Clarifying Source Files: How To Use Them

I’ve done a lot of talking about source files, and inadvertently confused some folks. I don’t mean to muddy issues–it just happens. So I made a chart! (Aren’t you glad you stopped by?)

The SOURCE FILE is just that. The source from which everything else springs. You don’t format it (beyond what is necessary for YOU to comfortably compose) because you DO NOT NEED TO. Essentially, while composing original works the more you act as if your word processor is a typewriter (except for tabs–no tabs!), the cleaner it will be and the easier it will be for you or someone else to format it for a specific use.

Once you have a Source File, you MAKE COPIES of it in order to format it for a specific purpose.

Let’s say you’re sending a manuscript to XYZ Publishing House. You need a printed document. You open the source file and do a Save As to make a copy. In that copy you will insert a cover page, header, page numbering, and adjust the margins and font according to the publisher’s guidelines. The source file remains intact, unchanged.

You want to self-publish your novel. You open the source file and do a Save As to make a copy. You can send that copy to a hired formatter and let them take it from there. You can format a .doc file in Word according to the distributor guidelines. You can hand code the copy in html. The source file remains intact.

I didn’t include every single way to format a file, but you get the picture, right? Let’s say you published your ebook. A reviewer would like a pdf file. You do a Save As, make a copy and format a pdf. You want to make an electronic submission? Do a Save As, add your address block, maybe change the font and line spacing, and you will submit a nice clean file that agents and editors can easily read on almost any computer or device.

If you look at my chart and think this is terribly complicated and I’m trying to make extra work for people, you are wrong. When it comes to digital files, there is no One-Size-Fits-All format. If you get in the habit of creating your original files in a no-frills, minimally formatted style it will save you work, save you time, and save you headaches.

I hope this clarifies things.



10 thoughts on “Clarifying Source Files: How To Use Them

  1. Oh, woman, you are awesome. I know your chart doesn’t seem all the complicated, and it isn’t, but I’m getting ready to epublish an anthology and boy am I frustrated with all the formatting necessary for the all the different venues. I finally put it all aside and said to myself: I’ll deal with it later. But this helps, it helps me realize I just need to focus on “the source” and figure out the rest when I need to. Thank you!

    • It’s all about workflow. Me being me, efficient workflow doesn’t come naturally–SQUIRREL! I will say, though, that the one hard and fast rule I have learned and now live by, and it is one rule that applies to every writer using a computer, always have a clean source file.

      • I will re-organize my files and folders with a clean source file in mind. I wish everyone used the same format though, that would make things simpler.

  2. When I was doing the big short story collection for PROTECTORS, I had about 40 different formatting styles to work with. So I took each original story, tagged the scene breaks and italics, then copy/pasted the text into a text editor. I took care of the formatting issues there. Then I compiled the cleaned up files in a text file–much easier than Word for moving things around. When it came time to format the ebook, I split my computer screen and opened each writer’s original so it was side by side with the text file and I could make sure my formatting matched (as much as possible) the author’s intent. It made a big job much more manageable.

  3. Brilliant chart and post. It joins all the other posts from your journal in my (ever-growing) 3-ring binder of e-book formatting tips, tricks, and shared knowledge. Thanks — once again! — for all you do!

  4. Pingback: Making Your Own ARC (advance reading copy) | J W Manus

  5. Pingback: An Admonition for Self-Publishers. Ahem… | J W Manus

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