Writing tip: Doing dashes right



One of the dead giveaways of a non-professional book is misusing the poor hyphen instead of a dash.

Let’s clear something up right away: a hyphen is not the same thing as a short dash, which is distinct from a long dash. They are three different punctuation marks, each with their own uses and rules. They are not interchangeable.

What they’re for

For example, a hyphen can combine two words into one, as in “long-term effects” or “father-in-law.” A hyphen helps avoid confusion in phrases like “high-school students,” which can be very different from “high school students.”

Hyphens also join numbers when they’re written out, such as “forty-two.”

Finally, hyphens indicate that a word is broken at the end of a line of text, when a word is too long to fit on a single line of text. Remember that you break the word between two syllables, with a few exceptions like “ther-apist.”

Dashes: the short and the long

There are two types of dashes. The short dash, also known as the “en dash” is twice as long as a hyphen. It’s also called the en dash because it’s the same width as a letter N. It’s used to indicate a range, most often in numbers, such as “pages 25–35.” It can also be used to indicate a range in space, like “a Toronto–Montreal flight.” However, most style guides recommend that use more for tables and illustrations, but in body text, to write “Toronto to Montreal.”

En dashes can also join words that already have hyphens (which is relatively rare), as in “private-sector–public-sector cooperation,” or when joining two things where one is two separate words, such as “pre–Second World War era.”

The long dash is also called the em dash because it’s the same width as a capital letter M, itself usually the widest letter in the alphabet. An em is twice as wide as an en.

The em-dash is used to link phrases and sentences, or to indicate an abrupt change in thought or logic. Here’s an example from my upcoming new book, Wildfire:

She had seen a question in her green eyes—was she really going to apply for a job in a restaurant?

It can take the place of parentheses or a colon, as in these examples from Wikipedia:

The food—which was delicious—reminded me of home.

Three alkali metals are the usual substituents—sodium, potassium, and lithium.

How to do it

Part of the problem with en and em dashes is that they don’t appear on the standard typewriter keyboard. Those of us who learned to type on typewriters—back in the day—learned to use multiple hyphens when we wanted a long dash. There was simply no other way to do it.

That limitation has survived, even though with our word processors, there’s no reason for it. Seriously, there are keys on the main part of my computer keyboard I almost never use, while getting the dash which I use frequently requires pressing three keys at once. Why a pipe symbol? Why curly brackets?

The way to geta an en dash in Microsoft Word on a Windows computer is to hold down the Ctrl key and press the minus sign at the top right of the number keypad.

On a Macintosh, again using Word, it’s done by holding down the Option key and pressing the hyphen or minus sign.

You can also type the alternative character code: hold down Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac) and type 0150.

Insert an em dash by adding the Ctrl key on Windows: Ctrl-Alt-Minus. On a Mac, it’s Shift-Option-Minus. The alt key code is Alt 0151. On a Macintosh, hold down the Option key.

On-screen typing

Tablets have made this easier. All you have to do is hold your finger down on the hyphen “key.” In a couple of seconds, you’ll get a menu of choices. Select the appropriate punctuation mark.

Spaced out or not

Some people like to put a single space on both sides of em dashes — like this — while others like them tight—like that. Whichever you choose, be consistent.

This may seem like a trivial matter, but hyphens and dashes stand out on a page or a screen, and they clearly signal someone who doesn’t appreciate the difference—and that a professional editor had not seen that page.

It’s almost as blatant as misusing quotation marks, but I’ll write more about that in another post.

How to format your book for e-publishing



I have found that a lot of independent authors feel intimidated by the process of e-publishing. In the past few posts, I showed you how to use Styles to make formatting more efficient and consistent, and how Styles also help automate other processes you’ll need to publish your book.

Your word processor has a number of other nice features to make it simple to format a book, whether for print or electronic publishing. Here are some of my favourites, based on the word processor I know best: Microsoft Word.

Elements of professional formatting

Start by getting your favourite print book off your shelf. There are some elements that you have probably taken for granted all your life, but getting them right in your own book will make the difference in making sure it looks professional.

  • Title page—a pleasingly designed page that tells you the title, author and publisher of the book, and the city or cities the publisher is located in. It may also list the series, if the book is part of one, or a subtitle.
    Sometimes, print books have a “half title” or “semi-title” page preceding the title page. This usually just includes the title, in smaller type than on the main title page. The reason for including this has to do with the fact that the number of pages in a paper book has to be divisible by four, which is also why there are sometimes blank pages at the end of a paper book.

    half-titletitlepages

    The half-title (left) and title pages

  • Copyright page—on the back of the title page, listing the copyright notice, date of publication, the warning not to copy the book, the publisher’s address, Library of Congress or Cataloguing in Publication Data information, ISBN and other information. It may also list the editor, designer and other contributors to the book.
  • Acknowledgements or dedication page.
  • Table of Contents.
  • Headers and footers—information at the top (header) or bottom (footer) of every page. Often, the left-hand header will have the author’s name, and the right-hand will have the title of the book. Non-fiction books may have the title on the left (verso page) and the chapter title on the right (recto).
  • Folios—the page numbers, on the top or bottom of the page, in the middle or on the outside corner. One way to tell that a book has been properly formatted: left-hand pages have even numbers, right-hand, odd.
    Notice that the title, copyright, dedication, acknowledgement and any blank pages at the front of the book do not have folios, headers or footers. Often, tables of contents are numbered in lower-case Roman numerals. Also notice that the first page of every chapter, part or section has no header or footer, and the page number is usually at the bottom, centred, even if the folios are on the outside top margins of other pages. This is an old convention in English-language publishing.

