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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

March 2015



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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

Say it with Style!

I reviewed two books for layout in print and eBook this week and wrote almost the same letter to both authors. As I review manuscripts for publication or talk to writers, it seems that the same issues of mechanics always show up. Face it: Everything your high school typing teacher told you is wrong. Now get over it.

You would think that with the demise of the typewriter, the traditions of The Gregg Typing Manual (1932 and 1942) would have disappeared along with the QWERTY keyboard. That was the book I was taught out of on a Royal Manual typewriter in 1967. But alas, the QWERTY keyboard is still here and so are the common mistakes that everyone seems to make when using a word processor.

Back in the days when authors submitted typewritten manuscripts to a publisher and an editor marked them up in ink, another person was involved in the process: the typesetter. The typesetter would retype everything, make corrections as she/he went, and produce camera ready layouts for one last proof (galley). I’m not going back to days of hot lead type here. The process was even more complicated then. If an error was found after the paste-up was done, either a bit of paper with the correction on it was pasted over the top of the mistake, or it was ignored and sent to press anyway.

Fast forward 50 years. The professional typesetter is all but fantasy today. Especially in the world of self-publishing, the author is presumed to submit a clean electronic version of the document in a file format that the page layout person can easily manipulate. If you don’t want to pay the layout artist to completely retype your manuscript, you need to learn how to use your word processor’s “Styles” feature.

Most word processing software have some kind of style function. When you place the cursor in a paragraph of text and click on the style name the entire paragraph takes on the characteristics of that style—like Times, 12 point, indented first line, space after paragraph. That’s good. That’s just what we want to happen. The layout software will read the style of that paragraph as “Normal” or “Body” and then the layout artist can choose the specification for all paragraphs of that style and turn them into the correct specifications for your book. The conversion of the word processing document to html for eBook layout will tag the paragraph as a simple <p> so the eBook stylesheet can be applied to it. Life is good.

If, instead, you play layout artist in the word processing program and hit a tab at the beginning of the paragraph, double-space between paragraphs, select all the text and make it “Georgia” instead of “Times” and change it to 11 point, the layout artist has to hunt down and manually remove all those specifications in order to control the design of the book.

Your manuscript should not include any text selections that have a special treatment applied to override the style. You are not designing the book in the word processor. You are structuring the text so someone else (or maybe you wearing a different hat) can design it. It doesn’t make a difference if your manuscript looks ugly. All that matters is that everything in it has a structure tag representing it.

Here are the styles you should use:

“Normal” or “Body” –Start by selecting the entire manuscript and applying this style to everything in it.

“Heading 1” –This should be reserved for your chapter headings.

“Quote” or “Blockquote” –Use this tag for indented text that is to be set off from the rest of the text. Usually this is reserved for two or more sentences, lines of poetry in a prose document, or things that characters are reading in your book.

“List” or “Bullet list” or “Numbered list” –This should be self-explanatory, but don’t just put an asterisk at the beginning of items that are in a list or manually number them. Just use the style.

“Emphasis” –If you have a word, book title, inner dialog, or other special selection of text, select the text and use the style Emphasis. Don’t select the text and choose Italic.

“Strong” –The same applies for bold text. Select it and use the style Strong, not the “B” for bold.

If necessary, you can use Heading 2 and Heading 3 if you have subsections to a paragraph or if Heading 1 is reserved for section heads and the next level for chapter heads. Title can be used for the cover page of the manuscript, but the title and author page will be stripped out of the manuscript before it is laid out so those don’t make much difference. Since the manuscript sent to layout won’t be printed until after it is laid out, you don’t need a header and footer with page numbers, author and title. Again, that will just be stripped out in layout. Never use underline to represent emphasis. Underline only Web URLs and email addresses.

Again, from a layout perspective, I don’t care how ugly your manuscript is! I care that every paragraph is structured with the right style. If I have to do that manually before I can lay it out, it will add as much as 25% to the cost of laying out your book.

Of course, if you don’t mind paying, I can use the extra cash.