By Ted Witt
- First, if you obey these do-not rules, you will be one step ahead of most writers trying to peddle a book.
- Do not use the enter or return key to put space between paragraphs or titles.
- Do not use double spaces between sentences – ever.
- Do not use the tab key or spaces to indent a paragraph.
- Do not use double hyphens for a dash.
- Do not use three periods to create an ellipsis.
- Do not justify your text; leave it jagged on the right side.
- Do not use your word processor to make your charts look pretty.
- Do not format scene-change lines differently from regular lines of text.
- Do not try to make your manuscript look pretty.
- Now that we know what not to do, what are the alternatives? The most important take-away for writers is to learn and master the concept of the Style function within word processors. It is so important, we are going to consider Style a proper noun and capitalize it. If you are using Microsoft Word, find the Style function in the standard ribbon bar at the top of your screen.
Styles have names. Each named Style defines what you want a paragraph to look like—not just in terms of font and size, but also in regard to attributes such as space between lines, space before the paragraph, space after the paragraph, margins, drop caps, letter spacing, borders, and alignment.
This tool is so valuable, so convenient, and so efficient you would think everyone would use it. However, save one smart soul, no author has ever submitted a manuscript to us formatted with Styles.
What is the value of Styles to the real work of publishers and designers? Your manuscript must be converted into a book format, which is tedious, time-consuming, and prone to errors. Designers love Styles, and, if fact, they are forced to use them. So if a manuscript comes in with Styles, a designer’s workload is dramatically reduced.
By modifying a Style definition, the designer can apply a new look to every element tagged with that Style. If a designer sees 30 chapter titles in your book, she can modify a Style tagged to chapter titles and apply that change to all 30 instances with just one click. Otherwise, she highlights each chapter title and then adjusts font, size, alignment, spacing, and a host of other attributes. She repeats this 29 more times. Imagine how much work is saved when trying to format paragraphs in a book, first paragraphs with drop caps, scene changes, subheads, pull-out quotes, index entries, captions, or long quotations.
- Using Styles eliminates the need to use the return or enter key to add spacing. Line returns can split between pages. Since they can often be invisible, they are notorious for disfiguring a layout. Define a Style for the spacing your design requires between chapter heading and text and between paragraphs. Then use the search function to replace two consecutive instances of a paragraph return with just one.
- Use Styles to define your paragraph indents for the first line of a paragraph. Now conduct a search for two instances of a space. Replace the two with just one space. Repeat this search-and-replace routine several times to get rid of all multiple spaces. If you run the routine only once, you will not correct instances where you had three, four and five spaces in a row.
- Search for all occurrences of a double hyphen. Replace with an em dash. To find an em dash character, go to your top navigation tabs and choose “insert,” then symbol. If an em dash does not show, choose “more symbols,” then the tab labeled special characters. An em dash should be listed. When you keep double hyphens in your manuscript, they can spit at the end of a line in your book. A designer can easily overlook this problem. Left unattended, the split hyphens will confuse your reader and mar a layout.
- Likewise, if you use three dots for an ellipsis, they can split up at the end of a line. The correct mark is a true ellipsis mark. If your Microsoft Word processor is not set up to automatically to convert three periods into a true ellipsis, try this: Hold down the Control, Alt and Period keys at the same time. You get this rendition: …
- To denote scene changes, set up a Style just for scene changes. The line spacing should be the same as for normal paragraphs. Resist the temptation to make spacing thinner, no matter how it looks. Why? When you book interior is designed, a thinner space around your scene change will cause a misalignment of text at the bottom of facing pages in the final print layout.
- When presenting charts or tables, do your best to get the message across without spending much time to make them attractive. Your chart will have to be reformatted to match new page widths and overall design. Attach a spreadsheet with raw data, numbers and charts as part of your manuscript submission. The designers will use this information to make appropriately sized and well-designed charts.
- Let your words sell your manuscript. Don’t try to make it pretty. All of your work will have to be undone by the publisher or designer. That’s extra work they don’t want to do. If you keep it simple, they will love you even more. If you ignore Styles and try to manually make your manuscript cute, your book designer may be cursing you behind your back.