Should You Design Your Book in Microsoft Word?

There are many stages to publishing a book. You have to write the manuscript, go through multiple rounds of editing, do marketing and publicity for its publication, and of course, it has to be designed. In the world of self-publishing, all this planning and work falls on the author, which, to some, is a great position to be in as it gives them complete autonomy over the entire process. However, this also means that, unlike working with a traditional publisher, the cost of these also falls to you—and it can start to add up very quickly. This leads to having to make some tough decisions and prioritize certain parts of the process over others.

One piece of advice given to authors to help them save money is to lay out and format their book in Microsoft Word as opposed to something like InDesign or hiring a professional book designer.

I can see the appeal of this. Word is a program that is familiar to most of us, especially if you’re a writer. It’s a lot cheaper than InDesign, which is a more professional tool that is also very technical and has a steeper learning curve.

However, there are many reasons why Microsoft Word isn’t the best tool for this kind of work. So, before you commit to doing all that work in this program, here are a few things you should take into consideration.

First: Word can be very difficult to control. If you have a book with elements like images, graphs, sections, etc., it’s difficult to get them to sit exactly where you want. You get very little precision when it comes to design and placement, which leaves a lot of room for mistakes. Some are small, but others will impede the readability of your book.

Second: Word has limited options for customization. With Word, you have a limited number of fonts you can work with to truly customize your work and make it stand out. While you can download custom fonts and use them, only system fonts will transfer over from one person to the next. So, all that work you put into your layout with all of your customization will disappear when you hand over the file to someone else and transfer it to another computer, as there’s no way to embed or package these elements to prevent this from happening. There’s also the issue of version compatibility. Since each version of Word is so different, chances are your design will not transfer over to the latest version.

Third: Word is not set up for print production. Currently, there are no options for setting up bleeds, no control over spreads, no way to package files, and Word also works in RGB as opposed to CMYK (the print color mode). All these seemingly small details can cause so many problems when you go to print as they can cause things to be off-center, your colors to be off, or your fonts to go missing, just to name a few potential snags. While there might be some workarounds for these, from what I’ve seen they don’t always work out, so there is no real solution.

These are just a few of the reasons why you wouldn’t want to use Word for layout and design. If you’re doing something very simple and straightforward that you’re not looking to put into the consumer market, then I see why this would be a good option for you. But if you’re going for something that looks professional and enhances the reading experience, Word is not going to be your best option for that.

While it may seem like the interior design of a book isn’t quite as important, it’s actually one of the key pieces that brings your book to life. Think about it: your reader interacts with the interior design of your book just as much as the story itself. How they gain access to the story is through its design. If your book isn’t laid out correctly and efficiently, the reader can’t get to the story, which will affect their experience and overall perception of the book.

Whether you want to invest in the interior design of your book is entirely up to you, what your goals are, and what you want from your publishing journey. As a book designer, I am a bit biased, but I also understand that designing a book is a lot more than just putting words on a page and picking a nice font. There are so many rules and finer details that make your book legible and something that readers want to look at, even at a subconscious level.

It Ain’t Just Grammar: Skills for Successful Copyediting

If you’re a writer or an English major who aced every spelling and grammar quiz in school, you might think to yourself, “Hey, I’m pretty good with words. I understand punctuation, possessives, and present participles. I would make a fantastic copyeditor!” And you could very well be right. But before you dive headfirst into this profession, it’s important to know that for a good copyeditor, grammatical know-how is just the tip of the iceberg; successful copyediting requires a number of additional skills that have nothing to do with whipping out that red pen to correct a dangling modifier. This post outlines some essential copyediting skills that are completely unrelated to grammar and spelling.

