On Writing,  publishing

Think Like A Publisher #5… Some Basics on Production

I have  a hunch I’m going to regret this post fairly quickly, but when looking at what needed to be written about, this basic chapter just kept coming up over and over. I just need to run through this before I can move forward.

Note: This is my way of doing things. If you have a better way, fine. But for this post, this is my way, my suggestions, nothing more.

Choice of Project

As I have suggested numbers of times, start with a few short stories for practice. Trust me, it will save you more swearing and problems than you can imagine.

I started with short stories and wow, do some of those early covers suck. And the formatting on those early books also sucks. And I haven’t gone back and fixed them yet and more than likely won’t for a while because I’m just too busy getting new stuff up and helping WMG Publishing get off the ground. But at some point I sure will.

My point is start simple. Novels are difficult for varied reasons. Get the basics from a few short stories and it will also make you feel better. You won’t sell many, but what does that matter?  It’s practice. (Yeah, I know, writers hate thinking they have to practice anything, but get over that for this stuff.)

This post is sort of what I have learned in over 150 books and stories up with a ton of help from some great people. Production basics. Organization basics. And I will even explain why I organize files the way I do it. I know, I know, you all have your way of doing it, but for the moment just give my organization some thought. I tend to think long-term and I have had a publishing company before, remember?

Organization Basics

Every story or novel comes from some sort of word processing file. I use Word doc files (docx files are not accepted anywhere, so don’t try).  Since I have written in professional manuscript format since 1975, I don’t change anything when I write. And at WMG Publishing we get files from other writers in word doc. files in manuscript format as well. But for this post I’m not going to talk about any other writer’s work, just mine and what I do when helping out WMG Publishing.

Luckily for me I learned to never use the tab key. And in Pulphouse Publishing I threatened to cut off any finger that touched a tab key because of the problems it caused in layout. Just take that key off your keyboard for electronic publishing as well. You can’t use it. And having tabs in documents costs work and time to take them out.

In a folder I call “Dean’s Books” I open a subfolder with the title of the story. Let’s call the story “Nifty Aliens Love Fish.” And then I put a copy from my writing computer of the finished story in that file.

I put the cover file in the main folder as well, and get the cover ready to go up. I will have the cover art, PowerPoint file, and a jpg final file of the cover in the folder. (When I start into POD formatting if this was a novel, I would have a sub-folder labeled POD as well.)

Then I do a save-as on the story file to create  “Nifty Aliens Main” document. I still have my story in manuscript format to send to publishers. In the “main” file I do all the formatting of the story for electronic publishing.

Here is my formatting method:

— I change everything to Times New Roman.

—I change everything to 12 Point.

—I make everything one and a half spacing.

—I take off my name and address and all headers and footers off the manuscript and make sure my indents are only three spaces instead of five.

—I make sure all titles and break markers are 14 point bold and centered without indent.

—I insert hard page breaks where needed. (Seldom on a short story. On a novel I also do table of contents and hyperlinks to chapters.)

— I add in copyright information and publisher name.

— At the end of the story I add in an author bio and a “If you liked this story, you might like….” blurb.

—When finished I save it all.

— Then I do another save-as “Nifty Aliens Main Cover.”  And I insert and lock down the cover in place inside the word file.

So now I have three document files in the folder with the cover files. Manuscript. Main File, and Main File Cover.

—I take the “Nifty Aliens Main Cover” and do a save-as “Nifty Aliens Kindle.” I change the font size of the title and author name to 16 point and save it, then do a save-as “Nifty Aliens Pubit.”

—Then I go back to “Nifty Aliens Main Cover” file and do a save-as “Nifty Aliens Smash.” Inside the Smashwords file I make sure the track changes are turned off, add in the special copyright information Smashwords wants, then save that.

So now, in the “Nifty Aliens” folder, besides the art, I have six story doc files. Manuscript, Main, Main Cover, Kindle, Pubit, and Smash. (When I format the story for a collection, I will add in a seventh file in there that is ready to flow into a collection and call it “Nifty Aliens Collection.”)

— Then I open a word file and call it “Nifty Aliens Promotion” and write the short Smashwords Blurb, a longer blurb, copy in an author bio and other things like that, and maybe even list a few tags.

All parts are now assembled and ready to go.

From that point it takes me fifteen minutes to launch the story on all three distribution sites.

Very easy, everything ready, and everything saved and backed up in one place so that changes can be easily made in the future to any part of the work for any site.

Production Basics

Sure, I have a lot of files in my folder and I organize them easily using icons. My reasons are pretty simple for each step. I want files I can customize to each site without messing up my main master, plus my master with a cover inserted, and my manuscript copy.

And I want my main master to be there so I can easily convert to new formats as they come along.

Please, please don’t tell me about all your nifty programs. Or how I am stupid for using PowerPoint or Microsoft Word. We’ve been down that road before, so don’t need it here. Thanks. Just take any idea I toss out if you like it and ignore the ones you don’t. Thanks.

Now, before I get into the next steps, understand that this series is “Think Like A Publisher.” As a publisher, I sure don’t want to ignore where 90% of my market is. Granted, it might only be 50% of my market in a few years, but I don’t want to ignore that either.

So the work I did in the first part of this to launch my book is for 10% of the market now in March, 2011. So, thinking like a publisher, we have to now turn our attention to POD publishing and doing paper books.

And this is where things get hard.

Short stories don’t need the POD edition, but collections, short novels, and novels do need the paper book.

Book Design

In electronic publishing, the idea is to keep it simple. K.I.S.S.

