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Widows, Orphans, and Other Book Formatting Issues

August 31, 2020 (Last Updated October 26, 2020)

Marcy G.

We asked one of our exert prepress technicians, Patty, to explain common formatting issues you may encounter when setting up your files.


What is a widow? - A widow is a lone word or short group of words that appears at the bottom of a paragraph, column or page.


What is an orphan? - An orphan is a similar unwanted straggler, but this describes words that appear at the top of a page.


How do they relate to formatting your book and what potential issues do they present?


1.     They tend to make long sections of text look unbalanced and messy, as well as leaving too much excess white space at the end of a page.


2.     They look disconnected from the paragraph. Orphans really belong on the previous page, because not only do they look untidy on the page they appear on, but they also break the flow of reading across two pages.


3.     Try to have at least 2 lines from the previous page flow to the top of the following page.


4.     One solution is to apply tracking or kerning to the text if dealing with a small or short word, but not too much because you don’t want the word to look squished.


What are some common formatting issues customers should be aware of when setting up their files?


Page Size and Margins: Many of our clients think they have the correct page size and create their entire book and convert to pdf, only to be rejected and put on hold when they place their order for the wrong page size. We have free templates to help you ensure your page size is correct before you upload!


Page Breaks and Section Breaks: Not using page breaks or section breaks at the end of a chapter and using the paragraph return to move to a new page.


Inserting a Manual Line Break at the End of Each Line: This mistake is also commonly made if you learned to type on a manual typewriter. You should not create a line break by hitting the “Enter” key at the end of each line of text; instead, let the text wrap naturally to the next line.


Using spaces to indent the first line of a paragraph: The use of spaces makes the paragraph indent inconsistent throughout the book. Instead you should use a first line indent in the paragraph dialog box under special and click on the drop down to first line indent. It can be .25, .375, .5 or whatever you want it to be.


Inconsistent formatting and fonts: Don’t start with one font and change it to another, especially in your body text.


Font size: Don’t start out using 11 point and somewhere along the line change it to 12 point. Make sure you use the same font size throughout.


Check everything before uploading: Before you upload your PDF for us to print, make sure you have it completely edited and formatted the way you want your books to print. Customers can be shocked when we send a notification that their order is on hold. If you have questions about what should be on your checklist, check out our FAQ section.


The best tool to use for consistent formatting is theShow / Hide” tool. This will show you all of the formatting markups in your Word document. Every program has this feature, but just named differently. For example, in InDesign it is called “show invisibles”.


We know not everyone is tech-savvy, so if the thought of formatting seems daunting, 48 Hour Books can help make your book look like a bestseller with our reformatting services!


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