Ten Formatting Suggestions

Part of the mission of Asphodel Press is to increase the number of high-quality Pagan books available to our community. We are thrilled to see so many other individuals and groups in the Pagan community using print-on-demand self publishing to make their writing available. One of the difficulties authors face when self-publishing is turning their manuscript into a professional-looking book. Unfortunately, no matter how good the content is, many people are not going to take a book seriously if it doesn't look like a traditionally published book.

I want everyone's books to look great, whether they publish with Asphodel Press or not. I've walked many people through the self-publishing process, and I am happy to do it as a service to the Pagan community. You can email me (joshuatenpenny@yahoo.com) with any questions. Based on the books I've seen, here are the ten biggest problems that can make a self-published book look unprofessional.

1. Don't double space the text.

Manuscripts and research papers are frequently double spaced. This is to gives ample room for notes and corrections. Text in a professionally published book is never so widely spaced. It might be a little wider than single spaced, but no larger than 1.5 lines.

2. Don't put a blank line between paragraphs.

With email, message boards, and websites, a space is generally put between paragraphs of text, and paragraphs are rarely indented. In a printed book, there is no gap between paragraphs, and the first line is indented. An occasional gap may be inserted between paragraphs to break up different sections of text, but not every paragraph.

3. Put some kind of header or footer on the pages.

There is no one "right" way to set up headers and footers, but at the very least number the pages. If you can't figure out how to make the left and right pages different, center the page numbers. If you put all the page numbers in the one corner, the pages on one side will have their number in the fold of the book.

4. Put the publisher name on the book.

Unless it is some kind of secret underground manifesto, a book should have a clearly identified publisher with a name and address. People want to see some kind of company that they could potentially contact, even if that "company" is just you and your Lulu account. Some print-on-demand companies put their own name and logo on the book cover. That isn't such a bad thing, but if it is optional, you may want to use your own name and logo instead. (It is an optional setting on Lulu, but turned on by default.)

5. Use consistent formatting.

Unless you have an extremely good reason not to, all of the body text should have the same font, the same size, the same amount of space between lines, and the same margins. Pick one way of doing your Chapter titles, and make them all look the same. (The "styles" feature of your word processor may be helpful, if you know how to use it.)

6. Full Justify your body text.

Justified or "full justified" text is when the right edge of the text is made even by stretching out the shorter lines so all lines are the same length. This isn't mandatory, but it is easy and it looks so much more professional. (Poetry and short lists should not be justified.) Most word processors put the option for justified text near the option for centered text.

7. Use italics to emphasize text.

Do not use ALL CAPS or *asterisks* or bold for emphasis. Italics should be used for this, and only sparingly. In a how-to book or textbook bold might be used for special terminology or to draw attention to an important block of text, but it isn't used for simple emphasis in normal text (as in "she was really late"). Also, chat-style expressions of emotion like *sigh* are not appropriate in a normal book.

8. Use “curly quotes” and apostrophes

Many word processors can do this automatically, but text pasted in from websites or other sources may have "straight quotes" and straight apostrophes. In Microsoft Word, you can use the "search and replace" function to fix them all at once. Just use "replace all" to replace the straight double quote marks with straight double quote marks. (Yes, the exact same character.) If the "smart quotes" feature is on, it automatically correct each quote mark as it is replaced. Do the same for single quote marks. However, straight quotes should always be used in measurements like feet and inches (5'8" not 5’8”) so if your text includes measurements like this, you may need to change them individually.

9. Use real dashes.

When dashes are used to set off a bit of text, do not use hyphens. A professionally published book uses a dash—like this—rather than hyphens. Two hyphens -- like this -- were often used in a typewritten manuscript to indicate where the typesetter should insert a long dash. Like double-spacing, this is correct in a manuscript, but incorrect in a published book. Traditionally a long dash ("em-dash") is used, but some fonts have very long dashes, so the slightly shorter dash ("en-dash") with a space on both sides may be preferred when using those fonts. It is a matter of preference, but be consistent. You may need to use a "symbol" or "special character" function to insert a dash, or your word processor may automatically replace two dashes with an em-dash, and an isolated hyphen with an en-dash.

10. An ellipsis ... is three dots.

An ellipsis is used to indicate omitted text or an interruption. It is three dots. Not two dots. Not five dots. Three dots. If grammar requires a period as well, that makes a total of four dots. Don't use more dots to indicate a longer pause. Ellipses are not a substitute for sentence structure, so unless you are writing a guided meditation or a poem, do not string together sentence fragments with ellipses. (Even then, seriously consider using standard grammar.) There are different opinions on correct spacing with ellipsis, but be consistent. Many fonts include an ellipsis character, with the spacing between the dots adjusted for aesthetic balance with the surrounding text, and your word processing program might automatically use this character.