A roller-coaster week – formatting my MS for CreateSpace

This has been a real week of ups and downs, but at least I haven’t done an Alton Towers. It’s been a cycle of problem identification, solution, exaltation, smug complacency, and problem identification…

A real psychological barrier was overcome when I justified the text to both left and right margins. At the touch of a button  (or many touches, as thinking about it I may have done it chapter by chapter, even section by section) the manuscript suddenly looked like a novel, all evenly aligned along the right margins. I take back what I said on the previous post about not caring about indentations to the right margin. It looks a whole lot cleaner when justified.

At this stage I thought I was well on the way toward my target of having a finished document that I could load onto the CreateSpace website today. Ah.

Hoping to avoid potential problems with document size and formatting I downloaded a Word template 8in by 5in (paperback size) and dumped my MS into it. Easy. Nope. There were the page numbers, sitting there at the foot of the pages, right in front of my eyes. But when I went to print preview they’d gone. Except sometimes when I went to print preview they were there. Glitchy software. I messed about for hours with the settings and then decided to try to create a pdf. It fell over at page 3. At this point I decided to abandon the template and create a new blank file, mirroring the template’s margin/header/footer/etc settings but NOT using the template’s section breaks as I suspect it was these causing at least part of the problem. I decided the missing page numbers and pdf fallover could be a Mac-Windows thing so asked my stepdad to see if he could do it on his Windows machine. Yes, the page numbers were there and it dumped the whole MS into a pdf with no problem. I’m hoping this problem is now gone, as long as I go to the library and use one of their Windows machines to create my pdf. Anyone reading this who wants to make their own pdf for CreateSpace, I would avoid Word for Mac 2008 like the plague. I would also be very wary about using CreateSpace’s templates unless you are absolutely comfortable with inserting and deleting section breaks, as this seems to screw the formatting up.

At this stage I decided to hope for the best and press on, with the aim of eradicating widows and orphans, those single lines at the top or bottom of a page caused by paragraphs not magically ending or starting pages. Two lines of text seems to be acceptable but not one.

A couple of net resources proved useful. The CreateSpace community forum heavily features someone called Walton (Mendelson), clearly passionate and knowledgeable about all things print setting related. His Build Your Book pdf should be easy enough to find, although some of his answers on CS can be overly complex for those who just want a simple question answered simply.

Another useful source was a document produced by (someone at?) Tufts Uni in the US. Here it is (my alias):


That document explains how to get rid of these single lines by condensing or expanding the space between characters, down to 0.1 points (to give some idea of that scale my line height is set to 15 points). It doesn’t sound much but is very effective. However it is time-consuming. I reckon it took me about 1.5 days to finish my MS.

I say finish. Re-setting many areas of text means all the punctuation has moved around, so the original sweep through looking for colons and semi-colons at the end of lines (frowned upon) had to be reprised. I also took the opportunity to go back through and look at my treatment of dashes and hyphens, and colons and semi-colons, to see if sometimes just a comma would suffice. I also put in the old ‘* * *’ asterisms (I think they’re called?), used to denote section breaks on the last or first line of a page. I’m not sure how acceptable these are on first lines, but I think I’ll run with them. I can find them in novels. In fact, dispiritingly, I can find quite a few widows and orphans in novels too, so maybe I should have left these as they were. Still, I’ve started so I’ll finish…

That’s where I got to as of Friday night. I was looking in a really good position, but then started to have doubts about my condensing and expanding of text. Without thinking, I’d paired up pages 1 & 2, 3 & 4 etc, when in fact page 1 will be on the right on its own, and the first (double-page) ‘spread’ will be pages 2 & 3. Well I hadn’t written down what I’d done page by page so I started going through from the beginning again. Sometimes I’d condensed on one page but expanded on the other, sometimes by up to 0.3 points (+/-). I lost confidence and decided that, unless it was critical, 0.1 (+/-) should be the max adjustment. So it was that yesterday afternoon I began the exercise all over again. If I couldn’t use the spacing method I would simply make little rewrites, to add words to force a line into the next, or remove words until a line disappeared. Adding is harder. Removing is easy enough. Even in a heavily edited manuscript you can find a word or two of fluff to get rid of, or use a shorter word for a longer one.

So that’s where I am right now, 2/3rds of the way through what will hopefully be the (almost) last piece of editing-formatting. I won’t get it done tonight so will run into tomorrow. I really need to get it done and dusted in the next few days as I want to finish my paperback cover by next weekend, when I go on holiday. In order to finish the cover I need the spine width, and I won’t be able to calculate that until I know the number of pages, which I won’t know until I’ve finished the editing-formatting process.

A big week lies ahead. Better get back to it…


Publication delayed due to rare bunting in Wales

I lost two days out of my schedule last week as I travelled across to the north-west tip of Wales, to the Lleyn peninsula, and on to Bardsey Island the following day, to see the 5th ever (yes, EVER) Cretzschmar’s Bunting for the UK; an absolutely super little bird. I won’t ‘borrow’ anyone’s photos as people can be funny about copyright, but Bardsey observatory’s Twitter account has stacks of photos, including a nice frame-filler from Steve Williams of the Wirral, and a smashing colour field sketch from Richard Thewlis of East Anglia. I only had 3 hours on the island before my scheduled boat back so it was a real relief to see the bird at all, which appeared briefly about once an hour within the lighthouse compound, in an area of pink and yellow flowers which I believe were sea-pinks and bird’s foot trefoil; as pretty a scene as you could imagine. The previous night I’d slept on the grass in a sleeping bag at the start of the track that leads down to the cove at Porth Meudwy. A cold night, particularly getting up and dressed at 03:50 to get the first boat, but very life-affirming lying there staring up at the stars. Well, one satellite anyway (still couldn’t get a Vodafone signal). Oh and lastly, hats off to the Castle pub in Criccieth for their pies; not only are they tasty, you actually get a proper portion, a rarity in this day and age.


