I’m back! + Book Formatting Services

After several months of survival mode, I’m finally sleeping a little more and am ready to reenter the blogging sphere! I’ve missed reading all your beautiful words and am looking forward to catching up with everybody.

For you writerly types out there who are considering self-publishing, I’ve now added a page detailing my book layout design services. I love giving books that final polished sheen that a good layout provides, and hope to be able to help with some of your books in the near future.

So talk to me! Tell me what you’ve been doing the past few months! Any exciting book news? Good reads? Crazy summer adventures?


Headers and Footers

If you pick up any book, you’ll notice that three things are generally written in the top and bottom margins: a page number, the title of the book, and the author’s name.

To set these up in Microsoft Word, we’re going to use the headers and footers. The easiest way to pull up the header and footer menu is to double-click in the top or bottom margin space. A cursor will blink in the middle of the margin, and the Header/Footer Design menu will pop up.

headerfooter design

Click it open, and you’ll see a whole array of options. Let’s start with the numbering. On the left side, there’s a Page Number button. Click that and decide where you want your page number to fall.


I like to put my numbers at the bottom of the page in the middle, so I generally pick Plain Number 2. Once the number is inserted, you can change the font and size on the Home menu just like any other text.

Now, headers. Books will often have the author’s name on the left page and the title on the right. Click on the Header/Footer Design menu, then check the box that says Different Odd/Even Pages.

different oddeven

You’ll see then that the headers and footers are labeled as Odd Page or Even Page. Type in the author’s name and title (or whatever you want in your header), then format using the Home menu.

Keep in mind that once you check that box, you’ll have to set the numbering for both odd and even footers. Make sure the formatting matches up exactly–paragraph styles are great for that!

One final note on numbering: you’ll want page 1 to be the first page of your actual story, but there will be plenty of pages that come before that (e.g. title page, copyright page, dedication page, etc.).

To start the numbering where your story starts, go the the page just before and click on the Page Layout menu, then the Breaks button. Under the Section Breaks section, click Next Page.

section break

And voila! The number 1 will appear on the next page.

And that’s it for the layout design series! If anyone has any questions, I’d be happy to answer them if I can. Stay tuned the next couple of weeks for book-loving Christmas celebrations! Happy reading, everybody!

Setting your margins

Next up in our layout design class is page size and margins! This is fairly straightforward, but there are a few important aspects to consider.

First things first: you have to set your page size. Many self-publishing sites give you options as to how big your book can be, so pick a size off the list and open up your manuscript to set the page size.

Click the Page Layout menu, then the Size button. At the bottom of the list, click More Paper Sizes.


That will open a dialog box that allows you to set exactly what your page width and length should be. Enter the dimensions, click OK, and there you go!

size box

Now for the margins. Pick up any book, and you’ll see that there’s not the school-standard one-inch margin all the way around. Also, keep in mind that your pages will be seen side-by-side, not individually, so you’ll want to set inside and outside margins, rather than right and left margins. Here’s what you need to do:

Go back to your Page Layout menu and click the Margins button, then hit Custom Margins at the bottom of the menu.


That will bring up your margins dialog box. About halfway down, you’ll see a drop-down menu next to Multiple pages. Select Mirror Margins, and the Margins section will change to inside/outside margins.

margins box

Now, it may look like my example above is a bunch of arbitrary decimal numbers, but there is some method to it. The bottom margin in books tends to be slightly larger than the top margin–it weights the page to the eye just right. So my top margin is 3/4 inch, and my bottom margin is 7/8 inch.

When setting the inside and outside margins, consider that the inside needs to be big enough that the binding won’t hide the words. I set mine to 1 inch to give plenty of space so the reader won’t have to strain to read the words on the inside of the pages.

The outside margin needs to be big enough that your reader has a place to hold the book, but not so huge that you have an enormous strip of useless white space on the outside of each page. I went with 5/8 inch.

Play around with different margin sizes and see what look you like best. And don’t forget–you’ll most likely have headers and footers in your top and bottom margins, so that will affect the look of it. We’ll cover setting those up on Friday.

Happy Wednesday, everybody!

Life’s easier with breaks and indents

One of my biggest pet peeves of Microsoft Word misuse is flagrant overuse of the Enter key and the Tab key. Useful in their own right, but NOT to be used in place of indents and page breaks.

So today, I’m going to help you give your keyboards a rest. We’re going to talk indents and page breaks.

Let’s start with indents. Remember how we set paragraph styles last time? Right-click on your paragraph style and click Modify to open the dialog box again. At the bottom of the box, click Format, then Paragraph.


That will open up your paragraph formatting box. In the Indentation section, on the right, there are two drop-down menus for special indents. Select First line, then decide how big of an indent you want.

first-line indent

So here’s the thing. When you hit Tab, it gives you a 0.5″ indent, which is HUGE. You’ll never see that big of an indent in a book. As you can see above, I like to set my indent at 0.2″. If you want a little more of an indent, you can go up to 0.3″, but I wouldn’t go any bigger than that.

