The Writing Sparrow Episode 13: 5 Quick and Easy Formatting Tips with Becky Wright

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Transcript:

Sarina Langer  00:08

Hello, and welcome to the Writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer, and this podcast is all about writing, publishing and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started!

Sarina Langer  00:26

Hello, and welcome back, sparrows and friends. It’s the 30th of November, this is Episode 13, and Becky Wright is back.

Sarina Langer  00:40

If you remember I did the first ever interview of this podcast with Becky about formatting and generally about her incredible business for writers, PlatformHouse Publishing, and we maybe got a little bit carried away. Sorry. I’ve asked her back so that we, meaning Becky, can give you some quick and easy tips you can use for your own book right now. Pronunciation on quick.

Sarina Langer  01:10

But before we begin, I just wanted to quickly say a big thank you to all of you listening. I’ve had an email this week from Booksprout to congratulate me on my first 100 downloads. So, you guys, thank you so much, and how fitting is that for the return of my first ever interviewee, Becky! Welcome back, Becky.

Becky Wright  01:32

Hi, Sarina. It’s good to be back. And I will stay on track today.

Sarina Langer  01:36

No, I will, I will try, but I think a bit off… Who doesn’t love a bit of banter?

Becky Wright  01:44

Yeah it’s just normal. It’s a chat over a drink.

Sarina Langer  01:46

Yeah, we’re already doing it. I don’t think we can help ourselves.

Becky Wright  01:50

No! Right, right. Okay, on track.

Sarina Langer  01:52

Okay, what did I just say about doing this quick? So, today, um, as I’ve just said, I’ve asked you back to give our listeners a few quick and easy steps anyone can apply to format their own books right now that any of us can handle, even myself who really hates formatting and nearly lost her entire book because I pressed the wrong thing one time.

Becky Wright  02:14

Oh. Yeah.

Sarina Langer  02:15

Yeah. So, how many tips do you have for us today?

Becky Wright  02:18

I have five. Five really important… not one of them is more important than the other, but as a collective, they’re all important. So these are all the top five that I think everybody needs to remember.

Sarina Langer  02:31

Fantastic. Okay, let’s start with tip number one. What have you got?

Becky Wright  02:35

Tip Number One! I feel like I should have had like a countdown, sort of some sort of music tune there.

Becky Wright  02:39

Right, tip number one: style. Make sure that you know what genre your book format needs to look like. So obviously, if it’s a fantasy, you can have lots of embellishments and borders and really nice illustrations. And if it’s something like a thriller or a horror or something like that, you’re going to need to have plain or more strict on your illustrations. So I think, so I think style is, style is really important. And it’s the first place you’re going to need to start, so before you do anything else, you need to start on that.

Sarina Langer  03:19

See, I’m torn about that, because I really get what you’re saying with that and I couldn’t agree more that obviously style is so important. But I’m just having flashbacks to the first, to my first book ever when I tried to format that. And I think I just tried to even just move a sentence and suddenly everything had shifted, and my page numbers were suddenly gone, and I didn’t know what had happened to the paragraphs. So the idea of me doing any kind of fancy style formatting is making me break out in cold sweat right now.

Becky Wright  03:52

I mean, I think get your general layout in and worry about the fancy fiddly bits later, because you need to get the basic template done. So think about the style, the style needs… you need to have that in the back of your mind, although you don’t need to add anything at this point. You still need to think, what is it? What over- what sort of impression when you open that book, what are you looking for? What are you trying to portray for to the actual reader, because I think as much as your cover and your blurb, opening them pages that sets up the reader for knowing what they’re going into. That’s my top tip number one.

Sarina Langer  04:30

I think one thing that can possibly help with that if you’re not quite sure what might work well for your genre is to maybe have a look at other books in the genre and see what they’ve done.

Becky Wright  04:39

Oh, absolutely that, I would always do that. And if before I have a new client with, before I start anybody’s book, I will always look really in depth of what the genre is and go out and if it’s something I haven’t done, or a new client I haven’t worked with, I’ll go out and look, physically look on the interiors of books and have a look at formatting. So it’s a must. It’s a must. It’s really important.

