DIY Book Formatting – A Cautionary Tale

Highway 40 bridge washout from 2013 Calgary floods - Bruce Witzel photo

This post has been sometime in the construction because I needed to see the end of the journey before I could share.

When I began formatting the softcover edition of Maelstrom, I had previous experience handling the task for The Light Never Lies (LNL) and Chasing Down the Night (CDN). It was a huge learning curve with LNL but I persevered and when it came time to do CDN, things went off with nary a hitch. I did not anticipate any problems with Maelstrom.

All I can say, in retrospect, is do not go cocky into that good night.

P1060886                                    P1060885

For Maelstrom, I made one change. Instead of the floral wingding that acts as a separation marker between chapter sections in LNL and CDN, I wanted something different. The idea of a gate suited Maelstrom. This single change was to haunt me.

Using the same specifications employed or the other books (size, spacing and font), I formatted Maelstrom, loaded the finished PDF file up to CreateSpace and waited for approval. The electronic files looked great, so I ordered a proof.

When it arrived, I was surprised and disappointed to note that on certain pages, the type was washed out. I emailed CreateSpace, included photos and explained that I had only made the one change – those gates. Could this be the problem? Without answering the question of why, they promised another proof free of charge.

Bang head - Google image

You know that old adage – you can’t keep banging your head against the same wall and expect a different outcome? What happened next was something like that. Four free proof copies later and still no adequate response to my steadily lengthening emails about getting to the bottom of the problem of the washed out print.


It was clear that further email exchanges could not solve this problem. I got on the phone. A polite fellow informed me that CreateSpace cannot guarantee the font I had been using – Baskerville Old Face – at the size I was using – 10.5 pt. I was incredulous because I have used this font and this size on two other books and ordered boxes of said books without ever noticing any washed out print. But ours is not to question why. He suggested a switch to Georgia 10.5 pt. This formatting change added eighty pages to the finished book!

Concurrent with all the above printing issues, I had two trips to the city planned and holidays were fast approaching. Add in the keen desire to have the softcover out in time for Christmas sales and I’m sure you can see disaster lurking right over the horizon.

Northern Vancouver Island Storm Dec. 9, 2014 - bruce witzel

The longer book required that the cover be tweaked for a thicker spine. Amid the hustle and bustle and outright agony of the process, an earlier cover file was accidently chosen and duly tweaked. With so much attention being paid to the interior file, the cover got no proofing at all. We simply assumed it was fine because the cover was the one thing about all the proofs that had met with our complete approval. The new interior file was uploaded to CreateSpace and a proof copy was ordered.

The latest proof arrived right before Christmas and a quick glance told me Georgia font was the cat’s meow – clear, dark and easy to read. Go ahead and order fifty copies we decided. Did we proof the cover? No – why would we? The cover had never been the problem. Did we carefully go over each page of the interior? No – why would we? The only problem had been the washed out print and the new font had solved that nicely. Or at least, so it seemed upon first glance.

I’m sure you can guess what comes next. When I had time to really examine the book, my first discovery was two typos on the back cover in the book description. I thought my heart might stop beating. Seriously – I simply could not believe my eyes or get my breath. Next, a reader mentioned some odd gaps in the print. A careful perusal revealed no less than a dozen incidents where the print skipped down a line for no reason. Another reader wondered if something might be wrong with his eyes because, lo and behold, the print is slightly lighter on the pages with the gate wingdings. You are now invited to picture me bursting into tears.

Emma newborn - 2008

It was back to the drawing board, yet again. I wish I could say I went with a smile but I cannot. Georgia is a darker font and even though the pages with the gates are somewhat lighter compared to the ones without, the overall quality is acceptable. I decided to keep the gates. I had become quite attached.

The cover was corrected, the interior file totally proofed and both resubmitted for approval through CreateSpace. The online proof was carefully checked and a softcover ordered. It has arrived, to much fanfare. The cover is perfect and the print, even on pages with the gate wingding, is clear. Finally, I hold this book in my hands and let out a sigh of satisfaction.

Holding Maelstrom - Bruce Witzel photo              Maelstrom interior - Bruce Witzel photo

The lesson I have learned is this – format in haste, repent in leisure. Why the rush? No longer will I impose arbitrary deadlines on myself. If a book isn’t ready for Christmas sales one year, it will definitely be ready the next. And no events planned until the books are in hand. Making life less stressful is bound to result.

Footbridge - Bruce Witzel photo

Have you any formatting nightmares to share? Please wade in and we can all wail together. Misery does so love company.

22 comments on “DIY Book Formatting – A Cautionary Tale

  1. Erin says:

    As always, thank you for sharing your insights into the self-publishing world!

    • You are most welcome, Erin. I’m always hopeful that something I write will help someone else along what can, at times, be a bumpy road. I certainly wish I’d paid attention to a few cautionary tales before I blundered ahead.

  2. I also had washed out print in a little book i produced in CP. Instead of using my own template i used one of theirs, which has a small font. Since the book was a rush job (Christmas gifts from my writing group) i just had to wear it. Congratulations on your perseverance!

    • I do use their templates but have never chosen the preset font or size. I wondered if that was one of my problems but hearing your story, I guess not. Christmas and rush jobs – well, it seems like we’ve both learned they may not be worth the heartache.

  3. noelleg44 says:

    Frances, you hit the nail on the head with this post. I had some real problems with formatting using CreateSpace – I should have looked to see how much of a margin there was on the spine side of the page. When I got the ‘final’ book, some of the print had disappeared into the spine. So now I now to order wider margins on that side. It did increase the number of pages, though.
    I’ve used different fleurons with each book – not sure what I will use this time! Maybe not gates!

