How I Write a Book — Final Draft

As promised, I’ve one final installment in my series of getting idea from brain to book. Now that I’ve gotten through five drafts and have the manuscript polished and ready, there’s a couple more steps.

Layout

Because I’m an indie author I have to do more than write and rewrite my manuscripts. I have to handle all the production too.

So once I’ve got a final draft it’s time to go into layout mode. I start with the print edition, which is a little backwards, since the vast majority of my sales come from eBook versions, but there is a method here. Print has a longer lead time on production, and I want to release the electronic and print editions simultaneously, so I have to start with the dead-tree version.

I set my type to Times New Roman. Yes, I know that’s generic and unimaginative, but I do it for several reasons. TNR is clear and easy to read. That’s the first and most important consideration. I could use Georgia or another standard font, but TNR is clean, it reads easily, and it’s economical in terms of space used. I prefer serifed fonts, which is why I choose it over Arial or Helvetica.

There are those who feel anyone who uses TNR is lazy and shouldn’t be read. Maybe. But the funkier you get with fonts, the harder the book can be to read. If a snooty designer-type doesn’t want to read my book because the font is boring, I’m okay with that. If an average reader puts the book down because the frilly font is too hard read, that’s not okay at all. The KISS Principle applies here.

I set my point size for 11, my spacing for 1.5 lines, and I justify the text. I have the chapter headings match whatever font was used for the title on the cover, and I do give a nod to frilly design by drop-capping the first letter of each chapter in the same font as the cover.

I don’t put a lot of frontmatter in my books, but there is the frontispage, copyright page, an “Also by John R. Phythyon, Jr.” page, and a dedication.

The backmatter has an “About the Author” page, acknowledgements, and a back page ad for some of my other books.

The vast majority of my time in layout is spent jacking around with MS Word trying to get the headers correct (my name on left-facing pages, book title on right-facing pages, and no header or page number on the first page of a new chapter), and aligning pages that must be on the right (frontispage, first page of the narrative, “About the Author,” etc.)

Once I’ve got it the way I want it, I upload it to CreateSpace, which converts it to .pdf, and spits it into book format. Then I flip through the electronic preview to make sure any pages that must face right have not somehow switched to the left. (It happens.)

I choose the cream interior instead of white, because I think it’s easier on the eyes. That paper is a little thicker, but I’m all about making the book as easy to read as possible.

With all that done, I’ve got a page count, which allows me to set a spine width for my cover designer. When I’ve got a cover and interior uploaded and approved, I order a physical proof, which takes three to five days to get to me. More on why I do that later.

Layout Again

With the print edition ordered, I turn to the eBook version. Electronic books are pretty easy, but there are a few special considerations to make it read cleanly.

I remove all tabs and set the text to have an automatic indent when a new paragraph starts. The narrative is set at 12-point TNR and the chapter headings are in 14-point TNR bold. Which font I choose is less important here, because the reader is going to set his or her device to display the book in the font and point-size of his or her choice. Thus, I just make sure I have something formatted well, so Kindle doesn’t do something funky with it.

Because eBooks are sold and read differently than print books, I have almost no front matter. Amazon lets you look inside a book to see if you like it, so I make sure you can start reading almost right away. It’s not like at a bookstore, where you can flip through as many pages as you like. There is only a certain amount you can read on Amazon’s free sample. So I cut out most of that extra stuff up front.

Most of my eBooks start on the dedication page. I’m sentimental, so I want people to know to whom I dedicated the book. As soon as you turn the page, though, you’re into the action. (I begin most of my stories in media res for this same reason. I want to hook people in as quickly as possible.) The Wolf Dasher novels are inspired by James Bond films, so I begin them with a prologue, and then you get the title page before diving into Chapter 1. I do that to make them feel like a Bond film.

All of the extra material goes into the backmatter. Because you can click hyperlinks in eBooks, I put in links to my mailing list, requests for reviews, and links to buy the next book in the series in the back. I also include several ads (with clickable links) and opportunities to follow me on Twitter, go to my website, and check out my Facebook page.

Pre-Selling

With the electronic version laid out, I upload it to Amazon’s KDP platform. When the conversion is successful, I page through an electronic preview to make sure nothing weird has happened to the text. The main narrative is usually fine, but things can get tricky with the backmatter.

When I’m satisfied with how it looks, I download a preview version in .mobi format to my computer. I use this as an electronic Advance Reader Copy I can send to reviewers so I can get reviews quickly upon the book’s eventual release.

Proofreading

Before I publish anything, though, I need that print proof I ordered. When it arrives, I sit down and for about the seventh or eighth time, I read the entire book from start to finish.

I’m looking for typos — missing words, misspellings, wrong versions of homonyms, anything we somehow missed in the editing process — and coding errors that may have escaped my attention when I was putting it all together. I make marks in the proof. I could do this with the e-version, but I find I see things better in print. So going through a laid-out print edition one more time allows me to be more accurate in my proofreading.

Then I go through each manuscript — print and electronic — and make those corrections. When they’re finished, I upload new versions and check the electronic previews just to make sure nothing has changed.

Finally — Finally! — it’s time to publish.I click the publish buttons on KDP and CreateSpace, and I’ve got a book for sale within 12 hours.

This is a meticulous and sometimes grueling means of publishing a book. But I demand excellence. I may be an indie author, but I want my books to look and read every bit as well as one from a big, New York publishing house. I’m a professional. I’m asking people to pay for my work, so they deserve something that’s done right.

That’s my process. That’s how I get an idea for a story out of my brain and into a reader’s hands. I keep modifying as I go to improve both my efficiency and the quality of the work. But this complicated, multi-part process is how I write a book.

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