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A Writing Journey

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Part 8:
The Final Touches

Once editing is done, there are few steps remaining. While all of the difficult decisions concerning the prose should have been made by this point, it is still important to do a final check of your work. Proofreading is the time to catch any errors that have been missed, or perhaps added, during the editing stage.

In addition to my own proofreading, I like to get multiple other proofreaders in hopes of catching as many errors as possible. These proofreaders read over the story from a purely technical viewpoint. Are all the words spelled correctly? Are the sentences grammatically correct? Is punctuation used properly?

In addition to proofreading, there is also formatting to consider. While it is not part of the "writing process" per se, I do consider it the last step in finishing a book.

For traditional publishing, formatting is minimal, and mostly consists of making sure the document follows the standards that the agent or publisher wants to see. For self-publishing, this step is far more complicated, as you are preparing the book directly for print. This means writing all the front and back matter (dedication, acknowledgements, author bio, table of contents, etc.), choosing fonts for the chapter titles and main text, placing the page numbers, choosing your book dimensions, deciding on margin/font sizes and line width, and so forth. You have to make sure that scene breaks and chapter breaks are formatted correctly, and watch out for things like "orphans" and "widows".

These are my final steps in completing a novel, and while they are relatively quick and easy compared to the others, they hallmark the end of a long and challenging process. Next month, as we lead up to the release of When Shadows Fall, we'll take a moment to look at the process from start to finish, and to celebrate the end of a journey long in the making!

I didn't find as many proofreaders for When Shadows Fall as I would have liked, and I also did more additional editing during the proofreading stage than I intended. While these edits were relatively small, there is always a danger when making changes that new errors will be made as a result. Because of this, I plan to reread the book one final time before publication, just to make sure I haven't missed anything embarrassing! 

When it came to formatting, I relied on Atticus, a software designed to help authors create professionally formatted books. This program greatly simplified a process that would have been quite challenging if I'd done it through Word, but it did come with its own set of difficulties.

Atticus is designed to be easy to use, but this ease of use comes at the cost of limited customization, and I often found I was not able to make the changes I wanted with the options available. For example, I wasn't able to adjust font to the exact size I wanted, or change the spacing between elements of the chapter title pages, or alter the formatting on the front and back matter.

As a result, formatting took longer than expected as I spent a lot of time searching for work arounds and fiddling with the available options. Part of the trouble was due to my own inexperience, of course, as well as some additional formatting challenges that made the process extra lengthy.

I had two struggles in particular, one in regards to page count and the other concerning chapter formatting. I realized that changing the book dimensions, the font/margin sizes, and the line width made a drastic difference on the number of pages in the book. Some versions of When Shadows Fall were down to 280 pages, while other were over 350!

When it comes to self-publishing, page count matters a lot. The more pages your book has, the greater the cost is to print the book, which cuts directly into an author's profit. However, you still want your book to look good and be easily readable, which means trying not to cram too many words on one page.

The second great challenge came with the chapter endings. I soon discovered that the wrong combination of settings could lead to some formatting errors, in which a chapter ended with a single word on the last page. This looked silly and unprofessional, so I spent A LOT of time tweaking margin sizes, font sizes, and line spacing to try to avoid these issues, all while trying to keep the page count from getting too high (more cost) or too low (crowded pages). It didn't help that the font could only be adjusted by entire font sizes, so I couldn't make the tiny adjustments needed to fix the issues.

But, at long last, I found a combination that seemed to work. The page count is a little higher than I'd hoped, but the book looks professional and attractive from a reading standpoint, and that's what matter most!

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