Creating Custom Templates in MS Word

I have come to the bittersweet conclusion that y’all don’t need my formatting wizardry much anymore. At least not you fiction writers. The good news is the reason why: The major sites for self-publishing have caught up with the tools most commonly in use (mostly, Word), and the conversions are better than ever. You can upload a formatted Word doc to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Direct2Digital and, if you’ve followed the basic best practices for ebook formatting, the results will be professional. You can even use Word to lay out a print edition for Amazon. (And if your version of Word has the capability, you can export a pdf that will work for IngramSpark.)

The biggest problem Do-It-Yourselfers run into isn’t ability, but lack of experience. I do multiple ebook formats and print layouts every week. My routines are down pat. But when you’re only doing one format a year it can be like re-inventing the wheel each time.

The solution? Make custom templates. You can make multiple templates: one for composition; another for editing; one for ebook formatting; another for print layouts. (Don’t be put off by the word “template.” If you are using MS Word, then with every new document you create you are using a template–Word’s template.)

For an ebook it’s super easy to make a boilerplate template that includes your standard front and back matter. When you’re ready to format, all you have to do is fill in the blanks, update whatever needs updating, import your text, style the headings and such. Boom. Twenty minutes. Ready to go.

Below is a custom template I made for a friend:

STEP BY STEP TO CREATE A TEMPLATE

  1. Open a new blank doc in Word.
  2. Save As into a .dotx file and give it a name such as Ebook Template.dotx
    Word will place the file into a folder called Custom Office Templates. (You can, if you wish, create your own  template folder, and then copy/paste your template into that.)
  3. Open the Styles pane and click “Manage Styles”
    In the toolbox:
    Check the box for “New documents based on this template”
    Hide or delete any styles you do not want showing in your template
    Click Okay.
  4. In the Styles pane click “Options…”
    Check the boxes that best fit how you work.
  5. Modify and/or create new styles for use in this template.
    NOTE: It’s unnecessary to do more than the basics that you will require in a bare bones format. If you need additional styles for a project it’s super easy to add them to your working document. Or, you can update the template itself.

The sample above is a template I created for markup documents to provide to my clients when they are proofreading their ebooks. It has only four paragraph styles and two character styles. The navigation guide is created automatically when I use Heading styles. Super simple.

USING YOUR TEMPLATE

To use the template to create a new document:

  1. Open the template
  2. Save As into a .docx file with a new name (MyOpusMagnus.docx)
  3. Start typing (Normal will be the default style. Apply other styles as necessary.)

To use the template for existing text (requires some prep work):

  1. Open the doc containing the text you want to use
  2. Save As with a new file name to preserve the original
  3. Tag the italics; make sure all scene breaks are clearly marked; make sure all deliberate blank lines are clearly marked (such as stanza breaks in poems)
  4. Delete all tabs; convert any soft returns into hard returns*
  5. Copy the text and paste it into a text editor (such as Notepad on a PC)
  6. Clean up the text to remove extraneous formatting, extra spaces and unneeded blank lines
  7. In Word, open the template
  8. Save As into a .docx file with your document name
  9. Copy the cleaned up text in the text editor and paste it into your new doc (everything will be styled as Normal)
  10. Restore the italics
  11. Go through the doc and apply styles where necessary
  • *Quick way to delete tabs with Find/Replace. In the Find field type ^t and leave the Replace field blank. Click Replace All.
  • Convert soft returns with Find/Replace: In the Find field type ^l and in the Replace field type ^p. Click Replace All.

Crafting a template for a print layout is a little trickier. It’ll probably take another blog post. The same principles apply. It’s all about styles. If you all want a post about print layouts, say the word and I’ll get on it.

By the way, if your do-it-yourselfing needs a bit of a jumpstart, I’m more than happy to create a custom ebook template for you. It’ll cost you ten to twenty-five bucks, depending on the complexity, but you’ll be able to use it over and over again for stellar results every time. Contact me at jayewmanus at gmail dot com.

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Indie Writers: Make MS Word Work for You Instead of Against You

A Quick Primer for Fiction Writers in using Microsoft Word in the Digital Age

It always saddens me a little when a writer sends me an overly formatted Word doc to turn into an ebook or print-on-demand. It’s not that I have to clean it up–I can strip and flip the messiest files in less than an hour. What bugs me is how much thought and effort the writer wasted on utterly useless manuscript styling.