Sarina Langer  05:03

And I think this might be a good moment to say that you have spent all week formatting my two books, and they are so beautiful! Honestly, I haven’t, I’ve had quite a, quite a stressful week, but you know how it goes, I’ve been quite busy. So I still haven’t been able to look through them properly. But from what I’ve seen, they’re absolutely stunning. And I can’t wait to have the proof copy in my hands so I can stroke it and adore it.

Becky Wright  05:03

Yeah, that’s always important to me. It’s not until you get that proof copy that you can actually see it for real. It’s all very well looking at it on a screen, but until you’ve actually got it in your hands, and then you can really see how it works.

Sarina Langer  05:45

Absolutely. Or, you know, on your Kindle when we’re talking about an ebook, but either way, you’ve done such a beautiful job. I can’t wait for people to see it. And I can’t wait to admire it some more at the weekend. All right, what’s your second tip?

Becky Wright  06:01

Right. Second one: front and back matter.

Sarina Langer  06:04

Oh, yes.

Becky Wright  06:05

It matters. It does matter.

Sarina Langer  06:08

It does! I kind of forgot mine this time around.

Becky Wright  06:12

But it was fine, because I was like, no, we got something missing, but it’s fine. The acknowledgement pages… So the front and the back matter, for anybody who’s starting out and not quite- because you use that term sometimes and people don’t understand what that is. And it just means your dedication, your copyright, your dedication, your acknowledgement, you’re about the author, and the contents page, all them things. Some of them definitely belong at the front obviously, obviously, the copyright page and your dedication, and depending on your preference, some people put the acknowledgement at the back and About the Author is- I would always put the About the Author at the back. And it also depends on ebook and paperback. Because we know, or some people may not know that you, the less you put at the front of your ebook… So as soon as, as soon as the reader gets into the story, the better. Because you’ve got the links and they can find all the extra bits, it doesn’t actually necessarily need to be in there, as long as the copyright and your dedication, anything that you need to have it in the front can go in, but anything that’s surplus needs to be in the book but doesn’t set up the story, put it at the back.

Sarina Langer  07:25

Completely agree. And again, I think a good thing, if you’re not quite sure what to put for the front and back matter in your book is to pull off a book off your shelf right now, something in your genre and just see what they’ve done. You know, it doesn’t need to be anything fancy, just–

Becky Wright  07:39

No, not at all. Not at all. So, I would always say pick two or three books off your bookshelf of different genres, and have a look at them all as an overall and then get a feel for what, where people put their pages. Not everybody has an About the Author page. If you’re a big mainstream author, you might have a real famous author, and they probably won’t have one or it may be just a paragraph on their back cover, cause they, they don’t need one, everyone tends to know who they are, but for us, and it’s important.

Becky Wright  08:11

And links in your ebook have to go to the right places, so you have links to all your social media and your website, and, and what other books that you’ve got. They need to be in there. I would- it depends on whether you put them at the front or the back. It’s, you know, it’s entirely up to you, depending on what it is. If it’s a paperback, I would always put Books By, Other Books By, and Books By Me at the front.

Sarina Langer  08:39

Yeah, I mean, I think unlike with the style, and you know maybe even adding an images and little things like that, just adding, you know, things like your dedication, for example, or writing your acknowledgments usually takes a bit of thought and time to write it all out, but it’s not a complicated thing to do, and you don’t need to overthink it. Because especially for your acknowledgments, you already know what the process was like for you. You already know who you’ve worked with, who your beta readers were, so–

Becky Wright  09:09

And when you’re trying to compose that, cause- Right, it’s like, Oh my God, I’ve got to write a bio, I’ve got to write- and that closure page, where do I start? Start at the beginning of your writing process. Who was it, the first person that saw your book other than you, and literally work your way down. So do it as a checkpoint, and you can vary that to each book. So, as long as you’ve got the basis of your acknowledgement page, you can just tweak that to different books, and your About the Author page can stay exactly the same, and it literally just goes in every single book. You may want to tweak it depending on circumstances, obviously, and add an extra book at the end of it, your other books by you, and you can add an extra book in, but otherwise generally they’re just templates and you can just add them in.

