Book Review of The Reasoning Voter

INSIDE THE MIND OF THE VOTING PUBLIC:

A Book Review by Matthew Howard

The Reasoning Voter: Communication and Persuasion in Presidential Campaigns, Second Edition by Samuel L. Popkin. 1994, The University of Chicago Press.

This review is also available in a free PDF. The original book is available on Amazon.

 

The Reasoning Voter analyzes U.S. presidential elections and primaries in the 1970s and 1980s. The second edition has a chapter on the 1992 election. Samuel L. Popkin, who studied campaigns at MIT and worked in campaigns, addresses how voters form opinions about politicians, how they evaluate information, and how campaigns deliver information that influences opinions and votes. Popkin’s theories about reasoning are essentially cognitive psychology, providing a framework for understanding historical events and data. He contends that voters have limited information about government, so they use shortcuts to develop ideas about government, and campaigns provide information interpreted via these shortcuts.

Theory and application are deftly interwoven, with early chapters being more theoretical to lay the foundation for the final chapters which apply theories. Chapter One introduces “low-information rationality” and “information shortcuts”. Popkin doesn’t believe voters are thoughtless and easily manipulated; they are thoughtful but confronted with a government so expansive and complex that getting a full picture is impossible. So, they draw conclusions from “past experience, daily life, the media, and political campaigns” (p. 7). The shortcuts interpret cues for extrapolating a big picture from a small one, such as using impressions about a candidate’s persona to predict his potential behavior in office.

Chapter Two explores these cues and shows campaigns need to connect issues to a specific office. If voters don’t perceive a president can do anything about an issue, it makes no sense to argue the issue in the campaign. Popkin tears down conventional ideas about a more educated constituency; education broadens awareness of the number of issues but does not lead to increased turnout and does not change how voters make decisions.

Chapters Three through Five explain how voters evaluate campaign messages and fill in the blanks. What constitutes relevant evidence? How do voters relate a candidate’s actions to specific policy and social results? How do evaluations of other people’s positions affect the voter? While answering these questions, Popkin demonstrates that campaigns don’t change voter positions on an issue; they change the relative importance (“salience”) of the issue to bring it to the forefront of voter awareness.

Chapter Six covers why candidates see surges and declines during primaries. Popkin argues that voters do not simply climb on the bandwagon of the front-runner. Preferences change as new information is revealed and concerns about personal character are supplanted by conceptions about political character. Chapters Seven through Eleven provide case studies.

Popkin backs up theories with history and polling data, comparing what really happened to expected outcomes based on traditional conceptions. Sometimes, Popkin approaches the trap of placing too much weight on a single, dramatic event, a fallacy he warns against. He sidesteps it by relating other events that came before and after. His suggestion to have longer primaries seems contradicted by his assertion that most voters don’t pay attention to primaries until they involve the voters’ state. Insisting that that voters are rational is undermined by Popkin’s explanation of thought processes based on fallacies, incomplete information, or jumping to conclusions. If voters are reasoning, they are apparently not reasoning well, or from solid premises.

This book gives campaign staff insights into how voters perceive campaign messages, and which messages matter most and when (such as moving from the personal to the political at different stages). It illustrates the need to differentiate a candidate’s position on an issue and connect it with the office. It will rescue campaigners from wasted time on information cues voters don’t respond to. For policy makers, this book highlights the importance of connecting an issue to the office through news stories and campaigns, and framing it as a social problem, not an individual one. Popkin’s cognitive psychology will enlighten anyone interested in how we evaluate information. Low-information rationality applies to decision-making on any subject, and The Reasoning Voter illuminates how we make sense out of information we encounter.

WHEN DOES MARKETING BEGIN? Creating a Reader Profile

Self-publishing authors who want to reach a larger audience and earn an income write books they hope will sell. They work hard to create their masterpiece. They hire talented people to give it a beautiful design. They conquer the technical challenges of creating files for the printer. The book becomes available for sale around the world. Then the author steps back and asks, “How do I market it?”

It’s an important question for self-publishers, who usually need to do all their own marketing. But the problem with this scenario is not the question but the timing of the question. The real question is not how do I market my book, but when does marketing begin?

The answer? You market your book before you ever set pen to paper or type your first sentence. And you begin by identifying your reader. 