How to make your elements look professional

Word has a number of neat features that allow you to easily format a professional-looking book.

Page set-up

You want the first page of every chapter to look different from the rest. Word makes it obscure to set this up.

Double-click in the top margin or header area (or the footer) of any page. The ribbon changes. Select Different First Page and Different Odd & Even Pages. This allows you to put the folio in a different place on the first page of every chapter or section, and also to put them in the opposite, outer corners (when it comes to print books).

The Page Setup menu, where you set the size. Don't forget to click the menu beside Apply to: to make sure the whole document has the same size of pages.

The Page Setup menu, where you set the size. Don’t forget to click the menu beside Apply to: to make sure the whole document has the same size of pages.

If you’re going to publish only as an e-book, don’t worry about margins or page sizes. But if you are creating a paper book, you have to know what the page dimensions are. Amazon’s CreateSpace service offers pages of 5 inches by 8 inches, 5.25 by 8, 6 by 9 and others. Choose one, and set up your pages. Click on the Page Layout tab in the menu, opening that ribbon, and click on the triangle under Size to see the options available. If the size you’ve chosen isn’t in the list, click More Paper Sizes and enter the Width and Height. Make sure you apply it to the Whole Document using the drop-down at the bottom left. Click OK.

Adjust the margins, now. Click the Margins button, and set them for smaller—probably half an inch, or maybe a little more. Don’t set them too narrow.

The Gutter measurement adds space where the pages come together at the spine. Have you ever noticed that your paperback pages curve there? Add a little more space to keep text out of the curved part, which is harder to read.

Make sure you Apply to Whole document again.

Design your title page, or get a qualified graphic designer to do it for you: a large, attractive font for your title, smaller for the sub-title or series, large but distinct for your name as the author. At the end of the text, as long as there is room, insert one more blank line (Enter or Return key), then click on the Page Layout tab in the word processor and click on the Breaks menu. Select Next Page.

Decide whether you want to have a half-title page or not. If you do, hit Enter for a blank line, then choose a page break. Then repeat the above process to create a new page for your main title.

Enter another page break. On this page, you’ll put all your copyright information. Insert another page break for your dedication and acknowledgement pages, and any other “front matter” you may have.

To find the breaks menu, click the Page Layout tab in the ribbon at the top of the Word window.

To find the breaks menu, click the Page Layout tab in the ribbon at the top of the Word window.

Do you want to have a table of contents? Go to the Page Layout tab. Under Section Breaks, select Next Page. This makes the next page the First Page of a new section, which means its page numbering, header and footer characteristics will be different from following pages.

Because the First Page of each new Section (in Word) is distinct, you can have no page number on the first page (the ancient standard), or place it in a different place compared to other pages. So, for example, if you put the page numbers in the bottom outside corners as described above, for the first page of each new chapter, you could put the page number in the middle of the footer (bottom margin).

linktoprevious

It can be tricky and confusing to get to this menu. The easiest way is to double-click in the header or footer area of the page. If that doesn’t work, do it again.

Double-click in the footer. The Ribbon will change. From the centre of the ribbon, unclick Link to Previous, so that what you do to this section does not affect the title page.

The Page Number button is third from the left. Choose Bottom of Page, then one of the centred options. The page number will appear there. If you want to use Roman numerals for the front matter, right-click on the number and select Number format.

Scroll down so that you can see the next page. You’ll notice labels called Odd Page Header -Section 2- and Odd Page Footer -Section2-. You can put your author name on the Odd/right pages and the book title on the Even/left pages, or whatever you want. Since you’re creating each chapter as a separate section, you can also put the title of each chapter in the header or the footer, as you see fit.

That’s enough for this post. If you have any questions, leave them in the Comments section.

Happy writing!

Writing tip: The cascading benefits of Styles



Wikimedia Commons

Last week, I wrote about the benefits of using Styles in your word processing program to make your writing more consistent, efficient and professional. This week, I explain some of the resulting efficiencies that come from understanding how to use Styles.

I am using Microsoft Word as the example, but the same concepts apply to most word processing applications.

