Sunday, March 21, 2021

How to print a book

So you want to print a book? Good call. This blog post isn't going to be about "getting published" (the art of getting a professional book publisher to pick your work and make it into a book), but about the technical process of creating a printed and bound copy of something you wrote. If you tried it yourself, you might realize that it's more than just writing words into a document and clicking "print". Here's how to do it RIGHT.

1. Start by deciding on the size of the book. There are different sizes for different audiences, and picking the wrong size might make the book challenging to read, or feel weird. For example, a common size is 6"x9", which is suitable for most things, but if you are a photographer wanting to publish your photos, that format is not right and you would want to go with something much larger. One way to decide is to go to a book store or library, and pick a few books on topics similar to yours, and see which size is the most popular. Too lazy? I get it. Just go with 6x9. It's very common and easy to work-with.

2. Choose a font size. While Microsoft Word defaults to size 11, people find it more comfortable to read at size 12. You can choose any font you like, but I recommend being conservative and going with well-known ones like Times New roman, Calibri, Arial or Segoa. Whatever you do, do NOT use fancy fonts. They make reading more taxing on the eyes and look tacky and unprofessional.

3. Set your margins. Most books should have 0.75" margins, though photography books could have bigger. The margins should be bigger on the side that is bound, so set that to 1". If you are using Microsoft Word, make sure you set the margins to Mirrored, so that ODD pages have the bigger margin on the left, and EVEN pages have it on the right. 

4. Set your line spacing to double (that's under Paragraph/Spacing/Line Spacing). Having a large spacing between lines makes it easy to read. By the way, adjusting the line spacing is a quick way of making the book much bigger or smaller (page count, that is). If your book feels too thin, increasing the line spacing could easily double it's size.

5. Set your indentation to first line and 0.3 (under Paragraph/indentation/special). This makes the 1st line of every paragraph indented automatically. Don't be tempted to do this manually by using the Tab key or spaces, as it creates inconsistency.

6. Write your content (or paste it in, if you already wrote it). If you are pasting from another document, better use the "paste special" option and paste unformatted unicode text, so that the text gets the format from the new document, rather then the original.

7. If you want to emphasize certain words or phrases, use italic font, rather than UPPERCASE or bold. It's good fucking taste. Bold is used for stuff like instructions, to indicate text the reader might see, like on-screen text ("click on the next button"). Uppercase is used for when a character is yelling or screaming ("He told his wife GET OUT OF HERE!").

8. If you have chapter titles or something similar that would warrant a table of content, mark the heading of each and use the style box to set that to some heading style (heading 1 is suitable for main chapters, heading 2 is suitable for sub-sections inside chapters, if you'd like to have those). Then, use the Reference tab to insert a table of contents, which is automatically updated from these headers. Consider where to put the table. Some people like it before everything else, others like it after the introduction. It should definitely be after the title page. This is a good time to remind you that any book should have:

a. A title page

b. Table of contents

c. Introduction/forward

Many books might need an "afterward" or "thanks" pages, and some might need an index or bibliography section at the end. Creating an automatic index is possible, but it's a specialty thing so I won't go into it here.

9. Go over the book, and add blank pages before main chapters as needed, so that the 1st page of chapters are always odd pages. Keep in mind that a printed page only costs about 3 cents, so don't skimp on blank looks much more professional. An easy way to add a blank page in Word is to press Ctrl+Enter

10. Since you now changed the page numbering, go to your Table of content and click update table on it.

11. If you are inserting pictures, double-click on each and set it to Wrap Text and then square, tight or through. That allows you to place the photo on the page and have the text flow around it. Make sure the photo doesn't go over the borders. If your source images are small (400 pixels or smaller), make sure not to make them too big, as that brings out pixelization. A 400 pixel wide image should not be more than 2" wide on the page.

12. If you can spare the time (and you should), go over your content slowly and carefully, to make sure sentences are dotted, and that there are no spelling mistaked or typoos. If you can afford it, hire someone to proof read the text. While a professional editor could cost thousands, it's worth it if the book is going out into the world to be read by a lot of people. If it's a limited print, you could hire some student or even a teenager for minimum wage. You will be surprised at how many errors and mistakes an outsider will find and save you face. Another option is to hire a freelance editor from overseas. Even though overseas people are not native English speakers, many of them speak better English than Americans (even if their accents are not great). This is especially the case for people from India, as many of their schools are in English, so they speak it fully and from an early age.

13. Don't forget to go over the text once again and make sure your chapter first pages are still odd, and then update table once again, in case some pages have moved around.

14. Finally, save the document as PDF, and embed fonts. To do this, click on the Options button on the save-as pdf page, and under PDF Options, select PDF/A compliant. This isn't just for compliance…many printers will only accept the file if it's set this way.

15. Design your cover. This is more complex, because it has to have margins and bleed, so I will cover that in a separate guide.