Where to begin writing

Before writing even the first sentence, a writer should consider what the final version will look like. What size and kind of book do you plan to publish? Are you going to print an eBook, a printed book, an audio book or all three?

In graduate school, I took a class on evaluation in education where the professor lectured week after week and assigned reading and reading. The goal of the class was to keep a journal as we worked through answering one question: is there a single tool for evaluation or is there a toolbox full of different tools?

The correct answer was the toolbox apparently, since I earned an A for the course. The publishing possibilities are a toolbox. But the key to using the toolbox is to determine what solution is best for a given situation.

A novel does not necessarily need chapters. But chapters do make a book easier to read. For one thing, many readers will read to the end of the current chapter before taking a break. Chapters can also serve as a roadmap if segues are not obvious.

Many types of books are organized, using chapters and sections to define how the information will be presented. It is the logic behind the work. And, if the reader is keenly aware of information in a chapter, they can skip it and move on through the book.

When it comes to self-publishing, or publishing on demand, the type of book matters whether the book will be digital or print. There is a fairly large range of book sizes and types that every publishing service makes available.

There are also some that set services apart. Lulu is one, perhaps the only one, that offers books with dust jackets in a variety of sizes and shapes. On the other hand, Lulu currently recommends customers avoid including charts, text boxes, and scientific or mathematic formulas in smaller paperbacks. Lulu does offer a coil-bound 6” x 9” inch option that would be ideal for workbooks, which is rare in the publish on demand world.

Amazon has the largest market share. That means they have more potential customers. It also means you will have more competition for those readers’ eyes.

But, whatever service you choose, it is wise to choose a size and shape of your book before you start writing. If you choose to use chapters, they need to be formatted a special way. But, they also need a name. You can use something as basic as the chapter number but it is more helpful to the reader if you give each chapter a name that reflects what that chapter is about.

It’s perfectly fine to jump right in and start writing. But, eventually, your book will need to be formatted even if you publish it as an eBook. Keep that in mind while you write.


Decoding style

Have you ever wondered what dictates whether you should indent a paragraph, or use a two-letter abbreviation for states and how you should format a date?

Furthermore, does anyone care? YES! A resounding, YES! A lot of us do!

There is, in fact, a secret code. It is called a Style Manual and there are more than a dozen of them.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that, behind the scenes, Word is quite sophisticated. This is just one example.

Tucked away in a menu panel that you may not have ever even looked at is the Citations & Bibliography panel.

Don’t stop reading if you think you will never use them. I’ll tell you why in a minute. But, first, I’m going to take you on a fieldtrip.

Click on the References menu tab. (Double-click if it keeps disappearing on you.)

The third panel is Citations & Biography. In this panel, you’ll see the word Style and probably the word “APA” and maybe a couple more characters on a dropdown menu.

Click on the dropdown menu and take a look at what is there.

Word knows how to format according to 14 different style manuals. And, yes, there are slight differences between each.

No, that’s not the fieldtrip.

Follow my link to OWL to join me on this fieldtrip.

We are going to visit the Online Writing Lab at Perdue University. If you ever have a question about to format some bit of text, this is one of the very best sources you will find.

In spite of 14 different frequently used style manuals, APA and MLA are the most common. Have you ever wondered whether you should put the name of a book in quotation marks, or in italics? Look at a style manual for the answer.

The MLA (Modern Language Association) style guide is used for literature. “All research papers on literature use MLA format.”

APA (American Psychological Association) is the style preferred for by the social sciences.

If you aren’t sure which to use and you are not writing for a professional journal or a dissertation, just pick one—and stick to it throughout your work. Universities and publishers make it known which of the 14 style manuals to use.

You’ll find things like when to use a comma, whether to put a comma inside or outside of a quotation mark and a myriad of other things.

And, you will find instructions on whether to indent the first line of a paragraph, or not, and by how much. The answer? It varies depending on the type of writing you are doing.

Does it matter? It very well may to your reader. Like me.

Style manuals in the digital age

One of my favorite things about References is the Style dropdown menu. You can choose a Style and a popup window will appear with fields you fill in with the title, author, etc. Then Word automatically formats the information for you and, if you want, it can insert it into your document. It is always formatted correctly, according to the Style you choose.

I write primarily non-fiction so I frequently create citations, footnotes, and bibliographies. So this is useful. But there is an even easier way to do it.


Do less typing. Use Worldcat to format your source for you.

Worldcat.org finds media. It is primarily books, but it will also correctly format a reference to a website, a movie, and other forms of media. It is surprisingly thorough and it lets you choose which of 5 different formatting styles to use.

Let’s choose the book Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience.

All you have to do is type the word “Flow” in the WorldCat search box. You’ll see the book we are looking for, not far down the page. Click on it.

The entry of this book comes up, along with a list of libraries where you will find a copy. In the upper right-hand corner, you’ll see a clickable option Cite/Export. Click on that.