Example of a Word doc that has been overstyled.

Example of a Word doc that has been overstyled.

The majority of writers I work with use Word. The vast majority have no idea how to use Word for their own benefit. I understand. I was a fiction writer for over two decades and even though I have been using computers and a variety of word processing programs since the late ’80s, it wasn’t until I started learning book production that I figured out how those programs worked. Why would I? All I needed was a printed manuscript in standard format to mail to my editor. Word processors made that easy.

Now I produce books for digital and print, and those old ways of “thinking print” make the writer’s job harder. Especially indie writer/publishers who might be doing it all alone or working with contractor editors and proofreaders and formatters.

Since it would take a full book–or volumes–to explain how word processors work, I’m going to urge you all to take what I tell you in this post and play around in your word processor. I will be talking about MS Word, but much of what I show you will apply to almost any word processor.

STUFF YOU DON’T NEED AND NEED NEVER USE AGAIN

  • Tabs
  • Page breaks
  • Headers
  • Footers
  • Page Numbers
  • More than one space for any reason
  • More than two hard returns for any reason
  • Multiple fonts
  • Text boxes
  • Justification
Example of a manuscript that uses NONE of the above.

Example of a manuscript that uses NONE of the above.

STUFF THAT MAKES WORD “WORK” FOR YOU

  • Style sheets (fiction writers can get away with using only two or three, four at the most)
  • Find/Replace
  • Save As
  • Web View
  • “Show” feature
  • Formatting tags
(Left) Basic manuscript formatting; (Right) Overly formatted manuscript.

(Left) Basic manuscript formatting; (Right) Overly formatted manuscript.

See that backward P-looking icon I’ve circled? That’s the “show” feature. Toggle it on and you can see paragraph returns, spaces, tabs and a few other formatting features. With the basic formatting on the left, all I had to do was apply one style (Normal) to the entire manuscript, then apply heading styles to the chapters and sections, and done. To style an entire manuscript takes minutes this way. The manuscript on the right is an entirely different matter. To get it looking the way I want would take hours, if not days, manually lining everything up, trying to get it to look the way I want it. Worse, I have to remember what I’ve done so I can remain consistent throughout. When I’m done, I still have to scroll endlessly through the entire document to find whatever I might need to find.

And what about what is happening behind the scenes? MS Word uses html to control all those features. If you’re printing a document, the only true concern you have is making sure your fonts print properly. If you’re turning your work into an ebook, all that hard work (and useless effort) works against you.

The html in the basic Word doc and how it displays in Firefox.

The html in the basic Word doc and how it displays in Firefox.

The overly formatted file in html and how it displays in Firefox.

The overly formatted file in html and how it displays in Firefox.

So let’s make Word work for you. The NUMBER ONE thing (print it out and blow it up to poster size and post it where you can see it while you work) is:

IT DOESN’T MATTER A RAT’S PATOOT WHAT YOUR WORKING DOCUMENT/SOURCE FILE LOOKS LIKE

(Seriously, if your Happy Place while composing fiction involves Comic Sans font, 22pts, with 2 inch margins, triple spaced, then go for it. The only time it matters what your document looks like is when you intend to print.)

STYLE SHEETS

Set them and forget them; the best tool in the MS Word

Set ’em and forget ’em; the best tool in MS Word

Every version of Word has a style sheets feature. If you’re using 2010, you’ll find them in the “Home” toolbar. Word comes with a huge variety of pre-built style sheets. You can use them as-is or modify them. You can create your own style sheets. The most useful styles for the fiction writer are: Normal, Heading 1, Heading 2.

  • Normal: apply to the body of your text. Set your paragraph indents, line spacing, and font. Never worry about spacing, margins and indents again.
  • Heading 1 & 2: apply to titles, chapter heads or sections. Bonus: Word will automatically list your headings in the navigation window. No more scrolling through a long document to find a specific chapter or section. Another Bonus: Ebook conversion programs recognize heading styles. Some, like Calibre, will automatically build a table of contents for you based on headings 1 & 2.

