Paragraph Settings

If there is one thing that you change when it comes to paragraph settings, I beg you to change the first line indent. The default setting in MS Word is 0.5″ which is way, way too deep for even a 6″x9″ trim size. A good indent is 0.25″ for smaller trim sizes and 0.3″ looks nice for larger trim sizes.

Indent or not to indent? The first paragraph at the beginning of each chapter, subheading and after a scene break can be indented, or not indented. A majority of the time, it’s not indented because if you recall, the reason we indent a paragraph is to signal to the reader that a new paragraph and thought is occurring. Since it’s the first paragraph, you’re already signaling this by either space above the paragraph, a symbol, or another break in the flow of text (subheading), so it is redundant to signal them again.

Hyphenation is another item to take into consideration. InDesign has some great control options, whereas MS Word has less, but it doesn’t hurt to adjust the hyphenation settings to make the text easier to read and more appealing.

Leading, the line spacing, is another item you should adjust. Joel Friedlander does a great job explaining the background, which I’m not going to get into, but it’s worth reading. It’s not always good to rely on the automatic leading from the programs, as they aren’t usually optimal. For body copy, depending on the font, I usually increase the leading from 12/14.4 to 12/16. In MS Word that equates to about 1.13 for the line spacing setting. For headings, I usually start with the same number, over the same number. So if the font size is 25pt, I make the leading 25pt and adjust from there.

Justify vs. Left Justify
Justified text is when the paragraph is in the shape of a rectangle/square. The end of each line in the paragraph lines up eveningly. Left Justify, is when the paragraph looks like it has ragged lines. Examples below:

This is my justified paragraph. This is my justified paragraph. This is my justified paragraph. This is my justified paragraph. This is my justified paragraph. This is my justified paragraph. This is my justified paragraph. This is my justified paragraph. This is my justified paragraph. This is my justified paragraph. This is my justified paragraph. This is my justified paragraph. This is my justified paragraph. This is my justified paragraph.

This is my left justified paragraph. This is my left justified paragraph. This is my left justified paragraph. This is my left justified paragraph. This is my left justified paragraph. This is my left justified paragraph. This is my left justified paragraph. This is my left justified paragraph. This is my left justified paragraph. This is my left justified paragraph. This is my left justified paragraph. This is my left justified paragraph. 

Which one should you use?
I’ve seen it both ways, but justified paragraphs are much more common and give your book that extra professional touch. (Left justified paragraphs can look like a newbie mistake.) When it comes to justified text, you have to handle hyphenation more carefully. If you remove hyphenation completely, you can have what’s called “rivers” throughout the text which are created from large gaps between words. But, if you don’t adjust the hyphenation settings from default, you could end up with a hyphen at the end of every line or in awkward spots.

E-BOOKS
If you format using HTML/CSS, you have a lot of control over most of this. Almost all e-readers default to justified text – which is OK by me – and with the e-books, I always set the hyphenation setting to ‘none’. It seems to read better that way on screen, and the devices usually do a good job of controlling the gaps between words. For line spacing I don’t touch it because it’s not necessary to change. I do, however, adjust the first line indent to be a similar width as what the print book would be. However, in HTML/CSS the measurement is in “ems” versus “inches”.

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