Technological Skills
It’s no secret that bookish types aren’t always the most tech-savvy people. But to make it as a copyeditor in today’s world, you need to be comfortable editing onscreen and using all the modern tools available to you. Microsoft Word is the software application most commonly used by copyeditors. You may think you’re an expert at Word because you’ve used it for schoolwork and basic word processing for your entire life, but once you dive into the “Track Changes” settings, you’ll find a whole world of editing tools that you might not be so familiar with. There are plenty of useful tutorials out there on how to use Track Changes in Word (this one, for example, provides a very basic introduction), and all copyeditors should spend some time poking around in Word and familiarizing themselves with all the features that might be helpful to them. These include the bookmarking feature, which makes long documents easier to navigate, and macros, which automate certain copyediting tasks to increase efficiency.

Though Word is the most common choice, copyeditors may be required to use other software—for example, they may need to edit PDFs using Adobe Acrobat. Copyeditors also need to know how to open, save, and back up different types of files and convert between file formats.

Organizational Skills
In order to stay on top of all the different files they work with, copyeditors need to be extremely organized. A huge part of the job is version control—a manuscript (or any other document subject to editing) needs to be saved at each stage of the editorial process, and these different versions need to be kept track of. To avoid mistakenly sending an out-of-date version to an author or designer, copyeditors need to develop a foolproof system of folders and file-naming conventions.

In addition to practicing file organization and version control, copyeditors also need to exercise strong organizational skills in other areas. For example, they must keep track of deadlines and production schedules (yes, this will likely involve spreadsheets), be methodical in their use of style sheets, and maintain an organized inbox for professional correspondence.

Communication and People Skills
Though copyediting might seem like a solitary endeavor for introverted bookworms, the truth is that it’s an inherently collaborative and social profession. You’re working on other people’s writing, after all. Being a good editor therefore requires effective communication with authors, whether that’s through queries, editorial notes, emails, or phone calls. Striking the right tone with a client—authoritative enough that they trust your judgment, but also sufficiently respectful and flexible—is practically an art form, and it can take years to develop one’s professional voice as a copyeditor.

In addition to being diplomatic in your interactions with clients, you may also need to navigate relationships with managing editors, other supervisors, and colleagues. Networking is a tremendous part of the work, especially if you’re a freelancer, and all copyeditors will need to have some tricky conversations about pay and other business matters from time to time. For these reasons, a certain amount of social aptitude and professional polish—in addition to technological proficiency and organizational skills—will likely be more helpful to an aspiring copyeditor than even the most impressive sentence-diagramming abilities.

So, word nerds and grammar gurus of the world—do you have what it takes?

Jeannine Hall Gailey Guest Poet Post: “Building Community in a Tech Center—“Geeks for Poetry, Poetry for Geeks”

Every Thursday, Ooligan Press invites a poet whose work is included in Alive at the Center, our forthcoming anthology of poetry from Pacific Northwest writers, to blog for us. This week, we are pleased to feature Jeannine Hall Gailey, a poet from the Seattle, WA area. Please enjoy her post!

Building Community in a Tech Center—“Geeks for Poetry, Poetry for Geeks:” On Being Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington

Let me admit from the beginning of this post that I’m a reformed former techie—I spent a dozen years working as a technology manager at companies like AT&T, Capital One, and Microsoft.  So, though I have been focusing on life as a poet for the last ten years or so, I do have a special place in my heart for the kind of person who would rather talk about code, or Dig Dug, than the latest music or fashion.
When I first moved to Redmond over ten years ago, I couldn’t find an Open Mic, poetry workshop, or a bookstore with poetry readings anywhere in a thirty-minute driving radius. Seattle’s “Eastside” (two words smashed together into a general term covering cities like Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland, Woodinville, and Issaquah) was notorious for being a bit sterile and frosty: a bunch of malls and bedroom communities for high-tech workers uninterested in the kind of thriving arts scene that Seattle has been home to for years.
I was motivated then—and now—in trying to bring together not just poets but other artists who might help bolster and support each other being creative and finding spaces that were friendly to the arts. I didn’t want people to have to drive over the famous floating bridge to have an experience with poetry.
So the job of trying to build a poetry community in a town built largely around the technology industry (Microsoft, Nintendo, etc.) was one I was happy to take on when I took the job as Redmond, Washington’s second Poet Laureate. But the task of actually putting a plan into action has been challenging. I wanted to work in an innovative way, not just doing readings and writing occasional poems, but reaching out with topics that the local non-poet might actually be interested in—the language of science in poetry, e-publishing and social media, comic books in poetry.
I brought in other poets to talk about these topics, and when I did readings, I tried to incorporate other art forms—music, art, and theater.  I even created a slogan: “Geeks for Poetry, Poetry for Geeks!” The idea was to present the kind of work our community might enjoy, and in turn, that the community would see that poetry wasn’t just for the right-brained, but could appeal to math-lovers and coders and physicists as well.
I had wonderful partnerships with the local library—our library in Redmond is an anchor of one of the best library systems in the whole country, the King County Library system—and the librarians were wonderful about setting up events, providing space, and encouraging people to attend. We had lovely readings and panels at all hours, on weekends and weekdays. I had a great time visiting a local high school creative writing class, holding workshops with teens on things like anime and Japanese poetic forms, and holding a reading and a haiku workshop at a local art museum.
Some events were more successful than others; one book group I tried had only one or two people show up—but the talk on “e-publishing and social media for poets” brought in a full crowd of interested and engaged audience members, some of whom said they had never visited their library before. State Poet Laureate Kathleen Flenniken brought in a healthy audience as well, bolstered by extra publicity from the KCLS Library system and a local book group who decided to try Kathleen’s book as their next choice, and even passers-by who were interested in talking about issues around Hanford (Kathleen’s second book, Plume, examines her childhood and early adult life and its relation to the Hanford nuclear site.)
I’ve asked more questions about the kinds of things that might help people be attracted to poetry and gotten to know people—neighbors, teachers, librarians and city officials—I might never have known if I hadn’t been in this position. I’ve done things I never dreamed of, like discussing poetry with my city’s mayor, or reading poetry for the city council.
In my second year, the question of how to continue making inroads in my community is an interesting one. Do I reach out to local workplaces, to the business community (Chamber of Commerce readings? Partnering with local visual artists?), or should I try harder to make inroads at the already overburdened school system? I’m a little daunted, and a little time-crunched, but that’s everyone working in the arts these days.  I’m hoping the guests I’ve brought in—artists, publishers, poets—and the groundwork I laid building up social media resources will help the next Poet Laureate find a more flourishing poetic community than the one I found when I first moved here. I’ve met many intelligent, thoughtful people who are committed to helping build an arts community here, which gives me hope for the program going forward.

Speaking of hope: my ambitions might be less grand that they were at the beginning of my two-year tenure. I’m a little more realistic, perhaps, about creating the vibrant poetry community that I once dreamed of.  I hope that the excellent poetry book selection at our local library has more customers than it used to; that newcomers to the town looking for poetry don’t feel quite as lost as I did all those years ago; that students at the local schools might get a chance to meet a real live poet and talk about poetry.
My definition of success right now is that even a few people will be drawn to poetry who have never before considered themselves “poetry people;”  that Redmond might be a friendlier town for writers (and avid readers) in the future; that the slogan I came up with for my tenure: “Geeks for Poetry, Poetry for Geeks” might be realized.

Jeannine Hall Gailey is the current Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington, and has authored two books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess (Steel Toe Books, 2006) and She Returns to the Floating World (Kitsune Books, 2011). Her third book, Unexplained Fevers, will be published this spring by New Binary Press.  She teaches a graduate seminar course at National University in California and was on the core faculty of the Centrum Young Artists Project in Port Townsend, Washington. Gailey’s work addresses feminist issues of power in mythology and comic book cultures, turning fairy tale stepmothers into empathetic characters, and holding up a mirror to contemporary American culture’s images of powerful women.
Jeannine’s poem “The Robot Scientist’s Daughter [Medical Wonder]” will be featured in the complete Alive at the Center anthology as well as the Seattle edition. Both books will be available April 1, 2013.