Additional styles fiction writers might find useful:

  • Emphasis: Remember, styles apply to paragraphs. “Emphasis” is italics. If your entire paragraph is italicized, use “emphasis”.
  • Strong: “Strong” is bold.
  • Custom style–“Center”: Instead of clicking on the icon for centering, create a style sheet. Makes life easy.
  • Poetry: For poetry, quotes, lyrics, anything you want with different margins and font style.

FIND/REPLACE

This is the most useful and the most underused tool in MS Word. You can use it to not only find words, you can find special characters, styles, highlighting, and special formatting (such as italics or bold).

Click on the dropdown menus and you can look for anything that appears.

Click on the dropdown menus and you can look for anything that appears.

A few useful search terms:

  • ^& (caret ampersand): Stands for a string of text. Say I want to tag my italics. I would leave the Find box blank, but ask it to search for italics. In the Replace box I’d type -STARTI-^&-ENDI-, do a Replace All and Word will wrap all my italicized text in tags.
  • ^p : Hard return. You can search for them or insert them
  • ^l  (caret lower case L): Soft return (shift enter)
  • ^t : Tab. Working on a document in which you or someone else used tabs and want to kill them all? Type ^t in the Find box, leave the Replace box blank, and do a Replace all. Done.
  • * (asterisk): A string of text. Use as a ‘wild card’ when you’re restoring your special formatting. Say I want to restore my italics. In the Find box type -STARTI-*-ENDI-, click the ‘wild card’ box, and leave the Replace box blank but ask it to replace text with italics. Do a Replace All and all your tagged text is italicized. Then use Find/Replace to get rid of the tags.

SAVE AS

When I’m working on a project, I might have four, five, ten versions of a file. If I’m making major formatting changes, I NEVER EVER mess with my source file. Let’s say I want a printed version. I do a Save As to make a new version that is named Print_Docname_date. Then I apply headers/footers, page numbers, page breaks and modify my styles to make it suitable for printing. My original source file remains unchanged and ready to use. Using Save As is the best habit you can get into while you’re working. (And it’s not like you’re having to save your work to floppy disks–your computer has lots of space. Use it!)

WEB VIEW

Basicformat4Forsake print view and get used to web view while you work. This view is flexible (flow text) and enables you to easily display multiple screens and compare text while you work. You can adjust the width of your screen, too, and not lose chunks of text or reduce the image size in order to see everything.

FORMATTING TAGS

Because I use a variety of programs, and I dislike intensely losing formatting such as italics or trying to remember where I want a block of offset text, I tag my formatting. Now, because Word is html-based, you do NOT want to use html tags in your text. It’s okay if you’re outputting a file to a text editor, but if you’re going to a program that is html-based such as Scrivener or InDesign, or if you intend to bring the text back (you’re ‘nuking’ it, according to Smashword’s style guide), then those html tags are going to seriously mess things up.

My tags are arbitrary. I’ve come up with them because they are unique and easy to search for; they don’t show up in text (normally). Feel free to use mine if you want or come up with something that makes sense to you to use. IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER: Special formatting such as italics or bolding require OPEN and CLOSE tags.

  • Italics: -STARTI- (open) -ENDI- (close)
  • Bold: -STARTB- -ENDB-
  • Underline: -STARTU- -ENDU-
  • For any special formatting such as headlines, poetry, etc: -SPECIAL- (this tag is a note to myself)
  • Placing Images: -IMAGE-
  • Scenebreaks or deliberate blank lines: ##

That’s it. Simple, no? This is MS Word in the digital age, a writing tool you can make work for you instead of against you.

 

Ebook Formatting Resources

There has been a lot of interest in my posts on ebook formatting. So rather than make people wade through the entire blog, I put all the links on one page. You can find it in the header under Ebook Formatting Resources or click here.

I’ve linked all my posts on the subject, plus added links to useful sites and resources for the DIY indie. I’ll continue to update the page as I learn new tricks or find useful new blogs and websites.

It’s All About Style: Proofreading

I’ve been doing quite a few proofreading jobs here lately (I tell everyone I dislike proofing because, you know, it’s not cool and only the nerdy kids get stuck with the job, but I actually enjoy it–it makes my inner nitpicker happy. So fine, I’m a word nerd, shaddup already). I’ve asked a few writers if they have style sheets for me to use. I’ve been getting blank stares in response. I finally realize “style sheet” sounds high falutin’ and fancy pantsy.

