Editing tip 3: Using Styles (Headings)

Publishing companies generally use a typographical specification. This document instructs a typesetter on such things as font style, font size, how to display extracts, paragraph indention, styles for headings and other design aspects of a book.

If you are self-publishing, and doing all the work yourself, then you have to become a typesetter, so it’s a good idea to get into the habit of applying simple styles at the writing or editing stage. Not only will it save you time and give you a ‘typeset’ document, it will also be easier for you to navigate to different parts of the text whilst you are editing.

In this post, I am going to cover headings. I use Word 2010, but other versions, and compatible software, will show something similar. To begin with, you’ll need both your Navigation Pane and Styles pane displaying on the screen.

Generally, the Navigation Pane appears down the left-hand side. From the three tabs that display, select the first one: ‘Browse the headings in your document’. This pane will be empty when you have no styles applied.

»Find your first chapter heading. Select the first chapter heading, or click on it. From the Styles pane, choose the style named ‘Heading 1’. You’ll notice two things: one, your chapter heading now appears in the Navigation Pane; two, your chapter heading will have a style applied to it, but perhaps not in a way you would like.

»Format your chapter heading as you would like it to be displayed – for example, bold, centred, in a bigger font, increased line spacing – and then, right-click on the style named ‘Heading 1’ from the Styles pane. From the menu, click on ‘Update Heading 1 to Match Selection’. The style for Heading 1 will now reflect your chosen style.

»Find your next chapter heading. Select it, or click on it, and from the Styles pane, click ‘Heading 1’. Do this for the rest of your document, remembering to save as you go along.

This may seem like a laborious process, but you will benefit in the long run. Not only will all of your chapter headings display in a uniform style, they will also show in the Navigation Pane, which means you can move easily between chapters, just by clicking on the one you want.

If you’re not doing so, you may also like to start each chapter on a new page, as this is how a published book will display them.

Teach Yourself Typography

Self-publishing = Word-processing + Desktop publishing…well, almost.

Writing a novel is hard enough; I can’t worry about what it looks like when it’s self-published.

Yes, you can, and you should! At some point, you will need to apply some design to the words on the pages, in order to present your work in the best possible light. This is where typography comes in.

Simply put, typography is the style and appearance of printed matter. Typographic design is an art, and has a language all of its own.

Users of word-processing software will already be familiar with some aspects of typography, but may not realise it. There are features and functions that allow text to be manipulated and arranged on the page; indeed, the software does a lot of it automatically, without the user knowing, or having to think about it.

If you have experience of desktop publishing software, then you will be more familiar with typography, as these programs are specifically designed for that purpose, and are comparable to traditional typography and printing methods.

Typesetters who work in publishing companies may use software such as InDesign. However, a professional, typeset appearance can be achieved with word-processing software.  All it takes is a couple of hours, familiarising yourself with the basic elements of typography, and how it is applied to a print-published fiction novel.

Below is a list of typographical hints and tips. Use them, along with your word-processing software, to make your self-published novel look like a mainstream-published one:

  • For long passages of continuous text, use a serif font (the ones with ‘curly bits’, such as Times New Roman). A serif font is easier to read than a sans serif font (the ones without ‘curly bits’, such as Arial), as these slow down reading.
  • Experiment with typeface size, but remember: the height and width of a specific point size can vary between typefaces. For example, 10 pt in Times New Roman is not the same size as 1o pt in Garamond. You don’t have to stick with the standard 10 and 12 point size. Try anything from 9 to 14 point size, and you can use half sizes: just type them in to the font size box.
  • Fully justify text. A full line of justified text should ideally contain an average of 66 to 72 characters (including word spaces) – approximately 9 to 11 words.
  • Keep white space to a minimum. Make good use of kerning (the process by which the space between two characters is adjusted), and leading (line spacing).  Bear in mind that your word-processing software may not refer to them by their typographical names. (In Word 2010, these features can be found under the Advanced tab from the Font menu.) Do not leave a blank line between paragraphs, but indent them instead.
  • As a rule, have between 32 and 38 lines of text per page. Turn off widows and orphans (but try to keep one word carried over with the previous  page).
  • Be aware of page proportions for different book sizes, as this will have an effect on all of the above. The margins will need to be different to accommodate the right amount of text on the page.
  • Lastly, to avoid your self-published novel having that word-processed look, include the occasional end-of-line hyphenation, in order to remove any additional white space.

With a bit of experimentation, it is not too difficult to produce a professional-looking typeset document that will make your published novel look attractive and uniform.

I have only covered a tiny amount about typography, here. It’s worth investing in a book or two, but shop around, as they can be quite expensive.  I can recommend Book Typography: A Designer’s Manual, by Mitchell & Wightman (Libanus Press, 2005), and The Complete Manual of Typography, Second Edition, by James Felici (Peachpit, 2012).

Happy experimenting! 🙂