A popup menu will appear, listing five different style manuals.

Let’s click on APA (6th ed.). (Not sure whether to spell out a number or use the numeral instead? The answer is in a style manual.)

A dropdown panel appears, with the source perfectly formatted.

  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row.

Highlight the text. Copy it. Paste it into your Word document.

When the popup icon appears asking how you want to paste it, choose Match Formatting (usually).

Word really does go out of its way to help you format text. It’s clever that the Reference formatting is built in. But, sometimes you need a little different formatting information. That’s when you turn to your style manual, or OWL.


How to create a glossary in Word

Most of us are using Microsoft Word, or with OpenOffice, to format our books and eBooks. Unfortunately, neither one has an automatic feature that will create a glossary. A glossary has to be created manually.

I have seen a gazillion exotic ways to create macros and use VB to do this, ad nauseum.

That’s ridiculous. Anyone who understands the basic concept of Styles can automatically generate a Glossary without a bit of programming or recording macros.

You only have to type the word Glossary to make it happen. That’s all. Otherwise, it is just clicking all the way.

hackTo add a word or a term to a glossary, create it as a Style.

To do that, open the Styles palette.

Create a new Style and name it Glossary.

For “Style Based On:” choose Normal, or whatever Style you are using for the body text style.

For “Style for Following Paragraph:” choose Normal, or whatever Style you are using for the body text style.

Click “Okay” to save the Glossary Style.

Manually locate every word or phrase you want to include in the Glossary.

Change the style for that text to Glossary by highlighting the text and clicking on Glossary in your Styles palette.

Do that for every word or phrase you want included in the Glossary.


Once you are finished, go back to the Styles palette.

Now, carefully click on the dropdown next to the Glossary style you created.

Choose “Select All X Instances” (“X” will tell you the number of Glossary entries you have selected).

Click Control + C to copy all instances.

Now move your cursor to the location in your document where you want the Glossary to appear.

Click Control + P to paste all Glossary (style) entries at the current location.

Every bit of text you formatted as Glossary style will appear.

Go to your browser and delete all the bookmarks to the endless number of webpages explaining how to waste a whole lot of time programming and breathe a sigh of relief because you will never need to look at them. 

You’re welcome!


Bonus Hack: Once you create the Glossary and save your file, you can safely format all text as any other Style. You only need the Glossary style until you generate the Glossary.





Where do you start writing?

Today, I’m going to actually talk about writing words. Where do you start? I highly recommend outlining, however you define outlining. It can be formal or not. I personally like to outline with an Excel spreadsheet because it is so easy to rearrange items. One author claims he actually writes IN Excel. True story.

Word has a great built-in outliner.

Pick one.

The purpose of an outline is to keep your story on track. If you can’t think your way through an outline, it may be difficult to think your way through a story, let alone a book.

I like to feel like I have at least the beginning and end outlined. Then I go back and write the first paragraph after I have written everything else. Sometimes, I realize I started out with an assumption that changed a bit as the story took place.

But, we need a place to put those words. The ultimate question for self-publishers is whether to start with a well-formatted document or something very plain text. I’ve done both.

With non-fiction, I tend to be less likely to rearrange major portions or chapters. So, with non-fiction, I begin with a template and format as I go. I start by naming each of the chapters. That helps keep me on track.

I do believe it is important to envision what your book is going to look like. Do you want to publish an eBook, or a printed book? What size book are you planning? Do you need a dust jacket? A spiral binding? There are lots of options out there.

It’s just a lot easier if you start with formatting, in my opinion. I use an outline to create chapters and then I go from there.

It really helps to begin with formatting if you anticipate including a glossary. Even fiction can need a glossary to define those out-of-this-world Sci-Fi worlds and so on.

To create a glossary, you have to select the word and manually add it to the glossary. That may be easier to do, as you are writing.

Next time? How to create a glossary.


Embedding fonts

You can pretty much use any kind of font, in any color and size, for most self-publishing sites. Don’t be shy about experimenting! [[Disclaimer:: some publishing sites will go berserk.]]

The key is embedding your fonts. This is so simple you won’t believe it.

hack ::Start::of::Think::Fast::Write::Fast::Hack::

Open the Office button—that big circle in the top left-hand corner of the Word window.

At the BOTTOM of the popup menu, choose Word Options.

On the Windows Options menu that pops open, choose Save.

Look for the section Preserve Fidelity When Sharing This Document.

Click the checkbox for Embed Fonts In The File.

Click Ok.

Boom. You’re done.


Next time, how do you start writing?


T::F::W::F’s hack for using Styles

Let’s get back to Styles. I mentioned last time that self-publishing sites sometimes offer templates with preformatted Styles.