Sarina Langer  09:57

Exactly. I mean I know for my duology where the- well, actually by the time this interview goes live, my second book will already be out.

Becky Wright  10:06

Exciting!

Sarina Langer  10:07

But you know, in both of those, I have the same map, I have the same Pronunciation Guide. So don’t think that you have to start over again from scratch, even with every book, you know, because there’ll be some things that you can reuse over and over and over again, which will save you a lot of time and it will make it look all the more professional.

Becky Wright  10:24

Yep, absolutely. And it’s like, copyright page–lots of people have it quite long, comprehensive copyright pages. Some people literally will just have the title, and just ‘all rights reserved’ and the copyright, you know, it’s, it doesn’t matter. I’ve always had quite a comprehensive one, because when I first started out, I found what I wanted, sorted my wording out, and so I just have the same one.

Sarina Langer  10:48

I think it’s quite easy for us to panic when we hear the word copyright page, because  it’s something, it’s legal stuff, you know, we need to make sure we get it right. But honestly, as long as you have the copyright symbol in there and your name and the year, you are covered. That’s literally all you need.

Becky Wright  11:04

Yeah, copyright, copyright symbol, your name, I would always make sure, All Rights Reserved, and, and your website.

Sarina Langer  11:12

Yes, of course.

Becky Wright  11:13

As long as it really needs to be in there. And it is, it’s one of those personal preferences, I think. Some people like to keep them simple. So the front and the back matter, and as much- and it matters, so it needs to be in there.

Sarina Langer  11:29

The front and the back matter matters. There you go. If that’s not the catchy thing for you to remember, I don’t know what is.

Becky Wright  11:35

It’s a tongue twister, but yes, it does. So if you think it matters, it needs to be in there.

Sarina Langer  11:43

So, what is tip number three?

Becky Wright  11:44

Right, Tip Number three: font and chapter headings. Lots of people, and I did it in the early days, simple, simple font, and it would be one font throughout. And, and I think you don’t need to… don’t overdo it in the same respect, depending on your genre, depending on what the style you’re going for. And this will lead on from you thinking what style, what style your, this book is going to be, what style formatting. So, font. And I would, it’s a, it’s a preference to me. I’ve changed my preference over the years, I’ve gone from Times New Roman, and I’m now on Garamond at the minute, which is my favourite one personally. But there’s a whole array of them. And they’re as long as they are easy readable. And you can google this, you know, ‘best fonts for fiction’. And there’s so many, so many different websites and blogs, and everything that you can find that will give you a guidance into where you need to go. And there was one, one, I would always say: do not use Arial.

Sarina Langer  12:50

Oh, there you go. That’s a pro tip. Why not, Becky?

Becky Wright  12:54

I think it’s just not particularly easy reading and it won’t look professional. And I think if you… and it’s again, it’s one of those, go on your bookshelf and get a load of books, half a dozen books, open them all up and see what they look like.

Sarina Langer  13:08

And chances are there’ll be something very simple like Times New Roman, or Garamond as you’ve heard. I mean, if you’re still not sure what to use, then those two you can’t really go wrong with. That said, you can use something fancy, like something that looks a bit like handwriting if you have maybe like a short handwritten note in there. Or maybe–

Becky Wright  13:27

They are, they are really good. And if you’ve got like an article in the book, in storyline, perhaps it’s a newspaper cutting, and it needs to be in there. You could use one of the newspaper fonts, something that looks like it’s in print, in type. And that will just work because it will, it will make the reader realise that they are reading something like that within.

Sarina Langer  13:48

Yes. So some fonts like that are fantastic for small bits like that, but you don’t want them throughout the entire book.