Marketing Is Not the Same Thing as Selling.

Selling assumes you have a product and a qualified lead—a potential customer—and you are trying to close a deal. A transaction happens, or at least a contract for a future transaction. Selling is intimately related to marketing, but marketing starts long before a sale ever takes place. It starts before a product is created!

Marketing begins with identifying your target audience or ideal customer. When it comes to book sales, they are usually, but not always, the same thing. Products made for children have a child audience, for example, but the actual customer might be an adult purchasing the product. Products designed to be gifts have a similar split between the person making the purchase and the person who receives it. Either way, marketing informs every aspect of your book’s content, style, and design from the very beginning—because everything you do aims at your target audience.

And I mean everything. What is your book about? It’s about something that interests your audience, entertains them, or solves a problem they have. What kind of style appeals to that audience? Casual slang works great for some fiction and online content, but it would be out of place in a scholarly essay. How long is your book? Will your readers want an epic novel they can read for weeks, or do they want something short to read in one sitting?

Focusing on the Reader Involves More Than Writing.

It involves book design, too. For example, how large should the text be? A large-print edition would be appropriate for an audience with visual disabilities. If you know your readers, you can make decisions about font size—and everything else—that are right for them.

On the other hand, sometimes smaller is better. Which are you more likely to take on a business trip: the 1,000-page Complete Illustrated Hardcover History of The Topic, or a mass-market paperback? If you consider your readers in everything, you will know what role your book plays in their lives. You will know if they need a portable volume that slips into a purse, or an ebook they can read on a mobile device, or the massive tomes that cover coffee tables where friends gather to socialize. 

What Does Your Audience Want or Need?

This is the primary question of marketing, and it will guide every stage of producing a book, an article, a textbook, or a media release—from the very beginning.

The alternative approach—making a book without identifying the reader first—can be satisfying from a creative stand-point. A writer may have a story that needs to be told, or one that grows organically and tells itself. As an artist, I understand the urge to make something beautiful and personally satisfying without forcing it into a mold, and I would never suggest anyone abandon such projects.

But when we’re talking about books intended for sale and income, this creator-focused approach causes problems. Postponing marketing questions until after the book is made runs the risk of not connecting with book buyers at all. The book may be the wrong size or the wrong price, or suffer from an unattractive description on the back cover and website. It may not even be in the right place. 

What Do I Mean by Place?

Analyzing your audience grants insight into where you will eventually sell your book. Marketers call this “placement”. Will you and your book connect with readers online, or at public readings, or at keynote speeches? Will you connect face-to-face at comic book conventions, or remotely through radio talk show appearances? What other products will be in that same space competing for attention—and how will your book stand out?

Answering these questions early will help you make more sales in the long run, because your book will be crafted to fit that place and draw attention. It will be designed and written with the goal of making that initial connection to readers, drawing them in, and rewarding them with your work.

Authors who are savvy about social media realize that answering marketing questions early allows them to build a platform and create a buzz long before their books see print—a tactic that will drive increased sales upon publication. In short, don’t just know who your readers are. Know where they will be.

Conclusion.

A truly reader-oriented book embodies the soul of marketing. Marketing focuses on the customer’s wants and needs to give them something they love. Marketing aims to connect customers with products that are perfect for them. And who doesn’t want to read a book that’s perfect for them?

Create a Reader Profile.

Age:

Ethnicity/Culture:

Gender:

Marital Status:

Education:

Income:

Career:

Roles they play in life (list three):

Values (list three):

Reading comprehension level:

What problems do they have that your book can help them solve?

What goals will it help them achieve?

What fears will it help them overcome?

Where do they usually go for solutions to the problems your book addresses?

How many books do they read per year?

What print or electronic format does your reader prefer?

What do they usually spend on a book of comparable style, quality, and size?

How long of a book are they willing to read on your subject?

This is a chapter from my quick-start guide to writing and self-publishing a book, A Passion for Planning: Nine Things I Wish I Knew Before Making My First Book. Pick it up in paperback or Kindle today to get started on your writing journey!

GET THE MOST FROM YOUR PROOF: Creating a Proofing Plan

Experienced authors know the value of ordering and reviewing a proof of their book before making it available for sale. But this is a step that new self-publishers often overlook until it’s too late, because no one ever explained to them how it works and why it matters.