There is nothing magic about Styles. Each one is just a storage spot for a specific collection of text or paragraph formatting. Think of each one as a paint brush you have dipped in a different color, sometimes just a different tint.

hackIf you’re new to this, expand the Word toolbar so that you see the palettes. Do that by double-clicking on any menu item.

The first palette is the Clipboard. Then Font, Paragraph and Styles.

Click on the little icon at the lower right-hand corner of the Styles palette. The list of Styles in the current document appear in the Styles Window, on the right.

The CreateSpace default Style for Chapter Titles is Times New Roman font size 14, centered, with all caps. All caps means that no matter what you type, all the characters will appear as capital letters.

But you can change that. Click on the Styled called “CSP – Chapter Title.” A dropdown menu icon will appear. Choose Modify.

Or, you can do it the easy way.

hack ::Start::of::Think::Fast::Write::Fast::Hack::

Highlight the title of a chapter, any chapter, and change the font, the size, the color, whether it is bold, or italics–whatever.

Go crazy.

When you are happy with the size and font STOP.

Be sure you have clicked the radio button, at the bottom of the screen, next to “Only In This Document.” This is especially important if you are working with a template that you want to use again—but not necessarily with the revised Style you are creating.

Close the Style window.

Highlight the name of a chapter again. ANY CHAPTER.

Click on the Style for “CSP – Chapter Title.” A new item has been added to the dropdown menu. That first item says “Update CSP – Chapter Title.” Choose that.


Now, click on the dropdown for “CSP-Chapter Title” again and you’ll see the choices have changed once again.

Look for the choice “Select All X Instances” where “X” shows the number of instances where that Style has been used in this document. Click on that.

Click on the dropdown menu again, and click on “Click Formatting of X Instances.”

With the “X” number of instances still highlighted, double-click the style “CSP- Chapter Title.”

You’re done.

Since you are going to embed your fonts with this file, the font will be used when you upload your file to CreateSpace.

Here is what just happened. You revised what the Style used for all chapters in this document should like look. Then you instructed Word to go find all the chapters. It does that by looking for every bit of text you already formatted as “CSP- Chapter Title.” Then it updated every instance of text you formatted as a chapter title.

How easy is that?

Next time, I’ll talk about embedding fonts.


Doing it with Styles

I may the only person on the planet who actually loves Word’s Styles. Learn to love Styles, and eBook formatting becomes easier.

People hire me just to format their dissertations. An eBook would probably put them into a coma.

Styles are actually quite simply, and extremely powerful. When we look at a page in Word, it looks rather simple. We know there are little icons and buttons and menus that we will never use in a lifetime. But, someone will. Or someone wanted to when Word was designed. In spite of that, Word looks quite simple. Clean. Austere, even.

But, behind the scenes, there is a lot of power. That’s where the creative part comes in. That’s where I, as an author, get excited.

I absolutely believe that books should be attractive. I realize attractiveness is in the eye of the beholder. But ugly text hovering above a distant white background does not inspire me to read.

We seem to forget the original efforts at printing were beautiful and they also were not on paper. They were woodblock imprints of colored flowers printed on silk. Woodblock printing was standard for a long time. Granted, there was no other option. But, for centuries, printing was beautiful.

Words important enough to share were beautiful. They were works of art.

The Styles palette in Word is what makes that happen for an eBook. Any time you use Word, you are using a Style. There are 16 styles built into Word when you open it up.

You won’t use any of those styles when formatting an eBook. Eventually, that will change. But, for now, suffice it to say, you will not use them.

Instead, download the template from the vendor of your choice. The Styles you will use are embedded in that template. A book consists of 14 sections. Each section has its own Styles.

And, yes, Styles, plural, is correct. A Style consist of a font, a size, alignment instructions and things like whether it should be in all caps. A single Style can consist of a myriad of formatting instructions.

Mystified by what those magical Styles are in a CreateSpace template? By default, they are as follows.

Tune in next time when I tell you how to customize them.

Book Sections CreateSpace
1. Book Title Page Times New Roman 14, centered, all caps
2. Author on Title Page Garamond 18, centered, all capitals
3. Dedication Title (optional) Garamond 12, centered, all capitals
4. Dedication Content

(optional; usually one or two paragraphs)

Garamond 11, centered
5. Acknowledgement Title (optional) Garamond 12, centered, all capitals
6. Acknowledgement content (can be just a sentence) Garamond 11, centered
7. Table of Contents (optional) Garamond
8. Chapters Titles Garamond 14, centered, all caps
9. Body Text First Paragraph Garamond 11, no indention on first line
10. Body Text Garamond 11

Indent the first line of each paragraph

11. About the Author (can include Author’s Photo) Garamond 14, centered, all caps
12. About the Author content Garamond 11, centered
13. Index  (optional) Calibri 11, double-column
14. Glossary (option list of defined terms) Nirmala UI Semilight 10, with terms in bold followed by a colon