ePublishing Basics Part I – Using Styles

Using Styles ePublishing BasicsThis is the first article in a series on ePublishing, covering the aspects of the publishing process for the indie writer, who becomes an ePublisher by default when deciding to self publish their own book.

Having gone through this process myself, I’ve found there are many phases involved.  It seems like a lot of indie writer’s don’t realize how involved the publishing aspect can be.  There are ways to make the process streamlined, and hopefully what I share here can be of help to other writers who are trying to publish a book on their own.

A first critical step, of course, is to write a book; and even here, there are ways to work that can help make things better in the long run.  My first bit of advice is to know your word processor.  The fact is that writing a five or ten page essay is pretty easy—formatting wise; however, when your book grows close to 100,000 words with several chapters, it can become unwieldy.  For example, changing something in one place can have a ripple effect that may mess things up throughout the manuscript.  This is why I believe mastering the use of “styles” in one’s word processor might be one of the smartest things an indie writer can do.

I use Microsoft Word on a Mac, but many other word processors handle styles.  If your word processor doesn’t, you might want to think about getting one that does.  I won’t go into actually how to use styles in a particular word processor, but I’ll cover the “why” of it, providing some links for the former at the end of this article.

A style, in short, is a grouping of formatting options such as a font’s selection, size, and other attributes like bold, italic, etc.  There’s line spacing, indentation, and slew of other things that can be defined in a single style.  Once a style is defined, it can be applied to specific text areas within your manuscript with a single click.  The key here is to try and define and apply your styles up front before your work gets too big and potentially more complex; otherwise, going back and fixing things later can be a chore.  Styles, while simple, are very powerful and can save you a lot of time and anguish when used effectively.

Any manuscript is going to have “Normal” or “Body” text, which will have a certain style.  This style, call it Normal, is pretty much a no-brainer.  It’s probably going to be a nice 12-point serif font like Times Roman (I’m a sucker for Garamond myself).  This will probably have the first line of each paragraph indented, and depending on if this is going to an agent or to the printer, the text might be double spaced and justified with a “ragged” right edge or single spaced and full justified like we see in most finished publications.  This is a great example in and of itself, as one change to the Normal style can change the formatting of the entire manuscript.  Caution must be exercised here, because if you haven’t defined and applied styles other than Normal, you may inadvertently change things you didn’t want to.

It’s a common mistake to just use the Normal style everywhere, and then edit the parts you want different.  This is called direct formatting, and it’s not an ideal way to work on any long document.  For example, you might make the chapter name bold and increase the font size to 18-point.  You might want to right justify a chapter subtitle where you’ve written information like the time and location of the scene.  You might want to simply center the ubiquitous “* * *” section breaks within your manuscript.  And you may want to create an indented text section or even an italicized block of paragraphs, representing a dream sequence or an internal dialogue, for example.   There are a lot of places where text will deviate from the Normal style.  The problem is that later on, you’ll forget where all of these spot changes are, and one change to the Normal style can revert all of these direct formatting changes, putting you back at square one.  Trust me; I’ve done this before, and it’s not fun to fix.

Getting your styles correct before you’ve got hundreds of pages to work with will pay off in the long run.  The important thing to remember here is that changing a style in one place, changes text everywhere that the style is applied.  It’s best to be sure that every piece of text that differs from Normal has its own style applied so as to prevent changes happening where you didn’t want them to occur.

How does all of this help with self-publishing?  Well, imagine that you’ve written your book, and you’re going to use one of the many methods to get that book into a popular eBook format (e.g. ePub, mobi, etc.) or a format ready to use for POD companies like CreateSpace or Lightning Source.  Or maybe you use SmashWords–whatever.  You’re all excited because you’re about to see your book for sale!  When the magic moment comes that you preview your book, it looks like crap because the chapter title is too big, section breaks are weird, or something you didn’t (or couldn’t) catch in your word processor.  Rather than the fix being an arduous detour of manual rework, it can now be as simple as changing a style or two and trying again.  And that, my friends, is the beauty of using styles.

Here’s some links on using styles in Word and iWork’s Pages.  Know of some other good ones?  Please feel free to post them here as a comment.


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