The proof is an actual printing of the physical book, even though it is not available to the public yet. Reviewing a physical proof of the book is more than just an opportunity to proofread the text for mistakes. It’s a chance to examine the entire book as a book.

Pay special attention to the cover. Spelling and formatting errors on the cover will cause potential readers to not take your work seriously. At a recent workshop, one author spoke about her feelings when she finds multiple errors in a book: “Didn’t anyone read this before it got printed?” It sounds harsh, but that’s exactly what people will think, whether they say it or not.

Avoiding that reaction means our job as author is not over when the writing is done. We need to take the time to refine and perfect our work. Plus, we need to make sure errors have not crept into the book during the design stages of the interior and cover. The proof copy is our last chance to do this before “going live”, so we should take advantage of it.

Why Does the Proof Review Get Skipped or Given Inadequate Attention?

The most common reason is deadline pressure. Authors who want their book available for a speaking engagement or media appearance often encounter this. A project can take longer than expected for any number of reasons, from a lack of experience planning a book to last-minute additions of new material. Authors can end up submitting files to the printer only days before a major event where they want to sell the book. In this time crunch, authors go straight to print without the luxury of a proof to review first.

Invariably, they find something wrong. Or many things. Now every copy they ordered is wrong. This is a source of major frustration, and it carries both financial and emotional costs. One author who gave me feedback on this chapter described the resulting emotional state as “mortified”, and she was absolutely right.

To avoid stress and wasted printing costs, plan your project schedule so you have two weeks to review your proof. For a large or complex book, you may need more time. After all, if you find an error, you need to contact your designer to revise it, and upload the revised files to your printer. Then you’ll want to order another proof and double-check everything.

Why Do So Many Errors Slip Though?

Technology has changed book production into a process that mostly happens on computer screens. You will never catch as many errors on a computer screen as you will with a printed copy. I suspect it’s because we associate screens with entertainment. If we look at them for too long, we slip into a passive, uncritical mode and miss details. There is no substitute for reading a physical page.

Technology is not entirely to blame. It’s easy to miss things when you have worked on a manuscript for months. Your mind goes on auto-pilot after a while, and it’s generally true that all of us are the worst choices to proofread our own work. We’re too close to it and too familiar with it.

How Do You Review the Proof?

I have success with reading the entire book aloud. Wherever I find an error, I mark it on the page in pencil, make a note if necessary, and fold the page’s corner.  Some people like to insert sticky notes or colorful tabs.

Professional proofreaders recommend reading the book backwards, sentence by sentence, starting with the last one. This prevents you from being drawn into the narrative and breezing over familiar territory. This method focuses on catching technical errors, as opposed to conceptual concerns such as narrative structure and plot development.

How Long Does It Take to Review the Proof?

Reading aloud takes time, especially when stopping to mark errors or desired changes. A 400-page novel can take days. A 25-page academic paper can take the better part of an evening. And that’s if you can schedule yourself uninterrupted time, free from distractions.

If you really love your book and put your heart and soul into it, you won’t mind. In fact, it might be one of the most amazing experiences of your life. Books can be that good. If you love reading yours after all this hard work, consider that a major success.

If you don’t have that kind of time, hire a proofreader. Give them a physical proof and have them thoroughly inspect every single word of the interior, and all the cover elements, too.

Am I Only Looking for Errors in the Text?

We are also looking for technical errors in the way the book is set up. For example, if you upload a file for the cover, and it has the wrong dimensions, it can show up as a spine printed off-center. Maybe the colors that looked good on the screen don’t look so good on paper. Maybe a chapter title did not get formatted consistently with the other chapters.

I have seen all kinds of things that needed to be fixed. You don’t want to find them after the book is available for sale.

Conclusion.

Next, you will find a list of questions that will help you plan for your proof review. Plan to inspect your book, find all the things you want fixed, ask for those corrections from your team, resubmit your files, and order another proof. You will be happier with the final result, and so will your readers.

Create a Plan to Review the Proof.

List any major events or deadlines where the final book must be available:

How long does it take the printer to review files and ship a proof to you?

How long would it take you to read the book cover to cover?

How long would it take your designer to correct the files and send them to you?

How long will it take before the printer approves the corrected files? (Does not apply if your printer does not do a technical review of your files.)

