Are you writing a novel, a memoir, or maybe a volume of poetry? You may have wondered how Blurb’s bookmaking tools can help you get your raw words into a finished book. Making that leap can be intimidating, but we’re here to tell you that yes, you can produce a beautiful text-based book in BookSmart as easily as you can create a gorgeous photo book.
In this series of posts, Blurb content manager (and novelist) Forrest Bryant will walk you through the entire process, from your unformatted Word manuscript all the way to your finished and bound Blurb book. This series is adapted from Forrest’s recent webinar on the same subject, which will be available for viewing on Blurb.com later this month.
The Right Tool for the Job
For this tutorial, we’re going to assume you already have the latest version of Blurb BookSmart, our desktop software for Mac or PC. BookSmart is free to download and use, but you’ll need to register for a Blurb account first. You’ll also need that login info when it’s time to upload and order your book.
Many authors just starting out with Blurb wonder if our PDF to Book workflow would be a better option than BookSmart. PDF to Book is a very powerful tool, but it’s intended for design professionals who are proficient with a page layout tool like Adobe® InDesign® or QuarkXPress. PDF to Book is ideal for complex layouts, but the typical novel or poetry book really doesn’t need that much detail.
For the majority of us who are not InDesign whizzes, BookSmart is the way to go. It has more than enough features to produce a good-looking text book, but you don’t need to go back to school to learn to use it. BookSmart can import your manuscript directly from Microsoft® Word, lay out your pages and cover, and even upload your finished book to Blurb.
Before You Begin
OK, so you’ve typed up your manuscript in your favorite word processor and you’re ready to dive in, right? Not so fast. Before you open up BookSmart, there are some important things you should do to make sure you’re ready to go.
First and most importantly, proofread your manuscript. Do it twice. And get a friend with a good eye for grammar to look it over, too. The important thing is to get your text as close to final as possible before you import it. This can save you a lot of work later on.
Save Your Files in .DOC Format
Now that your text is fully edited and squeaky clean, it’s time to prepare the actual files.
To use BookSmart’s text import feature, your files have to be in Microsoft Word’s .doc format. Take a look at your files and check the extension on the filenames. If they end with .doc, you should be good to go. If they’re .docx files, you’ll need to re-save them in .doc format before you go any further.
Note: Do not just change the file name! The differences between .doc and .docx files go a lot deeper than their names. You need to actually convert the files in Word so BookSmart can read them.
To do this, go to the “File” menu in Word and choose “Save As.” When you are asked to choose the format, look for the .doc option. This will say something like “Word 97-2003” on a PC, or “Word 97-2004” on a Mac.
If your manuscript was written in another Word processor, that’s fine too. OpenOffice.org™, Google Docs, Apple Pages, and most other modern word processors can all save files in .doc format. And even if your favorite tool isn’t compatible with Word, you can always copy-and-paste your text into BookSmart manually.
Break Up Your Manuscript
The next tip is to break up your manuscript. If your book has chapters or other section dividers (like “Part 1” and “Part 2”), it’s a good idea to save each one in its own file rather than have the whole book in one file.
If you have only one file, then BookSmart sees your entire book as one long document, like a single giant chapter. But if you use a separate file for each chapter, then BookSmart knows where each one starts and ends:
When you import your files, BookSmart will automatically put a page break before each new chapter, and the first page of each chapter will have a special layout with a chapter title. This saves you a lot of time, since otherwise you’d have to insert those page breaks and layout changes yourself.
This also helps to limit the problem known as reflow. If you import a single document that takes up 100 pages, and then you make a lot of changes to it, the revised book might be longer or shorter than the one you started with. That could impact your page count, table of contents, chapter breaks, and page formatting. Using one file for each chapter can limit the problem, because each chapter becomes its own unit in the book. If you add a bunch of words to a chapter, that chapter will reflow and you might have to fiddle with how it looks. But the other chapters stay intact. Your page numbers may still change, but you won’t have to worry about changes in one chapter messing up the text in another chapter.
Just the Text, Please
One more very important thing: before you go any further, be sure to strip out any special formatting elements — such as images or tables — so your documents are just text. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to add those images back in later.
More File Prep Tips
We’ve covered the big tips for getting your files ready for BookSmart, but there’s more you can do to streamline the process. Try doing these things now, in your word processor, before you start importing files.
When you save your individual chapter files, I recommend using both the chapter number and title right in the file name. For example, if your book starts with “Chapter 1: The Beginning,” go ahead and call the file “Chapter 1 The Beginning.doc” When you do the import, BookSmart will use this file name as the heading for the chapter.
Think about the fonts you want to use in your final book. The right font can make your text look beautiful, inviting, and easy to read. A weak font can look boring, unprofessional, or even confusing. BookSmart can use pretty much any font you have installed on your computer, and whatever font and font size you set in your Word files will be imported along with the text. If your manuscript is typed in 12-point Times New Roman, BookSmart will lay out your book in 12-point Times New Roman.
See my previous blog post on “Eight Guidelines for Choosing Type” for more thoughts on selecting the best fonts for your book.
Justify Your Text
Here’s a small change that makes a big difference. If you’ve used a word processor for any length of time, you know you can change the text alignment: you can align to the left margin, to the right margin, center, or justify. Justifying text means that the lines go all the way flush against the right and left margins.
Usually when we write, we align our text to the left – at least in western languages. Sometimes we center. But we rarely justify. One of the biggest mistakes rookie self-publishers make is leaving their text left-aligned in their finished books. But if you look at almost any professional publication – whether it’s a novel, a school textbook, a magazine, or anything else – the text is almost always justified. There’s a reason for this. When we look at very large blocks of unbroken text, page after page of it, the straight, even edges of justified text help remove visual clutter that would otherwise distract us. It helps our eyes focus on the words rather than the page. In a nutshell, we recommend that you justify your text.
If you’re working on a poetry book, then the situation is different. Poetry almost never needs justification (pun intended). Most poetry is aligned left. I’ve noticed that Haiku writers tend to align center. And some poets like to play with indents and alignments on a line-by-line basis, making it part of their art. Really, it’s up to you.
All this and we haven’t even started up BookSmart yet! Hey, nobody said writing a novel was easy. But if you take the time to proofread and edit your manuscript, format and save your files, and choose your fonts carefully right off the bat, you’ll actually save yourself a lot of time and effort.
In Part II, we’ll (finally!) open BookSmart and create a new book project, looking at book sizes, the document importer, and more. Until then, happy editing!