Self Publish? How About Self-Editing?

Recently, I’ve been writing about self-publishing. I’m relatively active in the CreateSpace community space, reading previews and answering questions here and there, but mostly reading other people’s questions & answers to add that knowledge to my mental database.

One of the things that no one talks about is just how… tiring the process of editing will prove to be. Maybe I’m a perfectionist, & maybe I lack patience, but when handing out tips on how to make your layout look as professional as possible, they don’t mention just what kind of ordeal you have a head of you.

Editing is Hard

I’ve just spent the last two days going over my copy of Speak for the Dead with one of those super-fine metal combs used to find lice & nits. Having finally submitted the final version for print approval, my eyes burn & I’m ready to spend a week away from the computer. I think I was lucky, that I’d finalised a lot of the parameters in the weeks leading up to this monumental proof-read of doom, or there might have been even more work ahead of me.

With my trim size & margins set up; my preferred font selected, sized, & line spacing set; my manuscript pasted & formatted into chapters; and my front matter written and positioned; I was ready to begin the process of laying out the copy exactly how it would print.

Dealing with the Spacebar

This was the worst part of them all, so I guess it’s good that I did it first. I am a chronic double-spacer. I never really used a typewriter seriously, I was in high school when word processing became common enough that students were allowed to submit printed assignments instead of hand-written ones. As we were fortunate to have a home computer and a dot matrix printer (gasp!), I was lucky enough to be among the first kids to learn very basic word processing. Back when there was one font & full justified text wasn’t a thing. There was no GUI, either, just your document in grey letters on a blue background. How far we’ve come.

No matter how much time I spend on the internet, I still double-space between my sentences. I’m doing it right now, though the extra spaces will be stripped from my post when I publish it. I do it in forum posts & I do it in instant messaging. I double space when I’m writing, I even double space when I’m on my iPad. The iPad hasn’t exactly encouraged me to break my habit, either, with the double-tap-space-to-insert-a-full-stop setting. But, true to my contrary nature, I manually insert full stops and then double space. I prefer the way it looks & I doubt I’ll ever stop preferring the double space.

But, double spaces between sentences are a big no-no in self-publishing. Apparently anyone who picks up your printed text will immediately sense there is something wrong with it. They will close your novel, inexplicably disturbed, unable to read more than a few lines. You will be a monumental failure, an embarrassment, you’ll never be successful! Well, maybe it won’t be that bad, but if you want your book to look like it was printed by a publishing press, and not a laser printer (as Print on Demand books are), then double spacing is out.

Thanks to using yWriter, my iPad, MS Word, and Notepad to write my manuscript, I was pretty much expecting the level of consistency in the number of spaces between sentences to be pretty lousy anyway. So I clicked on the setting that shows all your hidden layout markups & went to town. By which I mean I painstakingly scanned every page for anywhere two (or more, as it happened) spaces lay together, & deleted the excess.

What’s a Hyphen Anyway?

Due to all this use of plain text & the fixed-width font I use for my manuscripts (I’m told that you should produce manuscripts in a fixed-width font as the reader is more likely to subconsciously pick up on errors when the text is regulated that way), my text was littered with single width hyphens. And that just wasn’t going to stand.

There are more types of hyphens and dashes than I care to learn about. Thankfully MS Word has built in auto-corrects that can reasonably interpret context & fix them for me. It was just a matter of going through the document & deleting all of the hyphens that shouldn’t have been hyphens (generally speaking, hyphens go inside words, everything else is a dash), type a new “hyphen” & prompt MS Word to auto-fix it for me.

Consistency is Key

With my sentence spacing fixed & my usage of dashes (mostly) corrected, there was one ‘family’ of glyphs left to check up on: speech marks. Changing from one font to another, copying & pasting, & using both rich-text as well as plain text programs guaranteed that I had an utterly slap-dash collection of apostrophes and inverted commas (quotation marks, both single & double) ever seen. Sure the fix was easy, but do you have any idea how many apostrophes 44,779 words contains?

I don’t, & I don’t want to know, either.