Add up all these times for the total time needed to review the proof (Two weeks minimum recommended):

Who else on your team needs a physical copy they can review and mark up?

This is a chapter from my quick-start guide to writing and self-publishing a book, A Passion for Planning: Nine Things I Wish I Knew Before Making My First Book. Pick it up in paperback or Kindle today to get started on your writing journey!

CHOOSING A SELF-PUBLISHING PLATFORM: It Depends on What You Need.

The self-publishing industry is booming, and that’s created more options for authors. But with more options comes more confusion. Companies such as Createspace and Lulu offer services that go beyond printing your book on demand. They can, for a fee, create covers and interiors, convert documents to Kindle format, and make your book available through major retailers like Amazon. Other companies, such as Smashwords, don’t print physical books at all; but their eBook distribution includes iBooks (iTunes) and Nook Books (Barnes & Noble), and public libraries.

Which one is right for your book? It depends. Createspace, for example, keeps your up-front costs to virtually nothing by printing books only when they are ordered (print on demand), but they only print paperbacks and do not distribute to iTunes. Lulu offers a wide range of custom book sizes and prints everything from hardcovers to spiral-bound books to comic books. Kindle is easy to work with for eBooks, but what if your readers aren’t Kindle users?

Choosing a printer depends on what kind of book you want to make and where you want it to be for sale. These are your two major decisions to make before committing to a printer or eBook distributor.

Balancing Convenience and Control.

What about the extra services some print-on-demand companies offer, such as cover design and interior layout? I have mixed feelings about them. Yes, they can simplify your life, because many of the services you need will come from one place. You also know that if your printer does the design, you don’t need to worry about whether the design will meet their technical specifications. They already know their own specs!

On the other hand, they have two drawbacks. First, the sticker price for these services is rarely (if ever) the final price. More often, they are prices to “get you in the door”, and later they turn out to cost more. I consulted for an author who decided I sounded too expensive, went to a “cheaper” place, and then came right back to me after being charged unexpected fees from a company that was unresponsive and didn’t communicate well.

Read the fine print on the pricing. If the service’s list price includes five images, and you have ten, guess what? That costs more. They may also limit revisions to two or three rounds. If you want to make more revisions than that—and almost every author I’ve ever known wants to make more—then they charge more.

Second, if they design the interior and cover, it might mean you must go to them if you want to make changes later. One author I know had spelled a colleague’s name wrong in a book designed by Createspace, and only caught it after the book was in print. She needed to submit a form to them about the correction and pay $75 for it. That’s an expensive typo!

But if she and her team had the source files, then they could have done the fix in-house and uploaded new files to Createspace at no extra charge. I like that freedom and control, and it’s a main reason I steer my customers toward owning and controlling the source files.

Plus, if you have the source files, you can have them printed anywhere, or convert them to other formats. Remember, you are the publisher. These services that make your book available are not publishing it for you. YOU are publishing it. They handle manufacturing and distribution. Why give up any control of your work to them when you don’t need to?

Beyond Print-on-Demand.

Larger publishers have another way to be on Amazon that is different from Createspace’s print-on-demand solution. These companies can afford to print 10,000 or 200,000 copies of their book, ship them to a climate-controlled warehouse for storage, and let all the Amazon orders be handled by a distributor who has a relationship with Amazon.

That has nothing to do with making a print-on-demand book, but I get asked about it all the time. The short answer is: You need to be playing a pretty big game before you’re ready for a solution like this.

Your other option is to become your own fulfillment center, and I know some authors who do this successfully with Kickstarter projects where all the books are pre-ordered and pre-paid. But this can become a full-time job, at least until all the books are shipped. It is a massive undertaking to pack and ship thousands of books, and you need to consider whether you have the time (or staff) for it, especially if you have another career besides being an author.

Print-on-demand works for me because I don’t want to do any packing and shipping, but there is a downside. From a marketing perspective, you want to know who buys your books! You might want their emails and addresses so you can contact them in the future to buy more books. But if you do print-on-demand, you will never know any of that. You will never handle a single order. By contrast, the Kickstarter authors I know have compiled databases of all their supporters, and this helps them build a fan base of repeat customers.

But it’s a ton of work. Having your books printed on demand requires the least effort from you, but it also means you have the least communication with your customers. Again, this choice comes down to what you need and what your publishing goals are.