Let’s call it a “Cheat Sheet” instead.

Despite using computers for writing since the 1980s, I’m still very much a pen and paper kind of gal. Which accounts for much of the mess on my desk (watch for a future post on how Scrivener is finally breaking me of the paper habit). For my cheat sheets, I use a sheet of drawing paper (or two, depending), divvy it up into eight blocks and label the blocks alphabetically–A-B-C; D-E-F… and so on. Then, when I run across a proper name, a place name, preferred spellings, and other details easy to misspell or overlook, I jot them down in the appropriate block. That way, as I go through a manuscript, all I have to do is glance at the cheat sheet to make sure the usage is consistent.

That, my friends, is what it boils down to: consistency.

When I proofread, I’m looking for goofs and typos and missing or misplaced punctuation. I’m also looking for consistency. For instance, preferred spellings. Some words have two or more accepted spellings. The word “gray,” for example, which can also be spelled “grey.” It doesn’t matter which spelling you, the writer, choose to use. What matters is that the spelling remains the same throughout the manuscript. I also note how the writer uses capitalization. While a contemporary story might stick with standard capitalization, a fantasy novel or speculative fiction might use unusual constructs. I jot those down on the cheat sheet. The same thing goes for italics. I can usually get a very good feel for the writer’s style after only a few pages–always uses italics for direct thoughts (for instance), or only uses them in dialogue to emphasize speech, or italicizes foreign words in dialogue, but not in narrative. Once I see the pattern, I make a note of it, so I can check for consistency throughout.

Timelines are also useful. If your story is like the TV show, “24” and depends on split-second timing, or if dates are very important to the plot, a timeline can help the proofreader help you. You meant to write “one week ago,” but a brain fart made you write, “one month ago.” With a timeline, the proofreader can note the inconsistency and ask you about it.

So, indies, you’ll have better results working with a proofreader if you provide a cheat sheet. The process will go faster and be much more efficient. It’s easy to whip up a chart in a spread sheet, or type up an alphabetical list. If you’re using unusual spellings or constructions, make a note.

Your preference in grammatical style is also a good thing for the proofreader to know. My fall back on questions of usage and style is my old Webster’s 9th, which is basic and standard. It is, however, over thirty years old and grammar styles do change. So it’s not so much a matter of correct or incorrect if you use serial commas or not, or which style of possessive you use, or if you spell out numbers or use numerals. The key is always consistency. If you follow a particular style manual or a style guide on the internet, let the proofreader know. That way when they have a grammar question, the proofreader can reference your source.

A little note about unusual styles and grammar usages. As an indie who doesn’t have to conform to a publisher’s in-house style, you are free to experiment. Try to keep the readers in mind while you do so. It’s all well and good to try something nobody has tried before. Who knows? If it works, maybe others will emulate you. If your unusual construction or “creative” use of punctuation confuses or frustrates readers, then the experiment is a failure. A good copy editor or proofreader will point that out and you’d be wise to listen.

My Computer Doesn’t Like Your Computer: Formatting Electronic Submissions

So Writing Buddy and I met yesterday for bacon and shop talk. She had an article she was getting ready to submit and I happened to notice that she still uses two spaces after the end of every sentence. Earlier we had been talking about some of the problems I see in e-books. Some formatting errors are caused by sloppiness, some are a result of ignorance, but quite often the publisher does everything right, or tries to anyway, but the programs misinterpret the coding and errors result. The most common formatting errors I see are font size changes or extra spaces between lines. When I see those, in an otherwise nicely formatted e-book, I assume it is a coding error.

E-books aren’t the only places I see translation errors. I receive a lot of manuscripts as attachments. Quite often when I open them they look like circus advertisements on the screen. Sometimes funny things happen in e-mails, too. Strange symbols, little circles, bolding here and there at random, and occasionally giant fonts.

The problem isn’t that the originator of the document is doing anything wrong, it’s just that my computer doesn’t necessarily like your computer. Every program has its own coding. And too many programs try to be helpful. Much the way toddlers are helpful in the kitchen. Or the government.