Becky Wright  13:58

No, and I think on your chapter headings it’s important, it doesn’t need… I would always say vary it for the chapter headings, even if you’re going for something simple, a complimentary font, but never use more than three in your whole book. Otherwise, it’s just going to be, it’s just going to be a gallery of fonts and the readers won’t know what, what it’s looking, what they’re looking at. So fonts, think about them seriously, and look at what other people have done in your genre. So you’ve picked the right sort of font.

Sarina Langer  14:31

All right, tip number four. What have you got?

Becky Wright  14:33

Tip Number Four: widows and orphans.

Sarina Langer  14:36

Oh! Oh, I can’t tell you the headache I’ve got from this on my first book. You might remember: in our first interview, I said that I got this close to throwing my laptop out the window. This is why.

Becky Wright  14:51

Yeah, and it’s a button. It’s just a button.

Sarina Langer  14:54

Yeah, I didn’t realise that. I literally-

Becky Wright  14:59

What it basically does, it keeps bodies of text together. So if you’ve got, if you’ve got a scene break and you’re going into another body of text and it’s a different scene, rather than having at the bottom of the page one lonesome widow, and all, all of the rest of it up on the top of the next page, or you’ve got everything, it goes right the way down and then you’ve got one lonesome little line at the top of the next page, and then you’ve got the gap. It’s just, it’s a formatting… it’s having an eye for your formatting. So if it doesn’t look quite right…

Sarina Langer  15:36

Chances are it isn’t.

Becky Wright  15:38

So, and if you go into your… It’s in your formatting settings in Word, in Microsoft Word, it’s just a, a click. Click it, and it will do it for you.

Sarina Langer  15:49

Yes, I mean, the thing is that… I mean, we could sort of try to talk you through how to get there, but depending on what software you use, it will be different.

Becky Wright  15:59

Yeah, absolutely.

Sarina Langer  16:00

There are so many versions all the time, because it’s technology and nothing lasts very long in this world. So if you’re not sure where it is, or how to find it, just google it quickly.

Becky Wright  16:09

Yep. It’ll be in the Help programme, whatever programme you’re using. But it is important just to keep chapter sec- keep sections, scene sections together. So you don’t have stray little lines going off into the, into the nevernever and everyone’s like, what? So you didn’t- And it’s also looking over your, looking over your layout. And if it doesn’t, if it looks right- My eye works that way. So it’s, I know that’s easy for me to say, but as long as it looks right.

Sarina Langer  16:45

Do you want to hear a story that will make you cringe?

Becky Wright  16:48

Go on.

Sarina Langer  16:49

Okay. So with my first book, I think at the time I was still using OpenOffice–and I mean, don’t get me wrong, if OpenOffice is the programme for you, good for you. Personally, I have a very strong hate relationship with that thing now. So, so when with my first book, I for some reason… I think I’d read somewhere that you had to do all of your widows and orphans individually, and I just got it into my head that this is what I had to do. So I kid you not, I literally went through my entire book several times, doing all of them on a page per page basis, and then I eventually, I think I went downstairs afterwards, and I was so tired from just staring at it for honestly hours, and my partner went, you know you could just have select ed the whole document and done it literally with one click right? I was like, No, no, you can’t, I’m sure I’ve read that you can’t, I would have done it. I can’t do it. It can’t be that easy. And he did it. And oh, I’m still thinking about this now.

Becky Wright  17:54

That goes back to what we’ve had conversations with in the past, it’s we are forever learning and it’s a trial and error, and now it’s not that you’ve, you found a way not to do it. That’s what it is.

Sarina Langer  18:06

I think now looking back, that might just be why I started hating formatting so much. It’s the widows and orphans.

Becky Wright  18:16

It’s a common thing, this hatred for formatting. I’ve heard it many a time.

Sarina Langer  18:20

But you don’t understand it, do you, cuz you love it.

Becky Wright  18:22

I do love it. And it’s handy, it is, because my brain works that way. And I think… and I have. Yeah, I have, I have…

Arthur Wright  18:31

Hello!

Sarina Langer  18:31

Hi!

