The Write Way – How to Format

After writing a novel, you are faced with formatting a couple hundred pages for various outlets (Kindle, iTunes, CreateSpace, etc.). It is at that time when you are formally introduced to each and every mistake you made along the way.

TypefaceWhen you are writing, all you want to do is focus on the writing. That’s how it should be. Once you’re done with that hard work, having survived the editing and proofing process, and polished your work to a point you feel it’s ready for the world, you are put through the special torture of formatting. During that horrible process, you find that certain things don’t line up as you’d like. Certain things you quite like don’t work at all, or throw your format off catastrophically (hello, Drop Cap). It is then that you see all the steps you could have taken at the start to avoid much of toil of tweaking little silly things so your book doesn’t look like the poster child for Amateur Hour.

From that personal experience, I devised a guide of sorts. Because, when I was searching for answers, I couldn’t find many that were clear, especially for those of us who write contemporary women’s lit that will go into multiple formats. However, if your write Romance, Sci-Fi or How-To guides, there is plenty of information about those genres’ formats.

{Please note, this is a living, breathing guide, and I would be honored if you would contribute your findings or argue as to what I’ve suggested is wrong and why. (Not that I want to pick fights, just please elaborate as to why your method works/is more proper so that other authors can get the logic and help further the discussion). Any changes made through your wisdom will be added here with a link to your preferred site or social media.}


Book/Manuscript Page Set Up

  • Set your Word doc to the proper page size (5.5 x 8.5). Your editor or proofreader will likely be doing their work in Word rather than on printed pages, so size shouldn’t matter here. I like doing it this way so I can see how it will look on the page (if I need to add or delete words if I don’t like where/how the hyphen break is happening, etc.).
  • Set Margins to Mirror. For me, that’s Top 0.6 Bottom 0.6 Inside 0.75 Outside 0.4 Header 0.5
  • Set Tools to Hyphenate automatically. Click here if you need help with that.
  • Set Section Breaks for Headers (book’s title and your name) and Footers (page numbers). You can find advice on how here and here.
  • Include Different First Page (so  won’t have a header or footer on your first chapter’s first page).
  • Insert Page Numbers where you want them to begin (after you set your Section Break for your Foreword or Chapter)
  • Set Fonts. I like Baskerville 11.5.
  • Set Paragraph spacing for After 0.2
  • Make sure that Widow and Orphan control is off so that you don’t have awkward gaps at the bottom of your pages.

Now, clearly this is for a book book (paperback or hardcover), easily modified for e-book formatting. I also do all of my front matter first. I like seeing the book come to life like that, and it’s just easy to get it done at the start, and change anything you need as you go. Having this established will help you keep in mind your page count/spine width in case you are setting your book up with a print house and want to save a few bucks by cutting a few pages.

Miscellaneous Advice:

  • Forget the Drop Cap. It looks nice but will get screwed up in the transfer to Mobi and iBooks Author.
  • Once you finish a book, do yourself a HUGE favor, and use it as a template. Yep, take the time to delete your text and leave the chapter headings and section breaks and all the things that drove you utterly nuts when you had to format and re-format it repeatedly. (I’m regretting not doing that right now. I did everything but leave the chapters. I know. You’re sitting there going, “Duh.” I’m sitting here going, “Doh!”)

I would love it if you would contribute your advice or let me know what you think is missing or would work better. Thank you!


Now, having said all that, I have made the switch over to Scrivener and am flirting with Pressbooks for my next novel. Not gonna lie, I am fretting over what will happen when it’s time to send my manuscript out for proofreading. Yes, you can export to Word then import it back. Sort of not the point. {In case you were wondering why I went to Scrivener, it was to be able to work on my book from my phone when I had a moment or two, or an idea struck. Really, it’s that simple. Why not just write on Pressbooks, you ask? Well, that’s a little too bloggy for me. I don’t like the idea of my work living on a website, but, somehow, I don’t mind the manuscript being up on Dropbox. I’m full of those kinds of contradictory quirks.}

So, back to my worries about Scrivener and proofing, I have thought of two solutions:

  • Buy my proofreader Scrivener ($40-45, depending on if they are PC or Mac).
  • Encourage my proofreader to do Scrivener’s generous 30-day (really 30 days’ use) trial.