This wasn’t a problem when everybody was submitting manuscripts to agents and editors via snail mail. You learned standard formatting, you printed a copy, and you sent it off in the mail. Whatever you put in the envelope is exactly what the agent or editor received. Electronic submissions, however, are a little trickier. What you put in the body of an e-mail or attach to an e-mail might be read on a computer or on an iPhone or an iPad or a Kindle or Nook or smart phone or aluminum foil space mirror with alien technology. Since every gadget and program has its own way of doing things, they have to interpret and translate to the best of their ability. It’s like an electronic version of Telephone.

There really isn’t anything a writer can do to make sure their electronic manuscripts are read perfectly on every gadget. But there are things you can do to make sure that even when hiccups occur, your manuscript will still be readable.

Now I’m not familiar with every word processing program on the market. I use Word. I use the Word 2000 version because newer versions are so junked up with hidden codes and “helpful” features, they are maddening to use. Word seems to be pretty much the standard, though. Any suggestions I make here should translate fairly well over to other word processors. The principles remain the same.

  • First and foremost, get out of the habit of using the Tab key. I don’t know what it is about it that encourages programs to be so “helpful,” but using the Tab key about guarantees weird formatting errors.
  • Use style sheets to format the manuscripts. Style sheets will give you consistency and a minimum of code for the computer to screw up.
  • Be aware that any manual spacing you use to make a new page (or center text or otherwise move text around on the page) gives programs permission to screw things up.
  • Never use headers for electronic submissions. This includes numbering pages. Because of the many different screen sizes, headers will appear in inconvenient places.

Hidden codes are the enemy. You want to compose your electronic submissions in such a way that it does not encourage Word to insert hidden codes in an effort to be “helpful.” The very first thing you want to do is go under Tools and select AutoCorrect. It looks like this:

What you want to do is go through the menus and disable most of the AutoCorrect features. It is pretty safe to keep some of the auto format features turned on, such as curly quotes and bold and italics. With everything else you’re probably better off keying them in by hand.

If you are working on a manuscript and have been using tabs it is very easy to strip them out. Do a search and replace with ^t in the search box and then leave the replace box empty. If you have extra spacing, either between sentences, or to rearrange text on the page, or have used hard returns to start a new page, you will need to take those out. One way is to use the search-and-replace feature. Hit the space bar twice (or the number of offending spaces) in the search box, and then put the desired number of spaces in the replace box (one or zero). To make sure you have removed all the offending spaces use the “Show” feature in the menubar. In Word it looks like the paragraph symbol. ¶ (the “show” symbols do not print) Extra spaces will show up as dots and you can manually delete them. From this point forward you will use the “insert page break” feature, and stylesheets for arranging text so it’s indented, centered or right justified or whatever you need.

Making a user-defined stylesheet is very easy. From the menu bar under Format select “Style…”:

You are going to create a user-defined style. Select “New…”

Give it a name. I used “Manuscript.” The style type will be “paragraph.” Base it on “body text.” Style for the following paragraph will be “Manuscript.” Then select “format” and from the drop down menu go to “paragraph.”

Fill in the boxes so it looks like the above. Then hit OK. Select format again and select font.

I recommend you leave the special effects and character spacing alone. Some of those don’t translate well. Times New Roman and Garamond both show up well on most readers, no matter what size the screen. If you prefer to work with a different font, put that in your style sheet. When you are ready to submit, you can select all and change the font to Times or Garamond.

Now hit apply.

Save your style sheet by selecting “organizer” from the Style box. Highlight your style, select Copy and it will show up on the right hand side. Now, when you open a new document, you can just go to Style, selected user-defined styles and your custom style sheet(s) will be there, ready to go.

There you have it. A simple format good for composing on your computer and with fewer chances of translation errors when you make an electronic submission. If you’re not familiar with style sheets, I recommend you play around with them. You won’t hurt anything. Trust me. Try different fonts, different spacing. See what happens. When you’re comfortable with a basic body text style, you can make style sheets for chapter heads and other things. Break those old habits of manual spacing and using the Tab key, and you’ll create electronic submissions that give various gadgets and programs fewer opportunities to be “helpful.” And the agents and editors you submit to will thank you for it.

If you have any tips for formatting documents that are helpful to those of us who are unfamiliar with or are just learning the wonders of HTML and CSS, I’d love to hear them.