On Writing: Layout

This is fourth in a five-part series: 1. Starting your memoir-stories, 2. Revising, 3. Editing, 4. Layout, 5. Getting your story out to others. All these articles will (eventually) appear on the Wingspread website: jimhurd.com   Message me, or post comments on this, or any other writing, on Wingspread at http://jimhurd.com. Thanks! Subscribe free to the monthly Wingspread E-zine at http://wp.me/P5hvfJ-35, and receive a gift article. Wingspread: Memoirs of Faith and Flying. Review this book, or buy it at:   http://booklocker.com/books/7785.html, or through Amazon, or Barnes & Noble. Please recommend to interested friends.

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Even if you’re a great writer, there’s no virtue in ugly. After you’re sure your editing is done, you must think about layout (e.g., formatting). Layout has to do with type font and style, paragraphing, chapter headings and subheadings, running heads, paging and page numbering, justification, line spacing (the technical name is leading) and a bunch of other stuff. You’re thinking about aesthetics, clarity, and (a big one) consistency. Think about layout—your readers will thank you, and they will be more likely to read your stuff.

Who should do your layout? Browse articles in magazines to get ideas for layout. Even though a layout person could charge $1-2,000 for a book, you can probably find cheaper. Sometimes your publisher will do some layout. (Mine did for my book Wingspread, but I spent 40 more hours making my own improvements and modifications.) And with study, patience, and practice, you can even do layout yourself. Check other books to see how they do it.

Think about type font. A default could be Times New Roman 12 point. However, you may wish to look at other font types and sizes. Larger font sizes are easier to read, but require more printed pages. In the Word program, you can do drop-caps for the first word of each new chapter. (This is a large, stylistic letter.) It’s quite impressive. However, watch out for “letter collisions.” Each chapter should start on an odd-numbered page. Titles should usually be bolded, center-justified, and a bit larger type font than the text. If you want to go crazy, insert a symbol, glyph, or little drawing above each chapter title. Be consistent with your spacing of all these. All subheadings should be the same format (type font, spacing, indenting). A running head refers to the words in the header portion of each page. Usually the running head is a shortened title of the book, or the title of the current chapter, and sometimes your last name. Page numbering should be here, or centered at the bottom of the page.

Justification refers to left and right margins of the text. Most books use full justification, meaning the text is even on the left and right margins. However, watch out—this may create large spaces between words. Usually, no extra lines are inserted between paragraphs. You probably wish to indent the first line of each paragraph, but the first line of text following a title or subtitle should not be indented. In a long quote, the whole quote should be indented. You can get away with a lot if you are consistent throughout your piece. Be sure to be consistent with: formatting, spelling, hyphenated words, italics (e.g., foreign words), or diacritical marks (e.g., façade).

For a book-length piece, create a style sheet to assure consistency. Front and back material. Organize your front materials: title page, copyright page, table of contents, acknowledgements, and preface. Then, organize your back materials:  glossary, endnotes, appendices, index, etc.

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Many casual readers do not notice layout, or they take it for granted. But writing with an appealing layout attracts and pleases the reader, and makes your writing more professional. Your readers will thank you for it.

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