Prepping Files for Book Layout: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

by Joel Friedlander on October 7, 2009 · 5 comments

Do you know what’s inside your word processing file? Just words? There’s a lot more than that. Take this file for instance. It looks like a pretty normal Word file, just a bunch of words on the page. It’s like a lot of files I get from authors to use in producing their book.

Looks good, click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

But pour this into your page layout software and you might be amazed at what happens to it. Big spaces appear in your lines, misaligned paragraphs, just a mess. That’s because of all the things you can’t see. Take a look at what’s really inside this file, courtesy of Word’s View preferences.

Aha, click to enlarge

Aha, click to enlarge

What a mess. You can see codes for tab characters, spaces, and extra paragraph returns lying around like so much litter. This author has probably been working on his manuscript for months, writing, re-writing and editing, and the file shows it.

Clean Up Your Word Files For A Smoother Book Production

Just last week I was editing a manuscript for a client, and pasting parts of it into another file to organize it better. After the massive paste of about 40 pages of copy, dozens of old Word comments from a previous editor popped up throughout the file, still embedded from months ago.

You can turn this view on and off from Word’s Preferences dialog, in the View section. Here you can decide whether to display tabs, spaces, paragraph marks, optional hyphens, hidden text, or all of the above.

Word preferences - click to enlarge

Word preferences - click to enlarge

But usually the quickest way to turn all the hidden objects display on and off is right from the toolbar. Click the paragraph mark symbol to toggle the view between all showing and all hidden.

Word toolbar icon - click to enlarge

Word toolbar icon - click to enlarge

It Pays to Check Your Files Before They Go To Book Layout

Having this toggle right on the toolbar means you never have to have a file go to layout—whether you are doing your own book or sending your files to a book designer—with a bunch of code in it that can cause unnecessary delays down the line. As with all production issues, it really pays to catch these as early in the process as possible, as soon as the final edited files are submitted for production.

The other tool that’s invaluable for clean-up in Word is the very brawny Search and Replace function, which I’ll address in another post, as we continue to add to the Book Construction Blueprint.

But with this one tool in your toolbelt, your files will already be in much better shape.

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    { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    B.B. Shane July 19, 2013 at 5:34 am

    Dear Joel, I’ve been sedulously following you. Thank you for your tips and advice. I now have a problem I cannot resolve – my Formatter. In January I paid in advance, having mentioned the book has more pages than those demanded by a novel, and needs an Index. Apart from noticing obvious gaps in spacing, I’ve corrected errors of formatting in the drafts which, had these appeared, would have cast a slur on my command of English. Four occasions on which I had planned to market my book have passed. It is nowhere near ready. Corrected drafts are not sent when promised. Can you or your readers advise my next step. Should I just give up? Start anew?


    Joel Friedlander July 19, 2013 at 11:18 am


    Sorry to hear about your troubles. You don’t say whether you’re dealing with a book designer or an ebook converter, since “formatter” could cover both. You might suggest that you have a deadline and if you can’t get the work in the time needed you’ll need to look elsewhere. Alternately, cancel the contract and ask for the files with the work produced to date, pay a percentage of the fee based on how much has been completed, and move on.


    Sandra Hutchison June 26, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Since my Word file on my novel went back years, I took the advice that you and others have given to strip out ALL the formatting with the nuclear option before formatting (I used one of your book design templates, actually — thank you). However, finding and putting all the italics back in was drudgery. Is there a less nuclear option for stripping out all the garbage that will preserve italics? Would rich text format fail to get the job done?


    Joel Friedlander June 26, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    Sandra, sorry to hear about the drudgery. There are workarounds for doing the nuclear option. For instance, in Word you can search for instances of italic and mark where they begin and end with a character not usually used in text, like the tilde (~), then go back and do a Find/Change to replace the italics.


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