The layout process

I'm a little light on sleep today, so instead of doing the entire layout process, I just set up all the remaining word-processing files so that they will be ready to lay out tomorrow. (I also laid out one chapter completely before deciding I was too tired.)

Because I'm using actual layout software this time (instead of jerry-rigging Word to do something it was never meant to do), I thought I'd go ahead and run through the process of laying out a physical book, in case there are people unfamiliar with it.

I'm using LibreOffice for a word processor and Scribus as layout software. I split the tasks between the two programs depending on which program seems to do it better.

In LibreOffice I:

  • set the body text font and font size (the idea is to pick a font that is legible when small--the smaller the type, the shorter the book, and the less it will cost. Times New Roman is a bad choice for this; I've used Palatino Linotype, which was OK, and Book Antiqua, which was better. Right now I'm using Georgia; Garamond is also a good one)
  • justify the text (to both the left and the right)
  • set the tabs for paragraph indents (you want these to take up as little space as possible while still making it obvious that there's a new paragraph)
  • remove the second hard return between paragraphs (a format I prefer for manuscripts) and replace it with a tab
  • Set the font size for the chapter number

In Scribus I:

  • make sure the chapter opens on the proper page (left or right) and set the correct page number for that section
  • set the line spacing
  • kill widows (in general I don't really care about orphans, and if a widow is long enough, I will let it live)
  • check for any really      wide      weird     word     spacing (this usually can be fixed with a hyphen or by fiddling with kerning/tracking)
  • fiddle with the chapter number so that it's in the right place and looks pretty
  • be sure the bottom lines of the facing pages on a spread line up with each other (typically only an issue on the first spread of the chapter because of that big fancy chapter number, but sometimes an issue after you kill a widow)
  • insert the art
  • set up the headers with the page numbers

I then print out the pages, making sure that they are true to size--this is really important, because stuff that looks weird at one size will look fine at another. When I'm done with the layout, I'll proof it, looking not only for regular errors but also errors in the headers, chapter numbers, art, and of course any really          wide          weird         word        spacing (orpossiblyverycrampedspacing).

Definitely don't stop with your first layout--we did three layout revisions when I worked in publishing!

Laying out!

I redid the first chapter--I pulled out my dusty copy of the first Harry Potter novel and decided that my type was way too big. What they did in that book was use more space between the lines to improve legibility, so I figured that was the way to do it (also, large type is just harder to lay out). My book's a YA book, but it's not a children's book, so I don't want the interior to look like it's intended for the very young.

Scribus is still working fine--I'm sure I'm not at peak efficiency or anything, but I'm getting used to its quirks. You still basically have to do some of the layout work in the word processing program (or, let's say it makes life a lot easier if you do)--of course, that was true for Quark as well, we always had to clean up the files before they went to the designers.

Anyway, I've laid out two chapters and will probably go lay out some more later on today. I think I'll tweak the interior design just a little (the chapter numbers and the page numbers are too similar), but other than that, it looks pretty good!

Scribus looks promising....

I'll start with a whine--where I live is currently covered in smoke, which has wreaked havoc with my ability to sleep (not to mention my ability to go outside).

But I managed to get enough Zs last night to take a shot at finding layout software (instead of using Word, because 1. I don't use Word or Windows any more, yay! and 2. I wanted to be more efficient). I was very pleasantly surprised to discover Scribus, which is free(!), and which at least looks like it's suitable for book layouts. DJ Mills actually did a series of blog posts about using the software, so that should be useful.

I guess that's the upside of waiting so long between books--software tends to get cheaper, and what used to be used only by a relative handful of full-time book designers is now used by many more self-published writers!

ETA: I have laid out a chapter! Complete with an illustration and chapter ornaments! Scribus is a little fiddly, and the supporting documentation is hardly well written, but it's much less fiddly than Word, and of course the price is right. Yay!

Progress report

I finished the inputs--YAY!!

I also rotated and cropped all the now-digitized art, and cleaned up two of them. One isn't going to need cleaning because it was drawn cleanly--don't ask me why or how. The truth is, my nieces aren't merely better at drawing than I am, they also know much more about how to draw, because for whatever reason our little town has a truly excellent art center where they genuinely educate the kids on technique.