Using the find functions, I meticulously examined every single apostrophe, deleting the ones that weren’t full size, curly apostrophes, and typed a new one in its place. This probably took the longest, just from the sheer volume of apostrophes I had to look at. There might be a simpler way of fixing them (such as find-replace), but there’s no getting around that you still have to look at every single one. That’s just time consuming. & sorta mind numbing.

Then, when all the apostrophes are good (which also caught any single quotation marks I’d used), I had to do the same thing over with the double inverted commas. In other words, every piece of dialogue in the entire story. Speaker (my nickname/working title) is only a novella. There’s less than 44.5k words in the whole lot (plus front/back matter). If I played back almost an entire season of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic while I was doing this, how long is it going to take when it comes to something like my major project: Broken Wings, which clocks in at around 160k?

At that point I simply had to go to bed. I couldn’t look at the computer screen for another second.

The Other Kind of Spacing

So, the text of the document is finally how it’s supposed to be. Now, to check that it’s where it’s supposed be. This is pretty simple, a scroll through to make sure that the chapter headings are all the same distance from the top of the page & all the pages have the same number of lines on them. Finally! an easy editing task. I was starting to need one by that stage.

Then to the more subtle spacing: how the words are justified. The text of a novel should be full justified, no ragged margins here, but because you also want to have full control, there should be no hyphenation across lines. That leaves lines more widely spaced than others to compensate. If this seems to happen a lot in the document, & I mean all throughout, then you’ve probably made an error with your choice of font size or margins. These settings need to complement each other, or the blocks will look awful. Namely, don’t make your margins too narrow & don’t make the font too big.

If that’s all good, you can hunt out the lines that stand out & fix them in one of two ways. You can manually hyphenate words. I don’t like this, and I’ve tried to keep it to limited to maybe three instances in the whole story. The easier way to do it – & you’ll thank me for this – is to highlight the problem line & go into the font settings. In there you can “compress” the text. This squishes the characters together a little, I don’t ever adjust the spacing by more than 0.2pt, that’s two-tenths of a point. You won’t even see the difference, but it’s magnificent for pulling errant words onto a ‘short’ line. To keep things consistent, I like to highlight the new line and reapply the setting, just so the spacing doesn’t change mid-line.

This trick also works the other way. If you spot a line made up of very short words, which can look as out of place as too few words, you can expand the text by 0.2pt and push a word off to the next line.

Widows & Orphans

I always get these two mixed up, but widows & orphans are short lines of text that appear at the end or beginning of a page. They happen when a page break occurs after the first line, or before the last line, of a paragraph. They look pretty bad.

I’d selected my font & line spacing by comparing blocks of text & seeing what looked better. The margins were defined by looking at various paperbacks I own and fudging something that I hoped was okay (in the end my outside margin is wider than ideal, but nuts if I’m going back & redoing the widows & orphans for the dozenth time – my stupid fault for tweaking things after I’d gone through and done the widows & orphans). If you don’t mind, you can only fiddle with the ones that are ‘alone’, across the publishing houses there isn’t a universal agreement on what level of sin leaving widows and orphans are.

Widow - Unacceptable Widow - Acceptable

Orphan - Unacceptable Orphan - Acceptable

Blank Line - Top
Blank Line - Bottom

The simplest thing to do is to scroll through your document & check the first & last line on every page. If the line is less than the full width of the page (either indented at the beginning, or concluding before reaching the other margin), or is sitting there all by itself (there is a blank line between it & the preceding/following paragraph), highlight it red.

The best part is that fixing orphans & widows has a cascading effect. If you fix the first one, the change to the number of lines will generally move the remaining problems into a better position. Of course, fixing a widow or orphan can also create others, but you can’t win them all.

While there are a couple of ways to deal with these stray lines, you want your facing pages to have the same number of lines, so throwing a line break in at the end of page to push a paragraph onto the next page just won’t work. In a dozen places I have actually rewritten the text to add in a line, or removed part of a sentence to remove one. Yes, I committed rewrites to my manuscript just so it would have a nicer layout. That’s crazy! I’ve never read anyone suggesting that as an editing tool.

