Some formatting tips for self-publishers or It’s all about consistency


shelves with books on

Formatting your book isn’t just about correct use of grammar and spelling. Here are some tips and pointers to making your book look like it’s been set by a professional.

  • Search-and-replace is your friend – but use it wisely. Always check that your search query is set up properly and never ‘change all’ unless you are absolutely sure you really want to ‘change all’.
  • Search and replace multiple spaces. In the past if you used a typewriter you would type a double space at the end of every sentence to create a clear sentence break in the monospaced typewritten text. Many authors still do this – particularly those who were brought up using typewriters. It’s not necessary anymore and can create weird spacing. This is one of the first things I do when I’m setting text.
  • Change double dashes – – to n – or m — dashes. Again this is a hangover from the days of the typewriter. Typists did this to distinguish an n dash from a hyphen. The typesetter would change these into n or m dashes as indicated by the copy editor. On a Mac keyboard an n dash is created by typing alt hyphen and an m dash alt shift hyphen.
  • Change default (′straight′) quote marks to typographers’ (or ‘curly’) quote marks.
  • An ellipsis … is used formally to show some text has been omitted, for example in a long quotation. But it is more common these days to use an ellipsis to indicate a tailing off or pause in thought. Ellipses are three dots – not four, five, or as many as will fit on a line. On a Mac keyboard type alt semicolon (…) not dot dot dot (…) or, worse, dot space dot space dot (. . . ). If you use dots (particularly in ebooks) you could end up with a dot or two at the beginning or end or a line. There’s no need to add a full stop after an ellipsis at the end of a sentence – although some people do. Don’t use a comma after an ellipsis in the middle of a sentence.
  • Check numbered lists are in numerical order. It’s very common to mis-number your points, and unless you are using an automatic list function it’s easily missed.
  • Be consistent about how you treat numbers. Which ones do you spell out and which do you write as numerals?
  • Check whether your numbered lists need to be numbered at all. Will bullet points do? You only generally need a numbered list if you are describing a sequence (eg a recipe) or where the amount of items on the list is an important point.
  • Widows and orphans. Try to avoid having the last line of a paragraph at the top of a new page or the first line of a paragraph at the bottom of a page.
  • Avoid having only one word on the last line of paragraphs.
  • Avoid having words stacking on top of each other – particularly at the beginning and end of lines.
  • Check you’ve punctuated the ends of your sentences and that there is no space before the punctuation. […end of sentence. NOT …end of sentence .]
  • Paragraph spacing. Either have a line space between paragraphs or indent the first line of each paragraph. Don’t do both. Don’t indent the first line of the first paragraph after a heading.
  • Decide if you’re using double or single quotes (speech marks) and use them consistently.
  • Make sure your heading styles are consistent. Generally the more important the heading the bigger and bolder it should be. Make sure you capitalise your headings consistently too. Don’t have:

Heading Number One

Heading number two

HEADING NUMBER THREE

Heading no 4.

Lastly – a little bit about spelling

  • Make sure your spellings are consistent. There are often perfectly correct variant spellings (eg: OK or okay; curtsey or curtsy). Pick one and stick with it.
  • Use your spell-checker, but don’t rely on it. It won’t usually pick up words that are spelled correctly but in the wrong context. The girl wrote in her dairy. The girl wrote in her diary. […are two very different things!]
  • A spell-checker won’t be able to tell if you mean you or your and breath or breathe either. These come up a lot. For some reason we often miss the r off your and the e off breathe when we type.
  • And watch out for auto-correct – it’s often more trouble than it’s worth!
page showing typesetting issues

A couple of pages of Lorem ipsum showing typesetting errors and issues.

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10 thoughts on “Some formatting tips for self-publishers or It’s all about consistency

  1. Reblogged this on Michelle Proulx – The Blog and commented:
    Great tips for doing your final edit — wish I’d had this when I was editing Imminent Danger, lol. Had to figure it all out for myself.

  2. Reblogged this on Charlotte Howard and commented:
    I’m terrible for double spaces at the end of a sentence!

  3. Papizilla says:

    Reblogged this on The Ranting Papizilla and commented:
    Nicely put. Some good tips here people! Check it out!

  4. This is really helpful. I can see myself coming back to this post.

  5. Reblogged this on …and then there was Sarah and commented:
    GREAT tips for getting your manuscript ready. Bookmarking for sure.

  6. Carrie Rubin says:

    Excellent post. I’ll bookmark this one for later use. Good for those who independently publish or for those who send their manuscripts on to agents and publishers.

  7. Thanks to everyone who’s commented and followed. Writing this post I found out that WordPress automatically corrects double dashes so I had to type dash space dash to show what I meant!

  8. Great advice. Regarding numbered lists, they are useful if you need to refer back to any of the points listed.

    • Thank you. Yes numbered lists are often useful. It’s just that if they are there for the sake of it you may as well simplify to bullet points. Then if you change your mind about the order, or insert or delete a point there is no danger of mucking-up your numbering.

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