Conclusion.

There is no one right answer for everyone. The right answer depends on what kind of book you want and where you want it sold, your level of technical skill, and what your team can do on its own. The right answer might even be a combination of things.

For example, I like using Createspace to get a paperback on Amazon, using Kindle Direct to be on Kindle, using Smashwords to get on iBooks and Nook Books, and using a local printer for super-high-quality paperbacks when I only need a few copies to show around town. Several of my books also come in audiobook editions I narrated, and I use Audible as a central distribution point to get on sites such as Amazon and iTunes.

That’s five different channels for one book, but they all serve different purposes.

What’s your purpose?

This is a chapter from my quick-start guide to writing and self-publishing a book, A Passion for Planning: Nine Things I Wish I Knew Before Making My First Book. Pick it up in paperback or Kindle today to get started on your writing journey!

 

 

BUDGETING AND PROCESS: Controlling Your Costs.

I’ve grouped these two topics together because the most common cause of needless expenses for new authors is a lack of understanding about the book-making process. While you won’t find a hard-and-fast set of prices here, you will develop an understanding of why that is.

As a self-publisher, you are in the driver’s seat about your project’s cost. You, your needs, and your work habits are the real factors that determine cost. It can be a daunting responsibility, but this chapter will help you stay on track and keep costs realistic.

“What Does It Cost?” Depends on “What Is Your Budget?”

One of the biggest frustrations for authors happens when they call a designer, editor, or other service provider and ask, “How much does it cost?” The provider responds, “What is your budget?” If you’re new to making books, this can be a frustrating conversation.

Designers and editors do highly skilled work, and they can offer many different levels of service. Everything has a price for which it can be done quickly and cheaply, and another price where it can get gold-plated, top-of-the-line service. Between these two prices is a range of cost and quality.

Think of your editor like an auto mechanic. If your car won’t start, you don’t call a mechanic and say, “I need my car to run. How much will it cost?” Your mechanic has no idea! Maybe the car is out of gas, which a couple of dollars would solve. Maybe the starter needs replaced, a medium-sized job. Maybe it’s the engine, a major job costing thousands of dollars. Until your mechanic inspects the car, he cannot make an intelligent estimate. The same is true for your manuscript.

But new authors can’t escape the sinking feeling that they will be taken advantage of. They fear that whether they say $50, or $500, or $5,000, the provider will charge them the maximum amount possible for the least amount of service.

What is the solution? Communication! People in this industry work with new authors all the time. They know you don’t know what to expect, and any one of them worth hiring can explain their different levels of service and cost.

Don’t be afraid to tell them you are new to this and could really use their help understanding the different service levels. What’s possible? What are they capable of? What can they do for a few hundred dollars? What could they do if money was no object?

Give them parameters. For example, how soon will you need them to finish their work? What are the technical specs for the project? If you need a full-color interior, then there’s no point in discussing prices for a black & white one. If your book needs fifty full-color charts, it’s a vastly different project from a book that only has a company logo inside. This is your chance to nail down exactly what you need, and what it would cost for the service provider to meet your needs.

To help you have this conversation and walk away from it happy instead of frustrated, the following questions ask for specifics about your book. These are things service providers will ask you about. If you know the answers first, you can make the most of your conversation.

You might find you need to change your plan. Maybe everything you want to do will cost more than you can afford right now. That’s good to know, because then you can plan around it, either by adjusting your expectations for the book (from full-color to black & white, for example, or from a paperback to a Kindle-only project), or by setting a longer timeline that allows you to gather the funds you need.

Details to Discuss with Potential Service Providers.

What is the word count?

What is the page count?

What is the “trim size” (the actual page size of the printed book)?

Is the interior color, or black & white?

How many images and graphics are in the interior?

Is the book paperback, hardback, Kindle, or some other eBook format?

For paperbacks, do you want a glossy or matte finish on the cover?

When does the project need to be completed?

What types of files does the printer or electronic distributor require?

Where can you get a copy of the required technical specs from the printer? 

Get Organized and Stay Organized. 

Disorganization and chaos drive up costs. For example, working from the wrong version of a manuscript-in-progress creates double work once you realize your mistake, and it often results in paying your editor and designer to fix things they already fixed. To avoid these unnecessary costs, use my system for organizing all the files related to your book. It is simple, direct, and effective. 