Voila! You now have an automatic indent that will appear every time you hit Enter while typing in this paragraph style.

Okay, next point. I see SO MANY people who, when beginning a new chapter, just press Enter until they get to the next page. But what happens if you change your font? What if you add a line? Or remove a line? You have to adjust your number of blank lines EVERY TIME.  Pain.

So be more efficient! Use page breaks! So easy, so effective. One step. Ready?

On the menu bar, click Insert, then Page Break. Aaaand you’re done.

page break

Seriously, isn’t that easier than hitting Enter a billion times? I just saved your pinky finger from overexertion. You’re welcome.

Next time, we’ll get into setting up the actual page–making it look like a book! Happy weekend, everybody!


With the end of NaNoWriMo, I’ve plunged back in for the final edits and design of Stone Alliance. It’s been a JOY. You have no idea. Writing is my first and truest love, but honestly, editing work is not far behind. There’s something so satisfying about nitpicking and fine-tuning, and I LOVE that I get to do my own layout design this time around.

As I go through this, I want to share a few tips for other authors who are looking to learn more about designing their own layout. Of course, you can always hire out for layout design, but if you want the control and want it to look professional, I can help you out.

Now, my first tip to anyone planning to lay out their own book is to get Adobe InDesign. However, you have to subscribe to the ENTIRE Creative Cloud to get that one program, and if you’re on a budget like me, that’s not the best option. So I’m working with Microsoft Word. Since most people have that (or the Mac equivalent), that’s the program I’ll use to give any technical details.

So where do we go first?

I’ll start with my favorite, most underused function of word processors:


Why are paragraph styles important?

They make it so super easy to make sure your formatting is consistent across your entire manuscript. Instead of finding every chapter heading and laboriously making them each 20 pt, bold Arial or something like that, you can click the heading, select your paragraph style, and–tada! It’s also great for the main text of your manuscript, ensuring that every paragraph is the same instead of having a weird paragraph that somehow ended up being 9 pt font instead of 11 pt.

ALSO, I like to mess with my formatting a lot and try different looks. This is the way to do it. You can change every chapter heading at once by adjusting the paragraph style, rather than hunting down and changing each one individually. Same with the body text.

So where do we start?

You know that weird bar on the Home menu in Word that has boxes titled “Heading 1,” “Normal,” “No Spacing,” etc?

styles bar (2)

Those are your paragraph styles. The default ones are fairly useless, which is why you make your own. Start by clicking this button.

styles bar circle

That will expand the menu. Click on Create a Style.

styles menu

I believe that in an older version of Word, this takes you straight to the control center of paragraph styles, but Word 2013 brings up a useless dialog box prompting you to name your paragraph style. Give it a pertinent name and click Modify.

style name circle.jpg

Then you get to the fun part. This is where you set your paragraph style exactly how you want it to be. But there are a few important things you want to check first:

  1. Make sure Style type is set to Paragraph.
  2. Change Style based on to (no style).
  3. If you want this style to show up in the style menu for all new documents (so you can use it again in another document), click the circle at the bottom that says New documents based on this template.

style dialog box important

From this main screen, you can format your paragraph style just like on the home menu: font, size, justification, line spacing, etc. It will show you below the formatting menu what your paragraph will look like.

style dialog box formatting.jpg

And there you have it! Your very own paragraph style to fit your very own work.

I like using paragraph styles even when I’m just hammering out drafts, because I can easily set every new document to my “Stories” paragraph style and have it look clean, crisp, and uniform, just how I like to read it.

Stay tuned for more layout design info! Next time, we’ll delve into some deeper aspects of text formatting.


The secret to getting past page 1

Well, after my griping yesterday about not getting past the first page in my latest edit, fortuitous circumstances gave me just the right push.

You see, I had printed off the manuscript in hopes that having it on paper, rather than on the computer, would help get the process going. And it did, but not exactly how I expected.

When I pulled it out to work on it, I realized that, for whatever reason, page 1 hadn’t printed.

Which meant that I couldn’t get stuck on the first page.

And just like that, I had twelve pages covered in red ink. Magic!

Isn’t it funny how the world sometimes aligns just right? I guess all I needed was to get that first sentence out of sight, and then I could get rolling on the rest of it.

Scout even helped me mark it up this morning, when I so wisely left the stack of papers and red pen within her reach. She’s a helpful child.

I’m off to do a little more editing now, but I’ll be back tomorrow with the three-quotes-three-days challenge! Happy Thursday!

Piano Lessons

When I was in high school, I memorized Grieg’s “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen” for a piano recital. It was thirteen pages long, and while I loved most of the song, there were two pages of slower tempo in the middle that killed me. For whatever reason, I could not get them into my head. And so, day after day, those were the pages that I had to practice, when really all I wanted to do was play through the pages that I loved. It was painful to restrain myself to playing only those two pages, but it eventually came together. Playing that song through entirely from memory remains one of the greatest triumphs in my memory.

