Oct 3 2008 3:22pm

Getting My Hands Dirty

A few days ago, in an attempt to explain why I haven’t been posting here (or anywhere), I talked a little about the process that ends with printed copies of Electric Velocipede in my hands.

I’m continuing the discussion today by going into detail about how I format a submission and lay it out in my desktop publishing program. The screenshot above shows one of the stories that will be in the next issue of Electric Velocipede, Alistair Rennie’s “A Doom of My Own” in it original format (well, it was less blurry).

I get stories formatted all sorts of ways. Yes. I do have submission guidelines. Most people mostly follow them. Lots of people don't follow them very well. This is probably a mistake to admit, but I'm not as fussy about the formatting as I should be.

To be clear, if you do follow my formatting guidelines, that gives you a bonus over other submissions, so if I have to choose between the submission who followed the guidelines and the one that didn't...the one that did will always win out.

I only have one guideline that is required: put your name and contact information on your submission (if sending an attached file) or under the story title (if sending in the body of an e-mail). This leads to automatic rejection. You'd be amazed at how many people fail this.

Once the story is accepted, I have to prep it for final layout in InDesign, my desktop publishing software of choice. All accepted pieces are renamed with the word ‘STORY' or ‘POEM' or ‘NONFICTION' as the beginning of the file, followed by author name and story title. This gives me a quick visual as to what's in the issue's folder just by opening it up.

Here's my process of formatting for the magazine: I change the typeface to match the style and size of what I use in the magazine (I used to ‘clear formatting' but that removed italics, etc., which is a BAD THING); change the paragraph spacing to single line; I delete all headers and footers; I replace all story breaks (typically a #) with page breaks; I replace all paragraph returns with a paragraph return and a tab; I return all the page breaks to a #; I justify the whole piece; I center all the #; I format the title and byline; I set my dingbat at the end of the story; I save the document as ‘FORMAT author name story title;' the original gets an ‘X' placed as the beginning of the file name so it sorts to the end of the folder.

This is a lot of steps, but it easily takes me less than five minutes per story to do this. The image above shows the document formatted in Word, ready to go into InDesign.

Just like before, I can quickly see what all I have formatted and what is not formatted. It's also easier to find when I'm ‘placing' (CTRL+D) the pieces into InDesign. If I've done this correctly, everything flows perfectly into InDesign and I'm ready to edit.

One of my weirdisms with this process is that I don't edit the piece until I get it into InDesign. I edit the entire issue at once. This is kind of unusual, since most editing is done before the piece is typeset (and this was particularly true when pieces were actually typeset...but we moved away from that process a while ago).

If I haven't formatted the story perfectly, it's easy to fix up in InDesign. Sometimes the paragraph spacing is still messed up for one paragraph while the rest are fine. The tabbing never comes in quite right, so I reset it from 0.5" to one pica. I give everything a -10 kerning just to tighten it up a bit. Then I can export a PDF and edit the issue.

You can see the story in InDesign above. Again, sorry for the blurriness (to be fair, neither my computer nor my work place are all the scintilating), but I think you get the gist of it.

Next time I'm going to talk about the actual editing process, so stay tuned!

[Screenshots taken on my computer; Alistair Rennie's work used with his permission.]

Pablo Defendini
1. pablodefendini
If you edit in InDesign, have you played around with InDesign's Story Editor? It gives you a text editor-like interface for the text in a particular text box (or string of linked text boxes), independent of formatting and/or whether it fits on the layout page or not. I always found it very handy, particularly when we had to cut a piece to make it fit into a layout.
John Klima
2. john_klima
I haven't. I've looked at it, but it always confuses me. :) I see what you're saying. That could be handy when doing proofreading/final layout.

I don't know if I'll ever be able to edit electronically, though. I need to be able to put red ink to the page. I've done some work with people using the track changes function of MS Word, but that doesn't give you any space for notes or suggestions, it's just 'here's the changes, accept or reject them.'

I'm totally under-utilizing InDesign's capabilities. I should be using styles, so I can have InDesign make my table of contents and such. Using styles also makes it so I can have a well-made XML structure under my document, which makes for easier exporting to the web.

And so on and so on. :) I just don't have time right now to learn how to use everything and implement it.
Pablo Defendini
3. pablodefendini
It's hard to keep up with all the features in all of the Creative Suite, and InDesign in particular—especially since updates are coming so quickly (CS4 already?! I was just getting used to CS3!)

I'm precisely the opposite when it comes to paper: the less I have to deal with it, the better (as a matter of fact, it's a running joke with some of my friends at the office that I never look like I'm busy, since my desk is free of clutter in general and papers in particular. My computer screen, otoh, is a completely different story). Every time I tell someone "I don't need that hard copy, I've got it in email" or something to that effect, I get strange looks...
Fred Coppersmith
4. FCoppersmith
John, Word's track changes feature does allow you to insert comments. I use it all the time to send authors queries or suggestions. While I also prefer to do most of my initial editing on a hard copy, putting them into track changes for the writer saves considerable time and effort.
John Klima
5. john_klima
@Pablo, how does Irene put up with you? LOL

@Fred, thanks for the clarification. I think I knew that, but was conveniently forgetting. :)

I guess for me I just like doing the editing portion away from the computer. I feel like I can spread out the pages and have the ability to move back and forth in the piece quicker than I can electronically.

Keep in mind, I've never tried editing electronically, so perhaps once I did it a few times I wouldn't have any issues.

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