1. Create a new folder for each book, and give it the book’s title. Create this folder somewhere you can easily find it. (My personal projects live in a Writing folder, and my customers’ projects go in a Clients folder where every client has their own subfolder.)

2. Within the book’s folder, create sub-folders for the different editions. (I typically have three: paperback, Kindle, and Smashwords.)

3. Every time you open your manuscript and change it, save it as a NEW FILE with TODAY’S DATE in the FILE NAME (For example: Love Poems manuscript 01-22-2017.docx). Now, if you ever need to go back to an earlier version, maybe to find a scene or chapter you deleted but now want back in, you can easily find it.

4. CLEARLY LABEL EVERYTHING. You want your file and folder names to be so self-explanatory that even if you woke up tomorrow with amnesia, you would know what the names mean just by looking at them.

Stay organized! It will prevent unnecessary heartache in what should be a fun event: making a book! 

Do Things in the Right Order. 

A huge source of unnecessary costs is not understanding the step-by-step process of making a book from scratch. Two simple guidelines will reduce your overall expenses and eliminate dozens of potential disasters.

1. Get feedback on the content before designing the book. It’s easier to revise a simple manuscript before the designer gets to it. Once your book is being laid out for print or eBook, it becomes far more expensive to change, because now your changes affect the layout. You end up paying your graphic designer to make the changes, and then you need to proofread her work. Graphic designers are not proofreaders and all changes they make need to be verified.

2. Finish the interior before starting the cover. Working too soon on the cover is a major source of pointless expenses. Wait until the interior is completely done. Your cover designer will need to know exactly how many pages the final book will be, and you can’t know this for certain if you are still revising the text. The cover designer may become justifiably cross with you if you keep changing the page count, because the page count determines how wide the spine of the book will be. So, wait until you know FOR SURE.

I have seen projects where the author decided to change the book’s title or subtitle, or hired a marketer to write a new blurb for the back cover, or had a new photograph taken. All these changes affect what is on the cover. So, instead of paying your designer an hourly rate to change the cover over and over again, just WAIT.

Know When to Not Skimp. 

Proofreading your own work guarantees it won’t be right. I edit and proofread for other people all the time, and I offer on-the-spot editorial advice and corrections at workshops. You could say I make a living as the person who finds and corrects mistakes.

But when it comes to my own work, I proofread it about as well as a rhinocerous wearing sunglasses in a closed room with no lights. Like all authors, I am too close to my work, too familiar with it, and I already know what it should say. This makes it nearly impossible to focus on what it really does say. Like all authors, I am the worst person to proofread my own book.

But proofreading costs money, so many first-time authors decide they can save a few bucks by skipping this step. What happens next? They inevitably wind up with other expenses they could have avoided, such as buying piles of books that are full of errors and can’t be sold, or paying the designer to remake the book over and over again.

Plus, they see lackluster sales—and why not? If people preview a book that has spelling and grammar errors on the cover, in the description, and in the first few pages, they will not buy it. If your book is not worth spending your money on to do it right, then why should potential buyers perceive it as worth spending their money on?

Conclusion: It Takes a Team.

I love self-publishing because I value independence and total creative control. But no one works in a vacuum, and every self-publisher needs support. Even on books where I write, edit, design, and publish everything myself, I still need help from writers’ workshops, the printer, training videos and instruction manuals, and more experienced people who can help solve my problems. Even a pilot who loves flying solo relies on a team of people on the ground for help.

This is a chapter from my quick-start guide to writing and self-publishing a book, A Passion for Planning: Nine Things I Wish I Knew Before Making My First Book. Pick it up in paperback or Kindle today to get started on your writing journey!

PREPARING YOUR MANUSCRIPT FOR FEEDBACK AND EDITING: Keep It Simple!

A well-prepared manuscript improves the feedback and editing stages that come next. A clean, simple format makes it easier for friends, colleagues, workshops, editors, and agents to read it, understand it, and offer feedback that helps you improve the content in meaningful ways. You may be working on a book, but beginning with a clean and simple manuscript will reduce your overall production costs and headaches, and improve the quality of the feedback and editing you receive.