Why? Because the story or book might be read on any of a hundred different formats and devices, from bunches of different phones, different pads like the iPad and all the new ones coming out, to Kindle, Color Nook, or Sony Readers and so on. Formatting is tough to get to hold across all those devices, especially when readers can just adjust font size at a click.

Simple and clean is best.

But now you are going to commit a format to a print book, something that won’t change. Something a reader can look closely at. So book design and hundreds of years of book traditions now come into play.

And that’s hard to get right the first time. Again, practice will be important.

We have already talked about hiring someone to do some of this. Fine, if you want to, hire someone for a flat fee to help. But in the long run, you are going to be a lot better served to actually learn all this.

And honestly, some of it is hard, but most is not. And once you have learned it, you’ve got it for all your books, and that beats constantly paying out money to other people for years to come.


Before you even think of trying to format a book for POD, study many types of New York published books. You will see normal patterns.

—Note where quotes and reviews go, where the title page is at, if there is a second title page, where the copyright information goes, where dedications and acknowledgements go.

—Note font size and how big or small the ones you like are.

—Note margins and realize that the gutter margins are wider so people don’t have to break open the book just to read a word buried down in the gutter. (Gutter is the area between pages when you open the book.)

— Note size of trade paperbacks. 6 x 9 inch is a good, large-size trim. 5 1/2 by 8 1/2 is another standard. Figure out what size you like.

— Go to bookstores and look at size and such and then prices. What is the range of prices in the area you are thinking of publishing in?

Study everything, including going to one of the page and price calculators on the print sites and plug in page counts, pricing, trim size, and see your costs and how much you can make per book at certain sizes and page counts.

And that’s just the general stuff. Start looking at interior designs.

—Are there drop caps?

—How do the publishers do chapter headings?

—How are the running headers look and how are they done?

—Page numbers?

—First lines of paragraphs?

—Scene breaks?

And so on and so on.  All are decisions you need to make before you start. Right down to what font you want to use. And the spacing between lines.

Okay, you have done your homework. You have the sample books you want yours to look like sitting beside your computer.

Now what?

Back to the computer program issue we have talked about before.

I decided that since I was going to be doing this for years and hundreds of books, I wouldn’t cut corners. Almost every magazine and book designer in the world uses an Adobe program called “InDesign.” So I got it and I used Lynda.com to learn how to use it. (Again, I couldn’t care about the program you use. I use the best one and this is just how I do it for the example in this blog.)

So when I do a new book, I have an InDesign template at the book size I want already set up. In that template I have set all the margins and so on, plus on master pages I have the running headers and page numbers.

I copy and flow in my front matter and get it all formatted the way I want it to look. Or I can just have everything already in a front matter template and just change it.

Then I go back to my main file in my book folder, the one I used to set up all the electronic stuff, the one called “Main,” and I do a save-as yet again. This file I call “Nifty Aliens POD“.

I clean out all the extra stuff I don’t want that is already in the front matter of the InDesign file.  Then I import the entire book file into InDesign, hit one key and the entire book builds. For example, Kris’s Retrieval Artist novel, The Disappeared is over four hundred pages long. That built into a book file in one click in InDesign.

Then, carefully, I work from front to back through the book doing the following….

— Follow the book design I have picked as to drop caps, space breaks, first lines, chapter headings and such.

— Fix all widows and orphans.

You must go from front to back because if you go back and change anything, it changes everything behind it because the entire file is hooked together.

Once done, export as a pdf file.

POD Book Cover

I also use InDesign, also use templates for size and bleeds, and then just slowly start building the cover. I try to make the front cover look like my electronic cover, same art. And I use the same blurbs and such on the back cover that I prepared for the electronic book, sometimes with minor changes.

I have researched my price, so I put that on the back.

And I put on the WMG Publishing logo, since I am working with them. And when all done, I export that as a pdf file.

Make sure you click “spreads” and “use file bleed setting” when exporting your cover.

Loading up on CreateSpace is simple and for first projects, I highly suggest you go with CreateSpace. It will save you a ton of money because there will be mistakes and LightningSource charges for every time you have to reload your file or cover file.

CreateSpace will run you through the steps, tell you what you did wrong, then finally approve your book and you have to pay for a proof shipped to you.

The uploading part is fighteningly simple.

When you see the book, you can fix problems, upload new files, and again pay for a proof.  Cost is $39.00 overall for the best distribution and book pricing, plus costs of proofs and shipping.

I can tell you this: When that book does come in the mail and it looks great, you will feel fantastic.

It’s one thing to put up a book electronically and see a couple of quick sales. But that wonderful feeling does not match the feeling of holding that paper book in your hands.


This is meant to be just a very, very quick run-through of some basics on putting a book up electronically and then in POD print form.

My way may not be right for you or anyone else, but it is simple and works for me. My way is just a suggestion. If you find a better and simpler way, great. Whatever works for you.

In the future, I’m going to be talking a great deal about how to market your books, both electronic and POD books to bookstores. Also I’ll talk about promotion that works for electronic books, book averaging for income, and growing a publishing business. You know, things publishers do.

Stay tuned.


Copyright ©  2011 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover photo copyright © Vladimir Melnikov/Dreamstime.com


This series is part of the income streams for me. And, to be honest, donations keeps me going on these chapters. And anyone who donates a little to the Magic Bakery tip jar, I will send a free electronic book of all these chapters combined when I am finished.

And  speaking of the Magic Bakery, this chapter is now part of my inventory in my bakery. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

Thanks, Dean