I’ll likely go with Option 1. It’s a small investment that says, “I want to continue working with you.” If my proofers balk, then I’ll suck up the Word export/import and invest in a nice whiskey to help me through it.

Since I’m only eight chapters into my novel, I can’t really talk about the formatting process of Scrivener, or if/how Pressbooks will make life easier for what it costs. That will be updated here when those bridges get crossed. Pressbooks does have “sales” quite frequently, so if you are considering this, sign up (free) and keep your eye out for a deal that tickles your fancy.

I’ll keep you posted on what I discover. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on formatting so we can all end the struggle. It is real. Very, very real. xo

The Notebook

You will hear again and again that it’s not about the writing — it’s about the re-writing. And that is an endless process. It is never done. Ever. Because, even after you have received the feedback and returned the revision, you will still want to add to it, tweak it, make one more change. Or another person will come on board and will want changes. Or something will happen in the real world that requires a change in your fabricated realm. And so on. That is the nature of the beast known as the screenplay. And, as screenwriters, we have no choice but to embrace that…or hang up abruptly on this particular calling.

I’m a little strange in that I actually like getting notes. I like the long meetings of nit-picking scenes and structure, character quirks and dialogue. I like rearranging pieces of the puzzle and debating the logic of the universe created in that story. I like watching people vehemently argue over an imaginary world I created, defending their favorite bits with passion. It is, in a word, awesome.

However, there is an art to giving good notes. And I don’t mean that in a feather-soothing, ego-fluffing kind of way. If one is going to be a writer of any sort, a thick skin is a requirement…or you should invest in a season pass to the booby hatch. The criticism isn’t personal, even if it sounds like it is. And, after enough drafts, notes and discussions, you should be pretty much over it. Which is kind of a good place to be, because you will no longer be putting forth energy to save a scene or quirk you’ve fallen in love with. You’ll just want to move the story, and progress of the project, forward.

The problem with not-so-great notes-giving is that one note will complete contradict another. The How and Who and Where and When and Why in one scene affects every scene before and after it. Screenwriting is like knitting in that way. If you want to fix something in the middle, you typically have to unravel the beginning or end to do it. But some see it as quilting: Take out one swatch of cloth and replace it with another. A good story doesn’t work that way, though. And that’s not always easy to explain. No, I take that back. It is easy to explain, it’s just that sometimes other people don’t see it that way. Which is okay. Some people still think this whole internet thing will eventually pass. What can you do? Notes — good, bad or indifferent — are at the heart of screenwriting and, eventually, filmmaking. Which is why I have such affection for them.

Truth be told, I still like the feel of pen to paper, ink on pulp. My first screenplay was written longhand on legal pads during breaks on a low-budget film. It was part of my graduation project at CalArts. At night and Sundays (the one day off from the movie), I would type out the scenes, action and dialogue. I will admit, I sort of liked that process. I realized it wasn’t exactly efficient, but  it was somewhat romantic. And I sort of miss that.

To keep some of that romance alive, when I come upon an idea for a screenplay that I have to write, I take a steno pad (made from recycled paper, of course) down from the shelf.  On the cover of the pad, in black Sharpie, I write the title of the screenplay and the day’s date. I use this notebook to jot down ideas about the characters and plot points, sometimes scenes and action and dialogue when I’m out and about — and, later, notes from meetings.  Needless to say, I have assembled quite a collection. I like having one place to keep all of my random thoughts that may or may not work for the script, the suggestions of others involved in the project, and the ability to go through it and see the history and evolution of the work. These notebooks help me to sustain more than one project in my mind, each getting the attention they need without taking away the time from the one that must get done.

I’m about to pull one down from the shelf and reach for a Sharpie. This one will be for my first television series. I’m kind of excited about it. But, there are still people to kill in the thriller that we are nearly done with. With a desired start date fast approaching, that script will be the priority. And my series’ notebook will be close at hand for when the Muse speaks for it.