Now I’m there again, only this time, it’s words on the page instead of notes. All I really want to do is look at all the nice, neat parts of my book that work well and flow well and sound clever. But there are these two chapters in the middle that are threatening to visit my nightmares for years to come. I kind of feel like I’m going to spontaneously combust if I have to read them one more time.

It’s hard to face the imperfections in your work. It’s painful to whack at them over and over again and feel like you’re cutting down the mightiest tree in the forest with a herring. But little by little, they come together. Patience, diligence, perseverance. It’ll come, it’ll come, it’ll come, it’ll come.

How do you get through the frustration of imperfection? What do you do to keep yourself focused on the problems that need to be solved?

PS If you need help staying focused, try this: place a thumb on either side of your forehead and bring your pointer fingers together to form a triangle. Point at your computer (or notebook or whatever) and shout “FOCUS!” as loud as you can. It works wonders with my piano students. You’re welcome! 🙂

No more racking my brain!

I take a certain amount of pride in my knowledge of proper word usage. I’ve been a word nerd since I was three. But I have never ever ever in my life been able to figure out whether it’s “wracking my brain” or “racking my brain.” The internet was no help; it told me both ways. I tried a dictionary, but it didn’t help either. I could see either word working based on the definitions I found.

So I was flipping through my Chicago today, looking for fun editing tidbits. (Yeah. You thought I was joking when I said I was a nerd.) I started reading through the Glossary of Problematic Words and Phrases (5.220 in the sixteenth edition), and lo and behold:

wrack; rack. To wrack is to severely or completely destroy {a storm-wracked ship}. (Wrack is also a noun denoting wreckage the storm’s wrack}.) To rack is to torture by means of stretching with an instrument {rack the prisoner until he confesses} or to stretch beyond capacity {to rack one’s brain}.

I don’t know how I never saw this in my hours of poring over Chicago, but there you have it. Now I’m headed back to RACK my brain over that clump of 70,000 words that I call a manuscript.

No Gold Coating

Tonight, as I was working away at my edits, it hit me hard:

When my book gets published, it’ll just be my words, naked on the page.

I don’t know what else I expected. I guess I figured that after it went through the publishing process, there would be some sort of magical gold coating on the words to make them shine brighter than normal words. Something that would set them apart from the words I used when it was just a manuscript, instead of a published book.

But there won’t be. It’ll be all the same words. All in plain black ink. Or plain black pixels, depending on your choice of reading medium.

It’s a little bit terrifying. It makes me look at my manuscript differently. It makes me understand why authors are never quite satisfied with their books, even if the rest of the world loves them. It makes me feel like I’m going to expose my guts to mob armed with pitchforks and torches.

All I can hope is that the mob sees a glint of gold hidden away inside all those plain black letters.

Dash Away, Dash Away, Dash Away All!

You know the button on your keyboard with two little lines on it? That is not an all-purpose, use-me-whenever-you-want-a-line-between-words button. If you push it, you get a hyphen (-). If you shift-push it, you get an underscore (_), which I haven’t used since Gmail did away with all those line-filled email addresses everybody used to have, so we can safely ignore that option. (If you have an underscore in your email address, I still love you.)

Hyphens are very useful creatures. They’re great for excessively long modifiers (such as “use-me-whenever-you-want-a-line-between-words button”). They come in handy when you want to hyphenate your name. They’re invaluable for numbers. (In English at least; where you would neatly hyphenate “twenty-three” in English, you just smush together “dreiundzwanzig” in German. This gets really fun when you get to the big numbers, like viertausendsechshundertsiebenundneunzig.)

But one day in high school, I noticed that hyphens sometimes fall short. You know how sometimes you’ll be reading a book—and there it is, a long line that marks a suspenseful pause in the sentence. Or the author inserts some extra information—we like to do that, you know—and sets it off with those mysterious long lines. It wasn’t until college that I finally learned—


Why is it called that? Well, the dash part is fairly obvious. It’s a dash. What makes it an em dash is that it is the same width as the letter m . . .


. . . as opposed to the en dash, which is the width of the letter n. But we’ll get to one that later.

So how do you make an em dash? Well, on WordPress, you click the Symbols button and search for the longest dash. Haven’t figured out a shortcut for that one yet.

BUT there are TWO easy ways to do it on Microsoft Word.

1) Type two dashes between two words (e.g. like–this). When you hit space after the second word, voila! You have an em dash.

2) Find the other hyphen button on your keyboard, the one that hangs out by the number pad. Press ctrl+alt+num-. (“Num-” stands for the number pad hyphen. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure that out.) There’s your em dash! This method is particularly useful when your characters are having an intense discussion and one of the interrupts the—

Well, you get the picture. If you have a Mac, you’re on your own. I would guess it has something to do with that funky little button where someone took a bite out of an apple.

Now go forth and wow your friends, teachers, and editors with your punctuation prowess!