Avoid the trap of over-designing your manuscript. Some authors get excited about their ideas for the final product, so they incorporate all kinds of formatting and design possibilities in their manuscript. Rein in that impulse and KEEP IT SIMPLE. In the step-by-step process of making a book, design comes after editing.

Recommended Settings.

These recommendations are mostly based on APA format, which many people think of as a citation style, but is really a guide to formatting an entire manuscript. Manuscripts following these guidelines will be well-received by workshops, editors, and agents.

Font Settings:

  • 12-point
  • Times New Roman.

Page Settings:

  • 8.5 x 11 page size.
  • 1-inch margins.
  • Page numbers and book title in the page header.

Paragraph Settings:

  • Line spacing = Double.
  • Zero space before and after paragraphs.
  • First lines of paragraphs indented .25 inch. (Never use the Tab key. In MS Word, use “Paragraph” settings for first-line indents.)

Chapters and Sub-Chapters:

  • Insert a Page Break before each chapter so it starts on a new page. Never force them onto new pages using the Enter or Return key. Center and bold the chapter titles.
  • Bold the titles of sub-chapters. Left-align them and place them on their own line.
  • If sub-chapters are broken down further into sub-sub-chapters, bold their titles and leave them in the first line of the first paragraph of the sub-sub-chapter.

Now you’ve established a logical, visual pattern of organization for your editor and feedback groups. If your structure goes deeper than sub-sub-chapters, it may be a sign that a topic needs broken out into its own chapter. Once you go more than three levels deep on a topic, readers tend to get lost.

If you are experienced in MS Word, you can set up these recommendations by modifying the Styles known as Normal, Heading 1, Heading 2, and Heading 3. But if you don’t know Styles, your editor should.

Other Formatting Considerations.

 Avoid trying to make your manuscript look pretty, and focus on making it look simple. “Pretty” comes later, after the content has been edited.

Sidebars and Call-Outs. Placing these elements depends on the book’s final page size, so don’t design them. Identify their content by typing “Sidebar” or “Call-out” before it. This tells your editor and designer what you need without complicating things.

Images. If you are having images created for your book, or pulling them from other sources, know that they need to be a minimum of 300 dpi resolution for printing. Lower resolutions might look great on websites, but they won’t print well. Consult a graphic design professional before you waste precious time putting low-resolution images in your manuscript!

Covers and Title Pages. It’s great to have an idea about your cover to discuss with your cover designer, because it gives her a starting point. But don’t bother making your title page look like a cover. For printing, the cover and interior need to be separate files anyway, so there’s no point. All you need is a text-only first page showing the book’s title and sub-title, plus your name and contact.

Spaces. The days of following a period with two spaces are over. They were a holdover from mechanical typewriters and are pointless in word processing. One space is good enough! I use the “Replace” tool in MS Word to replace all instances of two spaces with only one until all the extras are gone.

Spelling & Grammar Tool. Now located on MS Word’s “Review” ribbon, this tool is your friend. You will enjoy two benefits by using it before your editor gets your manuscript. First, you learn what errors you commonly make, so you can avoid making them again.

Second, you improve what your editor can do for you. It can be hard for an editor to know what you mean when sentences are missing crucial words, or are constructed in confusing ways. The Spelling & Grammar tool helps you eliminate guesswork and misunderstandings with your editor. By correcting obvious errors, you empower your editor to focus on making meaningful contributions to your manuscript instead of fixing minor mistakes.

Conclusion.

If these formatting guidelines are a technical challenge for you, don’t fret. A professional editor can help you! But if you are “in it to win it” as an author of many books, then mastering the manuscript format is a skill that will improve your feedback and editing experiences on every book you create.

This is a chapter from my quick-start guide to writing and self-publishing a book, A Passion for Planning: Nine Things I Wish I Knew Before Making My First Book. Pick it up in paperback or Kindle today to get started on your writing journey!

WRITE 1,000 WORDS EVERY DAY: Creating a Writing Schedule

Write 1,000 words every day. It might be the best writing advice I ever got. Yes, we can learn much about the craft of writing, about style and narrative structure and how to research. But to be a writer, you need to write.

1,000 words per day is an easy goal. Professional writers commit to more—even much more. But if you have other commitments in life besides writing, set a goal where you can under-promise and over-deliver. I often start a daily 1,000 and end up with 2,500. I got on a roll one weekend and drafted a 10,000-word story in two days.

