete short stories by the author illustrate the strength and flexibility of deep point of view in getting to the heart of a story and in twisting traditional stories.

 

Each book in the Writer’s Craft series covers one aspect of writing in great detail, and together they serve as handy, useful guides.

 

Writing books – Basic English Grammar for Dummies

IMG_1605[1]Part of an editor’s job is to ensure that the grammar in a text is sound, but it is still a good idea for writers to be as confident as they can be in their own writing, so that they can make their message clear. Basic English Grammar for Dummies by Geraldine Woods provides a way for writers to check up on the basic rules. Working your way through the book, trying out the exercises and checking your answers, will boost your confidence and clarify those pesky rules around apostrophes, capital letters and prepositional phrases, as well as providing guidance on appropriate style issues in different situations.

 

One test of a grammar book is how it deals with the pesky serial comma; in this book, it is explained as optional in UK English, used only when it helps to clarify the text, and always used by most writers in US English.

 

Sections include Getting Started with Basic English Grammar, Creating Correct Sentences, Punctuation and Capitalisation, Grammar in Action (writing in electronic media, writing at school or work etc), Common Errors and the Part of Tens (quick lists of ways to improve, mistakes to avoid etc).

 

There are all the usual features of a Dummies book – tips, warnings, things to remember – and the tone is light and conversational, without getting silly or talking down to the reader.

 

This book is written primarily for UK English, so if you use a different format then just be aware that this might account for any differences. However, the differences are few enough that this book would be useful for anyone writing in any variant of English.

 

I’ve completed nanowrimo – what’s next?

That’s the question that many people are asking themselves at the moment, or will do over the next week or so. If you’ve been keeping up with the wordcount, churning out your story and ploughing on to the end, you should have 50k or more words of a first draft and might be considering the next step.

What not to do

Please don’t rush to publish your story as soon as possible. Your story deserves more than that. It deserves a careful re-reading, consideration and editing before it is cast out into the world. The industry gets flooded with nanowrimo stories at this time of year, as new writers, overcome by the excitement of having written a novel, send it out too soon. Readers can be easily put off by a badly presented story, and you risk damaging your reputation as a writer and the reputation of indie writers generally.

 

For the same reason, please don’t rush it out to an editor or agent. An editor is likely to cost a lot of money if called in at this early stage, and an agent is likely to have many such manuscripts sent to them.

 

On the other hand, if you just want to share your work with family and friends, why not find a company who will print a few copies for you?

What you should be doing

Set the manuscript aside for a month or so. Then you should be able to read it through with a more objective eye. You might be pleasantly surprised or you might be shocked. Either way, make notes as you read, and then go through and fix the issues you spotted.

 

  • Take a look at your characterisation – do your characters grow and develop? Do they behave consistently? Are they interesting?
  • Take a look at your show/tell balance – one thing that might help here is to use highlighters. Highlight dialogue in one colour, and telling passages in another. This will give you an overall view of your balance.
  • Take a look at your use of settings. Do you know where the scenes are set? How do the characters and the plot interact with the setting?
  • Take a look at the structure. Is there a clear progression in the story? Is it logical?

Once you’ve considered all these, and revised your story as much as you can accordingly, then you need to seek out a beta reader or two. This should be someone who reads the sort of story you’ve written and is willing to comment honestly on it. If you don’t know anyone suitable, then try looking online, in places such as goodreads.com groups, or search for beta reading services. You might be asked for a small fee, or you might be lucky and find a good reader who will read for free, or will agree to exchange services. Don’t spend too much at this stage!

 

Another useful resource is scribophile.com, where you critique work to earn points that you spend to post your own work for critiques from other writers.

 

After you have heard back from the beta reader(s), it’s time to work through some more, with their comments in mind. You don’t have to implement everything they say, but they should raise some points that will help you develop the story.

 

Once you’ve reached the point where you can do no more yourself, then it’s time to consider whether your work is ready for editing, proofreading and publishing, or whether it’s better to set your manuscript aside, start on the next and return to this one when your writing has improved still further.

 

 

Writing books – On Writing

On WritingOn Writing by Stephen King is probably one of the most famous books around on the topic of writing. I first read it years ago, and while working through books for this blog I decided it was about time I read it again.