    • Hi Noelle – ya, I don’t recommend that gate but one of the problems with CreateSpace is lack of consistency. In the most recent proof, the issue has been resolved – the print is consistent through the book. And I haven’t done anything that should make that change. The one thing I like about the CreateSpace template is that there are no issues over margins. It’s preset to work for the book size you choose and Bob’s your Uncle on that one.

  4. Peter Ralph says:

    I was considering getting CreateSpace to convert some of my E books into print. Fran, your blog finished that. On the plus side at least you had the ability/skills to make the fixes. Countless of us wouldn’t have had. Perhaps when I can pay an expert to do EVERYTHING I’ll think about print?

    • I’ve never used CreateSpace to do the actual formatting so I’m not sure if they’d do a good job. They might. Yes – I have the skills but what this experience taught me is that I need to work a hell of a lot harder on having the patience that is an absolute must to get this type of work right. I suspect we might hear a number of horror stories from people who paid others to have the work done, as well. It seems it’s always the same – be cautious in your business affairs. I’d want to read several testimonials by satisfied customers and look at a few examples of anyone’s work first before shelling out the big bucks. That is one lesson I’ve learned the hard way.

  5. Behind the Story says:

    First, I love the photos you chose to go along with this post. Excellent!

    I didn’t format my book, so I don’t have any stories to tell about that. But now I’m having trouble with my blog. In recent months, my photos seem to be fine on desktops, but some of them are turned sideways on mobile devices. I turned on an app that’s supposed to make my posts mobile responsive, but it didn’t work.

    I think my problem and yours have to do with the constant changes from every direction–Create Space, WordPress, Microsoft, Apple and all the rest of our mobile devises–and the difficulty of getting everything to talk to each other. For example, on my computer three of your photos (bridge out, whitecaps, and cute bridge) cover up a portion of the words in the right hand column. It you adjusted them to suit my computer, they may not work as well on some other computers.

    • Thanks for acknowledging the choice of photos, Nicki. It’s always a fun challenge to pick what might properly illustrate the mood of the writing. I’m disappointed to read that on your computer the photos overlap the right hand column. At times, I’ve asked people to check out how my blog looks on their mobile devices and iPads. But spot checking certainly doesn’t solve all the issues. The constant changes certainly make one’s electronic life complicated. I just switched over to Windows 10 and it was a learning curve. Then went to an updated version of Office and found that I had lost one of the major tools I use when proofing any formatting work on Word. The second small arrow at the bottom and top of the scroll bar is gone. That button allowed you to go with a click to the top of the next or last page. Gone, gone, gone. That will make maneuvering around a lengthy document so much harder. I can’t find any explanation on any online forums as to why this feature was discarded. So frustrating.

  6. gipsika says:

    Thank you for sharing! Wow – I can so cry with you!

    I was making use of a local printer, not Amazon. (We’re in South Africa.) And I had to pickle back various times to get the colours to print correctly on the covers… my graphic designers told me that printers and graphic designers never see eye to eye, hell knows why. They speak different languages. With the 2nd book in the series, “The Assassin”, everything was perfect – I couldn’t believe it, the proof was great and I was about to sign approval when I spotted one typo, corrected it and asked for another proof (they were really lovely, those printers).

    Only to discover that Word for Windows, on its own devices, had switched two of the characters’ names in large parts of the book (one is male and one female, to add to the confusion) and had replaced every instance of the name “Shawn” with “I”.

    “They are over there,” said I. Apart from total disbelief, then an episode of hysterical laughter (the little fellow sounded SO pompous), I had to rework the entire book to find all the places where these words had been exchanged. To this day I don’t know what glitch in the program caused this; some stored-up find-replace function? I can’t imagine. I believe in writer’s gremlins.

    • Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to share your experience. I believe you on the fact that printers and graphic designers don’t see eye to eye! Your tale of woe sounds similar to mine. You no sooner get a handle on one error than you discover another. It is true that the only sane response to some of this stuff is hysterical laughter. I am learning humility as I shop around the less than perfect copies of my book to those close enough to us to appreciate my tale of woe. I might just use that gremlin explanation next time.

      • gipsika says:

        🙂 A friend (Ark) told me during those times that the first run of a new book is so precious, people will one day be paying thousands to get a copy with those specific errors in it. See it that way.

  7. Excellent post, Fran. Thanks for pointing out the necessity to not be hasty in getting our books out there! It’s always those little things that lead to bigger headaches. A wise person will take your advice to heart! 🙂

    • So true, Mark, about the need to slow down. The bigger headaches definitely came with cutting the time corners, paying attention over and over and then slipping up where it mattered. A cautionary tale is just that – wisdom is the bar to gauge who listens.

  8. P. C. Zick says:

    I could have written this post (but not nearly as well). It’s the toughest job I do as an Indie Author.

    • I so agree, Pat. This is the most challenging part. The part that has me pulling my hair over and over. It feels great when it’s all done and knowing how much work it is, I can’t imagine being able to afford to have someone else do it. And there is the whole thing about controlling the process. But, oh my, the things that can go wrong are legion.

  9. Mistakes, mistakes…they pop out of nowhere just to spite us. So difficult to pick up when you have worked for months on a book. Your eyes and brian see what they expect to see.

    • So true on that point about the eyes and brain seeing what they expect. Sometimes, when I finally spot an error that I must have skimmed over and missed at least a couple of dozen times, I am simply stunned. What is it Leonard Cohen sings – there’s a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in. We chase after perfection but it may not be obtainable.

  10. Staci Troilo says:

    I think we’ve all been there. But it’s always nice to hear someone else tell their stories so we don’t all feel alone. Thanks for sharing.

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