Table of contents

Once you have set up styles for your chapter and section headings, you can use them to generate a table of contents. In Word, choose the REFERENCES ribbon, click on the arrow beside Table of Contents (first button from the left) and select Custom Table of Contents. In there, you can build your ToC from the styles you created.tocmenu

Another way to do it is to customize the pre-made heading styles built into the program, and then you can select the automatic ToC. Either way, you can choose to have multiple levels of headings and subheadings in your ToC. For fiction, you probably only need chapters, although if you have Parts, as well, you’ll need to add them and their styles to your Styles menu. In the main window, select 1 Level.

For non-fiction, where you have several levels of sub-headings, choose the number of levels you want to appear in the ToC. Usually two is enough.

Also choose the “tab leader”—whether you want dots, dashes or nothing at all between the heading and the page number in the table.

When you have selected what you want to appear in the table of contents, click OK.  The program then creates the Table of Contents, with the page numbers correctly listed.

If you change something, like add a new chapter in the middle or extend one of the them so that the new content pushes the following content onto further pages, all you have to do is click on Update Table in the ribbon, and the program corrects the page numbers.

Cascading effects

There are even more benefits to this. When you want to publish your book through Amazon or any other e-book service, the programs recognize styles. They may transform the typeface selections from, say, Times to Times New Roman, or Futura to Avenir, but at least the selections will be consistent.

This also works for blogging platforms like WordPress and Blogger. If you use Styles, such as Normal and Heading 2, WordPress recognizes this and replicates it in your blog post. Again, WordPress will change the type font, but will preserve the fact that it’s a Heading 2, and assign it size, weight and position according to its own system.

Use Styles throughout

Now that you’ve seen how Styles make your writing and publishing faster and more professional, use them throughout your work. I set up a Body Text and a First Paragraph styles, and modify the style for headers and footers to my preference.

The same idea applies to pages and sections. In a future post, I’ll explain how to start new chapters with their own styles for the first page. In the meantime, try out these techniques.

If you have any questions, put them in the Comments.

Happy writing!

 

Congratulations to Smashwords for pushing back against censorship



Originally published on Blogger in 2012.

Image courtesy Kofegeek

Kudos to Smashwords and its head, Mark Coker, for pushing back against censorship.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a column about how Paypal was forcing e-book retailers like Smashwords to remove e-books whose content it found objectionable. If any e-book seller was found to be selling books with content about rape, incest, underage sexuality and bestiality, Paypal would deactivate its account.

This amounts to censorship—the restriction of content. And because of Paypal’s size and dominance of the online payments market, it had the potential to enforce it.

At the time, Smashwords President Mark Coker explained that he managed to get Paypal to grant a “temporary reprieve as we continue to work in good faith to find a suitable solution.”

On March 13, Mark Coker announced through Smashwords’ online newsletter that “PayPal today announced plans to revise their content policies to allow Smashwords writers full freedom to publish and sell legal ebooks….

“This is a victory for all writers and readers. It removes credit card companies, banks and payment processors from the business of censoring legal fiction.

I agree with Paypal’s stated aversion to the kind of material it listed. But outright banning of books that meet the criteria of “including” rape, incest, underage sexuality and bestiality is a blunt instrument. By that token, my book may be banned, as it contains frank description of sexual activity by people who would today be considered “underage”—but who were, in the time the book is set, of marriageable age. Other works that fall into that description would include not just Lolita, but also Romeo and Juliet, Gone with the Wind and The Return of Martin Guerre.

And as I said in my blog post of March 6, while rape, incest, bestiality and underage sexuality may be problems, censorship is not the cure. All it does is limit the freedom of legitimate artists, writers and readers, while forcing the truly objectionable material that celebrates these acts further underground.

Coker attributed the turnaround to thousands of independent authors who made phone calls, wrote letters, emails and blogs and otherwise raised the issue in the world.

Interestingly, I did not hear anything about Amazon’s response to this. Did they face the same pressure? Maybe they’re just too big to worry about pressure from Paypal. But from banks? Unimaginable. Smashwords, as a much smaller company, had far less ability to push back, yet did so gracefully and successfully.

So, congratulations, Mr. Coker, and Paypal, too. But let’s not get complacent.

Where did this latest attempt to limit free speech come from? According to Paypal, the pressure came from banks, credit card companies and others in the financial industry. But that sector is not known for its morality—so who or what was behind the effort?

We should all thank and esteem Mr. Coker for his astute handling of the issue and a real victory for freedom of expression, but at the same time, we need to stay on guard against the next time some faceless organization tries to limit our freedoms.

This issue has not gone away. All writers, fiction or non-fiction, secular or belonging to any faith, political or not, along with all creative people, as well as anyone who values their freedom to choose the art material for themselves—we all must not stay quiet the next time censorship comes cloaked as “decency” or “protecting the most vulnerable.”

And don’t fall into the trap of saying “I don’t read that kind of stuff, so it doesn’t affect me.” Because if those four subjects get banned today, then tomorrow there will be four more that someone finds objectionable.

Don’t think it can’t happen. It’s happened before. And while censorship does not work, it sure leads to misery for a lot of people. Remember samizdat?