Becky Wright  18:31

… because I have this checklist… Oh, that’s my son. Oh, he’s a cheeky one. Um, but yeah, it is. All these things are important. But it’s only because you want the overall thing to look, the overall book to look as it should. And as long as you have this checklist, and I work by this checklist, I mean, it’s in my head. I don’t think about it now. It’s just automatic. So, um, but yeah, so that’s tip number four. Widows and orphans.

Sarina Langer  19:04

I think the one thing for us all to take away from that, maybe, is that it looks complicated, or it did to me anyway, and it looks really intimidating, but it’s literally just a matter of selecting your entire document and pressing a button. And then it’s done. And it looks so much cleaner, and it’s, it doesn’t need to take the hours that I put into it with my first ever attempt. And honestly, it’s as fast as 10 seconds and you’re done with it. It’s nothing to fear.

Becky Wright  19:35

That’s it. No, it isn’t. It is like you say, you just select all and you can just press a button, or press a button and put whole document and it, depending on what programme you’re using, it is just a click of a button effectively. Maybe two or three clicks but it is.

Sarina Langer  19:50

Not me, that’s for sure. Tip number five?

Becky Wright  19:54

Tip Number Five: your page numbers.

Sarina Langer  19:57

Oh yes. Again, such a headache for me.

Becky Wright  20:04

It’s a biggie. And it is, it can be really tricky to get it right if you don’t do it very often or if you’re not quite sure. And it is one of those things that I did where I’ve muddled my way through and I’ve learned, but it is, it can be quite easy once you know what you’re doing, and a lot of it is down to section breaks, your page breaks, and making sure you isolate it and follow it, lead it on to the next section. It sounds really complicated, but getting your page numbers correct is a must. I mean, the front and the back matter doesn’t need page numbers on, so it’s only the body of the story.

Sarina Langer  20:52

And that’s the start of all the complications in that.

Becky Wright  20:55

In parts, yeah. And I think once, I mean for indie publishing generally, I think there’s been times in our, in our industry where indie books have had a bad rep. And it’s because very early to early days, and there are a very small selection of books that people come across, and if they’re badly formatted or don’t look professional, badly edited, they are going to stick out like a sore thumb. But generally across the board, us indie authors are no different than our, than a mainstream traditionally published author. It’s just that we do the process ourselves.

Sarina Langer  21:36

Exactly.

Becky Wright  21:37

If you do the marketing right, they will sit on this bookshelf alongside all the mainstream publishers.

Sarina Langer  21:44

Well, exactly. And I mean, for me, the reason that I decided to be an indie author is that I just like the control over everything.

Becky Wright  21:53

Yeah, absolutely.

Sarina Langer  21:56

I mean, granted with the formatting, I handed the control entirely over to you, because I know that you know what you’re doing, and you enjoy it. And I know, it’ll come back looking stunning to me. But you know, if I didn’t like something that you did, I would then have the freedom to say actually, Becky, this isn’t working.

Becky Wright  22:12

Absolutely, and we’d try something else. Yeah, every time if I ever do anything and someone’s not happy, ike the other day, you said, Oh, could we just tweak this? Yeah, that’s not a problem. At the end of the day, it’s your book. And when I first start formatting, I’m just doing an interpretation of how I think it will look. But at the end of the day it’s your book baby. So if you’re thinking, Oh, that’s not quite how I imagined, can we do this? Of course we can. And we will keep doing it until you are 100% happy. Because it’s not my book. It’s yours. I’m just providing a service. That’s all I’m doing.

Sarina Langer  22:46

And you’re providing great service. My books are very pleased and so am I.

Becky Wright  22:52

Thank you.

Sarina Langer  22:53

Oh, has this been all five tips already?

Becky Wright  22:56

It has. They are the top five. There’s other things we could have discussed, but I think if you get them five right, and take consideration into them five, generally, overall, you’ll be doing a good job.

Sarina Langer  23:10

Yeah, I think so. I mean, it’s a thing for most writers, when we hear the word formatting, there is something in us that starts panicking. I know I certainly do.