So I have one illustration left to clean up, and then (here's the downside of the children having an arts education) I'm really going to have to clean up the drawings "by" the main character. Yes, even the 8-year-old knows enough technique to draft the drawing up in faint pencil and then trace over what she wants to keep in dark pen. I'm leaving some of the draft markings on the illustrations because 1. they look cool, and 2. it would be a real pain to get rid of every last one. But the main character is not supposed to be the kind of kid who drafts her drawings before she makes them, so every last little draft mark is going to have to go.

Progress report

The fourth illustration was found! Huzzah!

I input changes for seven more chapters, plus did some continuity checks. Then I scanned in the illustrations--that went better than expected, which is kind of a relief. The drawings will need a little cleaning up (some among my crack team of illustrators do not erase as carefully as they could), but there aren't a lot of weird digital artifacts or anything.

Pretty soon I will begin the layout--whoo-hoo! I'm going to try using actual layout software this time around (no more Word), presumably renting Adobe's.

Progress report

I input nine chapter's worth of changes today, PLUS I received the long-awaited artwork from my crack team of illustrators! The youngest came up with two drawings "by" the main character, while the oldest came up with three illustrations (apparently there is a fourth, but no one can find it). I would have paid for up to six, but I'm happy with what she gave me--honestly, she's a bit overscheduled as it is.

Progress report

I haven't been very good about keeping this blog updated, but I have given the manuscript another read-through, which went pretty well! I'm going to input the changes, and then I guess just wait for my art to come in and do the layout!

Progress report

I've been a little focused on the property (late spring is when everything runs amok around here), but today I took the time to work on the writing group's suggestions. I'll probably give it a few days before I give the whole thing another read....

Progress report

Yesterday I did the writing group--it was good, I got some valuable feedback about getting the first chapters to hook people in more. I can't make the changes today, but I've definitely got a lot of ideas.

Two progress reports

I forgot to write one earlier, but the other day I input changes for chapters 8 & 9. That doesn't sound like much, but there was something there that was VERY confusing to both beta readers, so I had to substantially rework one of them to really nail down the relevant backstory.

Then today I input changes up through chapter 16. Whoo!

Progress report

Life has been busy--and not just for me, I had to grant a deadline extension to my crack team of illustrators.

But I have managed to hook back up with the writing group I used to be in a few years ago--they're still around, so that's nice, and I felt like the feedback was still pretty good quality. So my thinking is, I'll input the changes from the beta readers (no, haven't done that yet) and then have the writing group go over at least the first part.

Progress report

So, I'm back in action. I got the manuscript back from an adult beta reader, and I think there's some good feedback--it's interesting because many of the same things that confused the 12-year-old also confused the adult.

Speaking of the 12-year-old, her 8-year-old sister caught wind of the profit potential from illustrating books, and now she wants in on the action. (The deal for the older niece is that I'll pay her $10 an illustration for up to six illustrations--I gave her a deadline and everything.) Since the protagonist is seven, I may have the younger niece produce a couple of drawing "by" that character....

This will be cool if I can make it happen

As you might have imagined, life has Gotten Busy, and it's going to stay busy until the end of the month. But today I was hanging out with the older niece, who is one of the beta readers for my YA book, and she brought up that she's started the book and is really enjoying it (although a couple of things confuse her--some I think will become clear as she reads on, but some I've taken note need to be clarified). She's very into drawing and is pretty good at it, so she started drawing things from the book. Seeing that, I mentioned to her that if she were to, say, produce maybe five or six illustrations of different scenes at various points in the book, they could very well wind up in the finished product.

She was really excited by the idea initially...but she's already developed some performance anxiety. Like, she runs track, but she won't go to track meets because it's too much pressure. (She's about the age I was when I quit performing on stage because I realized there were people out there in the audience, so I can relate). You could see an hour later that the Wow! stage was waning and the Oh crap! stage had begun. That actually makes me want her to do it more--I'd like to help her power past the intimidation stage of things just to show her that it can be done--but I may have to provide some additional motivation (most likely $$$) to make it happen.

Da plan

Right now with the YA book, I'm waiting on the beta readers, and (since I've got the cover done) there's not much for me to do until they finish up.

I don't know when they'll finish, though, and there's some other stuff going on that's interrupting my time. But I've got 30 chapters of Trials written, and they're rough drafts, so I think what I'll do is just start editing the earlier chapters. I actually kind of need to reacquaint myself with that book, since it's been a while, so this will hopefully kill two birds with one stone.