 

I was half-expecting to slog through the autobiography section, but found that King tells stories in such an entertaining fashion that I was laughing out loud. It’s not a complete story of his life, but some of the highlights and stories from his childhood and early experiences as a writer.

 

The second section, The Toolbox, starts off with an anecdote about his uncle’s old toolbox, and develops into a description of what he sees as the writer’s toolbox: the essential tools that every writer should take with them everywhere, in order to be able to use whatever tool best does any given job. Here, the importance of issues such as grammar and vocabulary are discussed.

 

The third section, On Writing, contains more general advice on writing, including King’s own writing processes. You might or might not agree with all his points – he is actively against plotting, preferring to allow the story to develop from the situation and characters, for example – but you will find them enlightening and thought-provoking.

 

The fourth section, On Living: A Postscript, describes his experiences on being hit by a van and badly injured. Again, King brings the story to life with a few vivid details, and the account is very readable.

 

The final sections include an example of the first and second draft of an excerpt, with detailed explanations as to why he made the changes he did, and a detailed list of recommended books. King is a prolific reader – one thing he is clear on is that if you don’t have the time to read a lot, you’ll never be able to write successfully – and the list comprises fiction books he has read and recommends.

 

If you take nothing else from this book, you will get an idea of the dedication and hard work it took King to get where he is today, and you’ll have a much better understanding of what life as a successful writer is like and how to get there. I completely understand why this is one of the books that is constantly recommended to writers and would-be writers.

 

Writing books – The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes

38 most common mistakesThe 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and how to avoid them) by Jack M. Bickham is a slim but useful volume. It covers a wide variety of topics, each in a fair depth – most chapters are two or three pages long, explaining the nature of each mistake and how to avoid it.

 

Topics start with Don’t make excuses – suggestions to avoid the procrastination that all writers seem to suffer from to a greater or lesser degree. They continue with topics such as Don’t expect miracles, Don’t lecture your reader, Don’t ignore scene structure, Don’t ever stop observing and making notes, Don’t ignore professional advice, Don’t forget sense impressions, and finishes with Don’t just sit there.

 

The advice is sensible and thought-provoking, with probably more on general plotting and structure principles or the process itself than on specific writing issues. While this book is unlikely to directly influence your writing, it could help your attitudes and beliefs about your work.

 

The book is available in kindle or paperback, and the kindle version is available on kindle unlimited. There are more thorough books out there, but this does work as an interesting, relevant read as a present for a new writer, or as a general motivational book. Generally, though, there shouldn’t be anything in here that comes as a big surprise to any regular writer.

 

 

NaNoWriMo season

You can’t exist for long in the writing world without hearing at least a mention of NaNoWriMo – national novel writing month. During the month of November, the challenge is to complete a novel of 50,000 words. The writing should not start until 1st November, should be a new project, and the word count target should be reached on or before 30th November. Winners – those who upload and validate at least 50k words – receive all sorts of goodies from the sponsors, such as discounts on writing software or discounted membership of writing communities.

 

Some people swear by nano – some hate it. Some never open their projects again, some go on to publish. Some enter year after year and fail every time. Some enter every year and win, but do no other writing all year. Some win on their first year and then swear never ever to do it again.

 

One thing you must be aware of when taking nano on is that the writer who can storm through their novel draft in 30 days or less and then publish it within a week is a very rare creature. What’s much more likely is that you’ll be left with a draft zero, something that has got the story down in words but that needs a lot of refining, redrafting and a major dose of editing before it’s ready to be seen by anyone other than the writer.

 

So when you have finished nano, don’t rush to publish your work without considering the quality very carefully. On the other hand, don’t throw it into the bin in despair because it’s not ready to publish. That’s only to be expected. Never judge a novel by the first draft.

 

Please, if you’re going to take part in nanowrimo, enjoy the experience, make the most of the peer support and general buzz about writing, and then consider very carefully your next step. And before you try to submit to agents or publishers, please bear in mind that they have generally learned to dread the words “here is my nanowrimo novel” because of the pile of raw drafts they receive around December/January time!