Authors Write, Book Designers Design: A Word on Basic Formatting

Posted by Sherrie Wilkolaski
Published On Sep 27, 2014

by Ellie Maas Davis

As an edi967825 96869800-ba1969-sxc.hutor, my number one headache when it comes to editing Indie authors, especially neophytes, is they’ve a tendency to prematurely offer design elements in their work. Unless the manuscript is a graphic novel, interactive children’s book, picture book, popup books, etc. stylistic measures hamper the editing process.

If I open a manuscript and see anything other than a serif font (and I don’t altogether turn my nose up if it’s something like Garamond or Book Antiqua) I make a note of it and take it as a cautionary warning. I also immediately ensure the “track/change” feature is off, then I “select all” and change the type setting to Times New Roman, 12. At that point, unless it’s an image-laden book (in which case I just lower my head, sigh, and try to appreciate it’s the author’s first rodeo), I also double space things.

Things like image formatting/image placement (the issue with images is that it fouls things up when it comes to saving/navigating a document along with editing comments and track changes), text boxes, symbols, graphs, interior layout, front cover, and other stylistic measures should be added only after the bulk of the narrative is secure and fairly polished (read this: the editor has done most of the heavy lifting of the edit). As an author, you should become familiar with key “insert” features like section and page breaks, and not depend on “hard returns” (really tricky as they’ll need to be manually removed) to create spaces between sections and pages, etc.

In a perfect world, the author’s job is to write, the editor’s job is to edit, and the book designer’s job is to design. But this doesn’t mean the author is off the hook in regards to basic formatting (lest you make a heck of a lot more work for your editor and designer), the following formatting components should be checked, and should be applied to your manuscript.

  • Consistent headers, chapters, and section breaks.

  • Formatting of citations, indices, and appendices should be consistent. Unless otherwise directed, Pressque editors follow The Chicago Manual of Style.

  • Quotation marks can be either straight or curly, but must be consistent in either format. Pressque editors default to curved quotes known as smart quotes, rather than straight quotation marks that are known as non-smart quotations.

  • Spacing between sentences should be consistent. Pressque editors use one space between sentences.

Yes, yes, it takes a whole village to “raise” good books—we all have our role—but make sure, as an author, you’re not creating more work for others.


Ellie Maas Davis

Ellie-Maas-DavisEducated at Southern Methodist University, the University of Kansas, and the University of Witswatersrand in Johannesburg, Ellie Maas Davis has written extensively on the environment and issues of human rights. She is the owner of Pressque, a publishing consultation firm located in downtown Charleston that offers editing, ghostwriting, and marketing services to authors and publishers.

She is a founding board member of the Lowcountry Initiative for the Literary Arts, a former curator and host of Charleston's longest running weekly literary series, Monday Night Blues, and serves as a mentor to senior writing students at Charleston County School of the Arts. Published in a number of anthologies and journals, she is the author of The Humours of Folly, See Charleston in a Day, 100, over a dozen ghostwritten works of fiction and nonfiction, and often reviews books for The Post and Courier. When she's not living somewhere else, she makes her home on Daniel Island with her family.


Topics: book formatting, infinity publishing, editing, book editing, self publishing, self publishing companies, independent publishing

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