Monday, March 12, 2012

My self-publishing process: Page breaks

I have continued work on preparing Seen Sean? for publication. The phase I’m in now, formatting the PDF for the print book, is fixing bad page breaks. I am about 50% done with this subtask.

I’m typesetting the text in 10-point Computer Modern (really a great workaday font that’s not Times) with generous baselines. The paper size, 5¼×8", While typical for a trade paperback, is a little tight on space and robs some flexibility from pagination. Widows and orphans (a single line of a multi-line paragraph at the bottom or top of a page, and no, I can never remember which is the orphan and which is the widow) are commonplace, especially where paragraphs are short, e.g., in dialog.

LaTeX gives me a way to deal with this: the \enlargethispage macro. This macro allows me to enlarge a page (surprise!) by a defined amount that is given as a parameter to the macro call. The only parameters I have used so far are \baselineskip (to enlarge) and −\baselineskip (to shrink).

What is the heuristic (rule of thumb) that tells me when to grow a page and when to shrink one? The rule, which has been sufficient so far, is this:

  • If a single line from the beginning of a paragraph is left at the bottom of a page, shrink.
  • Otherwise, if a single line from the end of a paragraph is left at the top of a page, grow.

Notice that shrinking the page by 1 line is preferred. Shrinking or growing the page this way does not affect the overall page layout in any other way. In particular, the page number stays in the same place, glued to the bottom of the page, centered.

How do I iterate this process? As I page through the PDF, I find a bad break; this happens on about ⅓–½ of pages. Looking at the bottom of page n and the top of page n+1, I decide whether to shrink or grow the page. I switch windows into MacVim (or vile, depending on my mood that day) and insert the needed macro. (The 2 versions were previously saved in separate paste registers.) Then in a terminal window, I reformat the entire book. Finally, I switch back to Preview to see the result and look for the next bad break.

This has to be iterated over every page break, because, for instance, if I shrink a page, that means a line is added at the top of the next page, which may turn a bad break good or a good break bad.

Each page break takes much less than 1 minute to correct. The formatting from LaTeX source to PDF (which is what you’re probably balking at) takes about 1 second for the entire 278-page book. The number of pages has not changed so far, since the rearranged splits are buffered at the ends of chapters.

Of course, this doesn’t affect the e-books at all.

Why go through all this? Respect for the reader. I realize that very few of my sales will be paper books, but that is not a reason to treat those readers shabbily. Requiring at least 2 lines of each paragraph be on the same page physically eases reading.

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