My most successful trick to rid myself of an unwanted was to be sneak with the scene dividers. I’d opted for the simple but elegant hyphen-oh-hyphen, like this: -o- to denote a change of scene with a single blank line above & below. To push a single line of text off the bottom of a page I would highlight just the marker & change the paragraph settings to 6pt before & 6pt after. The marker is still perfectly centred between the scenes, the equivalent of a new line has been inserted, & the extra white space would go almost completely unnoticed because there aren’t any spreads with two scenes breaks on them (I’m lucky like that – I have short scenes where there’s markers on the front & the back of a page, but none across the spread of the open book).

I did allow a marker to be the first or last line of a page. It doesn’t look fantastic, and can make it look like the number of lines don’t match the page opposite, but beggars can’t be choosers. Honestly, I don’t like to think what it might have taken to push not one, but three lines (two lines of text and the blank line between the text & the marker) up or down a page. Shudder.

Apart from rewrites & sneaky line spacing, I did use the occasional expanded or condensed font adjustment to pull very short widows/orphans, or push long ones around.

Just one More Spell Check

I used a formatted template where the majority of the settings had already been established: namely four ‘styles’ that defined the look of the paragraphs, headings, & front/back matter. A lot of the personalisation (like the font choice) I applied directly to these styles, which updated the entire document. During the initial layout stage, before I started pasting the live manuscript into the document, I used a Lorem Ipsum generator as place-holder text.

Unfortunately, my copy of MS Word doesn’t speak Latin, so the spell checker threw in the towel after a few repetitions. This meant that when I pasted my novella into the document for layout, there were no squiggly red lines, and there should have been plenty. Even though I’d spell checked every scene of Speaker a thousand times, there were words that I only used once that I didn’t add to the dictionary. Thanks to those impromptu rewrites, I ran the spell check one last time.

This is a vital step. If you’re editing your own book, do not neglect this! Typos, like shit, happen. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t really notice minor grammar or punctuation issues, I skim over them. But in printed books, they kinda stand out.

Odds & Evens

I’d set up my headers & footers right at the start. I’d gone with straight forward: author on the top even, title on the top odd, page numbers centre bottom. The template had already set up the page numbers to properly start on the first page of the story. I never even gave my headers & footers a thought during my editing.

What I did do, however, was insert a page at the beginning, with huge red text saying REMOVE THIS PAGE on it. This pushes all the pages over one, so that when you use the two-page view it roughly emulates what you’ll see inside the open book (even pages on the right, odds on the left).

That’s when you check that everything is on the correct side. The title pages must be on odd pages. The copyright information goes on the back of the full title page. The story should start on an “odd” page. Page 1, to be exact. I set all of my front & back matter to be on odd pages & blank on the back.

Rivers of Words

So close now, almost finished. The last step was to scroll out & look for anything funny. Rivers are when the spaces between words line up across a number of lines, forming a white line running down the page. I didn’t find any, though I did spot some more lines that were wonky (too few words). This was the nice & easy. Rivers stand right out. I had an almost river, two lines with white space that was too close together for my liking. This is easily fixed with the font-spacing adjustment.

What Did You Do?

The last step is converting the document to PDF. The manuscript is finished. The text is perfectly laid out. It’s a product of beauty. Surely nothing can go wrong now?


This is the part where you find out that you didn’t get everything completely right. For me it was section breaks. In order to put things on odd pages, I’d had to include blank pages. Lesson learnt: don’t use the “insert page” button in Word. Insert two “section break (next page)”. I was using doPDF, a free “printer” that turns your document into a PDF with much more control & quality than Word’s own Save As option, but for some reason, it was inserting extra pages where I’d used the “blank page” thing.

Oh well, easy to fix. Print again. Wait, did I check the back matter for the same problem? No? Nuts. Print again. Actually, I think it would look better it I… Print again. What? Yeah, I stuffed up other page’s formatting when I did that. Okay, fix it once more. Print again.

Ha ha! Success!

So Now You’re Done

Well, not really. You still need to go over your proof once more, just to be really, really, really sure that you’ve gotten everything where it’s supposed to be. But the worst of it is over.

Just like this post.


4 thoughts on “Self Publish? How About Self-Editing?

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