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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Nitty-Gritty Formatting for Print Books: Making Word Do What You Want, Part 1

When I worked in a publishing house, the job of laying out books, or "layout", belonged to the inhouse book designer and the (out of house) typesetter. They used book design software such as InDesign, which has magical tools to address the nitty-gritty formatting issues to turn a raw manuscript into a beautiful book. (I come from the textbook publishing world, where things are ten times more complex than novels.)

Can a word processor like Microsoft Word replicate professional layout software? The answer is no, but you can come close. In the next two posts I'll look at two things layout software does with ease to make a book look nicer, and which you can sort-of replicate in Word... but with warnings and caveats. Today, page length.



Grab any commercial book, fiction or non-fiction, and you'll notice that the content on every page lines up at the bottom. (The last page of a chapter is the exception, where there's often a blank space.) Here's an example from the wonderful Bill Bryson's Troublesome Words:


You may take this for granted, but the fact is when you space paragraphs such as in the above text, or when you have illustrations, captions, headings, or other non-standard elements, unless they are an exact multiple of the line space the pages will not line up at the bottom. You have to fiddle with spacing overall on the page -- or have fancy software that does it for you.

Word does not do it for you. If you've enabled "Widow/Orphan control" (which is the default setting), the problem will be even worse. Widow and orphan lines are the single lines of text that appear at the top and bottom of pages in paragraphs that are either two or three lines long. In this sample, I've turned off widow/orphan control and produced a widow on page 13. Note the pages do line up at the bottom because there's nothing else unusual about the spacing -- no half-space lines or illustrations to throw the alignment out of whack.


However, widows and orphans are considered ugly and distracting. Here's where you need to make a decision. Would you rather your pages line up neatly at the bottom, or would you rather eliminate widows and orphans and end up with this:


The three-line paragraph on page 13 is now kept together, but there's a huge two-line gap at the bottom of the previous page. A gap this big could even be mistaken for a section break, and will be more noticeable if you use footers (I don't -- see this previous blog post).

Can you fix this in Word? Yes, but this solution should only be done as a final step in formatting, and always start at the beginning and work through your pages in order. Below, I've increased the line spacing on the indicated paragraphs from 12pt to to 12.5pt. This change is small enough to not really be noticeable. Go to Paragraph > Line Spacing > Exactly, and type 12.5pt. You'll need to play around to see exactly what increase is needed to bring one page in alignment with the facing page.

If you don't want to manually adjust your pages, overall you may end up with only a few pages in your entire book with visually obvious uneven page lengths, and you may decide to live with it. You can turn off widow/orphan control on individual paragraphs on pages that look particularly bad. Note this will have run-on effects, causing future pages that were okay to not be okay, and vice versa. So, again, start at the beginning and work through page by page. And always re-do your Contents list in case page numbers have changed.

Next time we'll look at hyphenation, and what Word and can't do for you in that department.

Posts in this series:
Nitty-Gritty Formatting for Your Indie Print Book - intro
Hard and Soft Section Breaks
Font Sizes Part 1
Font Sizes Part 2
Body Text Font Choices
Making Word Do What You Want Part 1
Making Word Do What You Want Part 2




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