Book-wise I had a mammoth day yesterday, spending about 12 hours doing the second half of the final (how many times have I said that?) read through in terms of content, making 2 or 3 tiny adjustments per chapter on average. Today I’m going through it all again, checking correct treatment of hyphens, again making a few alterations per chapter which surprises me, as I’d done this once already, and yet doesn’t, as it’s easy to look up something on the internet that is erroneous or opinion differs. For example, in the UK we have ultra-modern, while in the US it is ultramodern, and obviously I want to go for the (superior!) UK version.

All this editing is time-consuming, even if the changes are minor, because I’m having to change 4 different files: my chapter file; my novel-length ‘working’ file; my KDP draft file, and my CreateSpace draft file. Version control is hugely important at this stage. It would be so easy to change something in only 3 of the 4, or whatever, due to lapses in concentration; in fact I’m sure I must have done, but I don’t have the heart or time to have another read through. I need to try to finish my CreateSpace file in the next 2 weeks, so I can accurately calculate the number of pages, thus the size of the book’s spine, which will enable me to finish the cover file in InDesign, otherwise I’ll be hit with paying an Adobe sub for 6 months. Regardless, I need to hit ‘publish’ well before I start teacher training in September.

The really nasty job this week will be finishing my CreateSpace file, as I will have to do the done thing and align the text both left and right, so the right-hand side of the text looks nice and straight on the page and hasn’t got big indents of white space. Personally I cannot fathom why this is seen to be necessary; I have never suffered from reading unaligned text, in fact I had to go to my bookshelf to confirm that it was the done thing as I’d never consciously noted it before while reading. It seems like a huge waste of time, but if it makes the product look more ‘professional’ then reluctantly I’ll give it a whirl. If it sounds like you just click a button in Word that does the job, well apparently it isn’t as simple as that; widows and orphans can appear (and disappear) due to the change in alignment. Various sources on the net advise correcting these manually, as Word’s widow and orphan function may well not work. I can’t understand why not though, if I’m sending CreateSpace a pdf. I thought pdf files were set in stone. I’m going to check this (thinking out loud here) if I can find those same sources again; probably not!

Last but certainly not least, happy birthday to my dear old Nan, who would have been 94 (I think) today. There’s a lovely family story of her which sums up what a kind-hearted generous lady she was, no matter her financial circumstances. One night during the Second World War she had gone ballroom dancing (presumably in Birkenhead) and was making her way home when she came across someone who had no shoes (possibly due to her house being bombed). My Nan treasured her dancing shoes, but she took pity on this other woman/girl and gave them to her. I could say something trite here, like ‘they don’t make them like her any more’, but that would be to write off our younger generations and to me that wasn’t what my Nan was about. She was always enthusiastic and positive, and content aside – parts of which she’d have hated – she would be proud of her grandson writing a book.

Readier, and Eddie R

After not getting a response from a certain record company, despite a second request for permission to use some song lyrics, I’ve had to rewrite one of my chapters. You’d think a small independent label would be only too pleased of some free publicity but apparently not. So, sod ’em. I’ll leave the name of the band in as it’s not their fault their permissions man CBA to respond to my mails.

It was only a 110-word rewrite but not having touched the chapter for a few years it was weird, and a little unnerving, getting the pen out again. I’m a great believer that a writer gets on a roll, that it just flows, and that once a particular creative episode has ended it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to bring it back to life. I’d compare it to waking up during a nice dream, and trying to go back to sleep again so you can pick up where you left off.

That said, the little voice in my head, the one I thought I’d got rid of, reminded me of a couple of sub-plots that it wasn’t entirely happy with. Several of the chapters have multiple time-shifts, jumping back years, jumping forward again, and it’s important to get these right. It sounds easy enough, but it’s actually quite a hard skill to master. Films tend to use captions that say things like ‘Seven years earlier’, ‘fifteen years later’, or whatever, but it’s harder to pull off these shifts in prose. That, allied to the sub-plot not being quite right, and I knew I needed to look at it again. Fortunately, after a couple of hours of 228-word rewrite I’m happy that one of the last nagging doubts has been removed. I’m readier. Almost ready to roll.

On a completely different note, I usually couldn’t give a monkeys about the Oscars, I find the whole thing a bit nauseating and narcissistic, but as much as you can be pleased for someone you’ve never met, I was pleased to learn Eddie Redmayne had done the business yesterday evening. If you could tell how nice a person was just from looking at their face, and I’m quite sure you can’t, then I reckon Eddie R would be a pretty top bloke. I’ve not seen the film, and don’t intend to, but his performance opposite Clémence Poésy in Sebastian Foulks’ <i>Birdsong</i> was outstanding. I rarely eulogise over such things so that really is praise indeed coming from me. Out of all the films I’ve ever seen, the on-screen chemistry between Redmayne and Poésy was, to use a cliché, electric. Actually I’m not sure you can have electric chemistry, that seems to be conflating two sciences, but you know what I mean. I’d go as far as saying it’s the only time I’ve ever watched a film and believed that the actor and the actress were in love with each other. Maybe they were. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a must-watch.