The 1,000-word goal keeps the pump primed for great days like those. If it’s difficult at first, it gets easier when you stick to it! How long does it take to reach 1,000 words? If the project requires intense planning, plotting, or thinking about complex material, I block off two hours to hit 1,000 words. Try it yourself and find a reasonable time that works for you.

Schedule this time on your calendar, and plan enough consecutive days to reach your desired word count. If you’re writing a short story, for example, schedule enough days to reach 7,500–20,000 words. Include time for any other writing your project needs, such as research notes, character bios, or an introduction. Include days off, if you need them. Once you have your schedule, stick to it until you have completed your first draft. 

Ideas for Daily Writing.

Writing 1,000 words every day would finish the first draft of a 60,000-word novel in two months. But let’s be realistic. A novel requires planning, plotting, creating characters, and world-building.

If you don’t have 1,000 words of story every day, that’s okay. Write about a character’s personality, background, and values. Write a synopsis of a plot you want to expand. On days when I don’t feel up to writing a scene, I casually describe what happens in it, as if I were telling a friend about a scene I liked in a film. Later, I come back and nail down the specifics in prose.

Daily writing goals are not only for novelists. In academic and non-fiction writing, 1,000 words could be an outline with a thesis statement and a rough draft of the introduction. You might make 1,000 words of notes on sources you read, as summaries to yourself, so you don’t have to keep all the main points of every reference in your head. A 25-page research paper seems like a big project, but its word count is close to the minimum for a short story: 7,500 words. 

Free-Writing Removes Blocks.

Even with plenty of ideas to choose from, you might have days where you don’t know what to write about, or you feel unenthused about a particular subject. On those days, keep the juices flowing with the lost art of free-writing. Free-writing means a stream of consciousness, without any of our natural tendencies to edit or filter our words before committing them to paper. Free-writing can clear your mental blocks and spark new ideas.

It is when we feel most out of ideas that we most need to write. Write anything that comes to mind! What is the worst that could happen? What if I told you that sometimes, after 900 words of garbage, you come up with two sentences of pure gold: a great idea for your next chapter, or the solution to the problem that’s had you stumped. Allow your mind to process its obstacles instead of avoiding them. If the mythical beast of writer’s block ever rears its ugly head, chop it off with 1,000 words of free-writing. 

Plan for Revisions.

A writer’s life requires time for more than just writing: editing, revisions, and rewrites. Plan days to revise your work once your first draft is completed. When I originally planned the blog series that became this book for my customers, I scheduled two weeks of writing every day except weekends. For the third week, I scheduled an hour each day to revise the chapters. You may need more or less, depending on how long and complex the project is, but a daily hour or two for each chapter gives you time to really polish your work.

What are you looking for in the revision stage? Maybe you’ve noticed inconsistencies in the plot or characterization, or your idea of how a character talks has evolved since you started. You might notice a superfluous scene, or two scenes that could be combined. Take these opportunities to focus on making your manuscript more coherent and cohesive. Read it out loud to yourself from start to finish, and think about how it flows.

These are concerns for the revision stage, so do not worry about them in your daily writing time. If you realize part-way through your draft that something major needs changed, write yourself notes on what to do about it in the revision stage. This will keep you free from the dreaded trap of rewriting a section over and over but never finishing the project! Your main goal in the beginning is getting something down on paper to finish your first draft. Editing and revising can wait. 

Conclusion.

A daily goal will get you closer to a complete manuscript in a short time. If 1,000 is too high, pick a number that works for you, like 250, and stick with it. Any goal is better than no goal at all! For more experienced writers, 1,000 will not be enough, and they may set more ambitious goals. But whatever you choose, stick with it. You will be surprised how soon you finish the first draft of your manuscript. You can do it!

Create Your Own Writing Schedule:

1. Target Word Count for first draft:

2. Target Word Count for any additional writing, such as research notes or a preface:

3. Combined Total Word Count:

4. Daily Word Count Goal:

5. Number of days to reach the target:

6. Start date:

7. End date:

8. Follow-up dates scheduled to review and revise the first draft:

This is a chapter from my quick-start guide to writing and self-publishing a book, A Passion for Planning: Nine Things I Wish I Knew Before Making My First Book. Pick it up in paperback or Kindle today to get started on your writing journey!