Self-publishing: the MS Setup

Since self-publishing has become popular, one might wonder why people still pay big bucks for books by known authors from big publishers. The answer, I believe, is quality. With a self-pubbed book, it's hard to know if you're getting junk or a gem. For example, I once bought an e-book that sounded interesting and found the whole thing center spaced. Using a segment from my latest book, I'll show you what that looked like.

“Can you tell me what happened tonight?”

Nettie’s gaze met hers. “I shot him.”

The abruptness of the admission shocked her, but Belizek recovered quickly. “I need to know why you shot him.”

The detective tried to wait out the silence that followed. In training, they were taught to let the witness, suspect, whoever, tell the story in their own way. Silence bothers people, the instructor had claimed. Because they can’t stop themselves from filling it, they reveal things they don’t intend to.

In this case, the silence went on and on, and it felt cruel to play amateur psychologist. “Who was Caleb Green?” the detective asked gently. “Why was he here in your house?”

The woman drew on her hand-rolled cigarette, and the acrid smell of cheap tobacco again stung Belizek’s nose. Stowing the lighter in her pocket with an impatient movement, Nettie Waller said, “He was my son.”

That was a crazy way to try to read a novel, and I gave up only a few pages in. Not sure what the author was thinking. A traditional publisher makes sure that reading conventions are observed, and readers like that. It's a lot like buying brand names versus store brands: some generics are as good as the big-name products, but we tend to like the assurance of quality that comes with a name we know.

There are attempts in the self-published world to showcase well-done books, like the Brag Medallion, which curates books so readers can be sure they're buying quality work. My first Maggie Pill book got their seal of approval, but they're so jammed with authors wanting to submit to them that they have to close submissions for long periods of time. Overall, a reader's best bet is to read the sample to determine if she likes the setup, the style, and the story.

Setting up a manuscript for print involves some choices on the doer's part, but awareness of publishing convention is helpful. Not center aligning your text is an easy one, but there are others. Will all your chapters start on a right-hand page? What fonts will you use? Will you allow hyphenation? Widow/orphan control? Indent paragraphs or put space between non-indented ones?

The easiest thing to do is hire someone to format for you. It's not terribly expensive, and I did it that way for a while, but as with other elements of publishing, I watched and learned what they did and how they did it. Finally I felt ready to try my own formatting.

It's kind of fun, but it's also kind of a nightmare.

I need separate files for e-books and print. E-books don't have page numbers and headings, but Amazon requires a table of contents. Draft2Digital makes that for me if I've set the MS up correctly, which is nice. Print books have headings and page numbers, so in order for them to turn out right, the chapters have to end with a Section Break as opposed to the Page Break used for e-books.  Print books should have justified margins, which can create odd spacing within a line. E-books are fine with left-hand alignment.

If you're already lost, you should hire someone to format your book for you.

Here's how I do it. Once my book has been edited to a final, polished version, I start two files, one for print and one for e-books. That will become more than two, since I publish on both Amazon and D2D, but I want to wait as long as possible to subdivide, because the more files I have, the more places I have to go to correct mistakes found along the way. Amazon and D2D differ just enough that it's easier to make two e-book files and two print files. Then I fine-tune the MS to fit the requirements of each. 

Print requires PDF files, and little glitches like random blank pages tend to appear in that process. It's usually something I've overlooked or done wrong that makes that happen, but it can be frustrating to find where the error is. I've learned to eliminate extra pilcrows () and check those chapter endings to make sure there's only one kind of break and it's the right one. (MOffice sometimes "helps" by putting in breaks where it thinks they're required, as does my PDF file maker.) My husband has learned to just nod wisely when I come downstairs and rant about that, or missing page numbers, or unsightly spaces within a line of text.

I do a LOT of proofing back and forth for each file, but luckily, both Amazon and D2D provide ways to see online how the book is going to look IRL. The last step for print is to order proof copies. I usually get 5 and pass 4 out to my eagle-eyed proofers.

They each find different things to question, but that's good. Even when they're wrong, it makes me look at the line or passage to see what they didn't get about the line or paragraph. As they read, I make one more pass through myself, trying hard not to change things unless it's absolutely necessary at that late date. Once I make the corrections found in that round, I do the final proof using the online proof sections for both Amazon and D2D. Once that's done, I okay the book for publication. 

It's almost a given that there will be one last correction or two that every one of us missed, but I have learned to live with that...sort of. Well, not really. Actually, not at all, but I'm trying.



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