Becky Wright  23:24

And I think it’s that word formatting, instantly–

Sarina Langer  23:27

It just fills us with dread, doesn’t it? I mean, for some people it’s the word editing. Or, and, you know, for some, it’s rewriting. And for me, it’s formatting. But it’s not, it’s not even that hard, though. That’s the thing. And I think-

Becky Wright  23:40

Well, exactly. I mean, that’s always how I argue. I could try to do it myself again, but Becky enjoys it, so I give it to Becky.

Becky Wright  23:40

I think people think it’s going to be harder. You can get a really basic format and do it yourself. You need to go back and tweak it, and you may need to go back into it. And it’s the, it’s the time consuming part of it that people get frustrated with, it’s because you’re, no, it’s gonna- I’m gonna take a whole day out because I’ve got to format this book. Because if you don’t do it on a regular basis, it’s going to take you a long time, and when you come across little issues you’re thinking, Oh, my goodness, how do I get over that? And then you think, okay, I’ve got to just Google this. And let me just ask somebody. So that’s where the time consuming. This is why I get the job, because I’m like, Well, okay, I can turn it around it really quick. And I love doing it. So I can get that done.

Becky Wright  24:35

And I turn it around really fast as well.

Sarina Langer  24:38

You do.

Becky Wright  24:38

Because you need it really quickly.

Sarina Langer  24:41

Yes. Sorry about that.

Becky Wright  24:43

No, it’s fine! You are not alone. You are not alone. There’s plenty there. And I’ll get the email and I’ll hear the urgency in the email. I’m just gonna get this to you. I’m now sorting this bit and this bit, and to me that says right, you need that back quickly.

Arthur Wright  24:59

Hi.

Sarina Langer  25:03

Hi!

Becky Wright  25:04

So yeah, really quickly, really quick turnaround.

Sarina Langer  25:07

And you know, I think with erm… Oh, what was I gonna say? Doesn’t matter. Well, I- No, I’ve got it, I’ve got it. I think with, with now with the five tips that you’ve just shared, it’ll make it a lot easier. And I would definitely urge everyone listening, if you haven’t done it before, if you haven’t tried it yet, just give it a go, see how you get on. Because you might actually find it really easy or even enjoy it somehow.

Becky Wright  25:34

Absolutely!

Sarina Langer  25:37

You know, so just try it. Try it at least once. You’re an author, we both know you’re adventurous and you want to give it a shot. So, just try it.

Becky Wright  25:43

That’s it. And if they have any problem and you do get stuck, just hand it over to me, and then I’ll finish it. I’ll sort it out. I’ll get there at the end. And we can sort it, and I do have a lot of people who will be halfway through or they’ve done it and I will just get, get it to do the tweaks. I’ve done all this, but could you put the page numbers in? I’ve done all this, but I’m having a problem with headers and footers. Oh, that’s another one, but we’re not going to go there today. But it’s, and then people, then I get it, and then I just redo it, rejig it about and yeah. But there are lots of other things like we could have spoke about, but I will leave the uploading with bleed and all of those for another day.

Sarina Langer  26:30

Well, maybe one day next year, we can do another interview with your next five tips.

Becky Wright  26:35

Yes, yes.

Sarina Langer  26:36

And we can look into doing that.

Becky Wright  26:39

That’s it. I mean there’s plenty. There’s so much.

Sarina Langer  26:44

But for today, thank you very much for coming by.

Becky Wright  26:46

Thank you!

Sarina Langer  26:47

And for talking to me once again about formatting. And I think you have done very well this time of keeping it on point.

Becky Wright  26:54

We did. We did. Brilliant.

Sarina Langer  26:57

Well, thank you very much.

Becky Wright  26:58

Thank you.

Becky Wright  26:59

Bye Bye.

Arthur Wright  27:00

I’m gonna miss you so much!

Sarina Langer  27:03

Oh, you too. Bye.

Sarina Langer  27:10

If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @sarina_langer, on Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course on my website at sarinalanger.com. Until next time! Bye!


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