Thursday, March 20, 2008

Formatting Manuscripts for E-Publishing (Part 1)

Emily has graciously allowed me to write a series of posts on E-Publishing and the intricacies an author needs to know. My plan is to write a post every two weeks until I'm out of topics. Today's topic turned out to be so long that I'm going to spread it over two days so I don't flood your screen :)

If you have any questions, feel free to ask in comments. I'll also provide Emily with a PDF of the whole topic or you'll be able to download it from my website after next week.

When writers learn how to format manuscripts, they typically learn the standards for traditional print publishing and those are not always the accepted or preferred standards for e-publishing. This is due, in part, to the fact that the actual production processes are different for traditional print publishing and e-publishing.

Traditional print publishing often involved editors writing on the paper manuscript page, a typesetting stage where the manuscript was typeset into book format, etc. Some of this is now more computerized but e-publishing is a very streamlined and automated process. Anything that throws off that process can tend to be problematic so it’s best to start out with as consistent a manuscript as possible and know some of the pitfalls, as well as how to avoid them.

The formatting guidelines I’m giving you are generic and relatively standard but, before you submit to any particular publisher, be sure to read that publisher’s own submissions guidelines. Any specific instructions they give should trump these generic rules and should be followed instead.

Remember that these are only formatting instructions, NOT writing or grammar instructions.

Overall Formatting

Use a one inch margin all around the page as your standard margin width.

Paragraph Indents
Indent each paragraph by ½ inch (.5). Be sure to do this with your word processor’s automatically indent paragraph functionality. Unlike in hard copy, using a tab to indent in an electronic document puts in a hidden character. This can throw off later formatting.

Line Spacing
I recommend 1.5 line spacing. This leaves a half line free between rows of text. In print publishing, this is often set to be double-spaced because handwritten changes or notes were being made on the page and space needed to be allotted for that to take place.

Lines Per Page
Many people writing for traditional print publishers set their manuscripts to be exactly 25 lines per page in order to both be able to use a formula to determine manuscript length and because some print publishers request it. Do NOT do this for e-publishing submissions. This will really create problems in the formatting process since your submission file will eventually become the finished product. Let the line spacing determine how many lines are on each page.

I recommend Times New Roman in 12pt. This is a nice, standard font and it is easily read on the screen because it’s a serif font. Do not vary from this font within the work unless your publisher indicates you should. This is because your file is often used (after edits) to create a final formatted document. Changes in font size and style can be problematic and lead to real ugliness.

This is also a nearly universally available font. I’ve seen instructions for submitting to print publishers that recommend fonts that are not pre-installed with most systems but must be downloaded separately. Unlike in print publishing, where you send printed pages, the recipient of your electronic submission needs to be able to read your work. If you use a non-standard font that they do not happen to have, their computer system will try to translate it into a similar or default font. ‘Close’ often is not very close.

Unlike print publishing, you need to actually use italics when you want italics. This is another by-product of the e-publishing manuscript going directly from edited file to formatted final file. There’s no need for a typesetter to be able to differentiate italics from regular type on a printed page, so do not use underlining to indicate italics.

Hard Returns
No hard returns mid-sentence or mid-paragraph. These will throw off the automatic formatting for publication and weird breaks will appear in places they do not belong.

Chapter Breaks
Always use a hard page break at the end of one chapter and before beginning another, then start the next chapter on the first line of the new page with whatever format of chapter indicator you’re using. Do not skip a third of the way down the page to start a new chapter as is often advised in preparing print manuscripts.

Space Between Sentences
Use a single space between the ending punctuation of one sentence and the starting character of a new sentence within a paragraph. This has pretty much become the default standard in the e-publishing world.

Trailing Spaces
Don’t include a space before you use a hard return to go to a new paragraph. It’s superfluous and will sometimes throw off formatting.

Use an actual ellipsis, not three periods. While it’s not a big deal in print manuscripts, it makes a difference in e-publishing manuscripts. Formatting will treat an ellipsis as a single character but the three periods may get separated or mishandled because they are treated as if they are three separate characters.

Em Dashes
Use a real em-dash instead of a hyphen or two hyphens in a row. Again, two separate characters could be separated or mishandled but the single em-dash character will be treated correctly.

(to be continued tomorrow)


Bernita said...

First let me assert and establish that I'm dim.
Please, I don't understand what you mean by "natural elipses" or how else to indicate it from my keyboard except by dot-dot-dot, ie. three periods.

Katrina Strauss said...

Useful tips to be noted, most of which I already know but only because I learned about them the hard way through trial and error with my first few books. *laugh* I used to work for an e-publisher and the typesetter and I were the only two people in the whole company who knew how to create a continuous em dash. However, one of my other publishers actually "corrected" my em dashes in the first manu I sent them and changed them to double hyphens with spaces on either side. Apparently, it's easier for them to accept double dashes as house style, rather than correct the majority of peeps who can't quite figure that em dash thing out!

Maura Anderson said...

Bernita - I can probably give you specific instructions on either the shortcut keys or the menu commands for bot em dashes and elipses if you tell me what word processor program you are using.

It's considered a 'symbol' by most word processing programs, so the first time you look for it, it may be a bit tricky. After that, the shortcut will be your friend.

Let me know or drop me an email at realmsoftheraven @ gmail . com (without spaces).

Katrina - I've seen some houses do that and authors will find out after the first edits. But I'm stubborn about doing it technically correct if you don't know the house style :) I'm glad you think the rest of the tips are handy, though. There's a lot of 'tribal knowledge' that we all learn it the hard way - I thought it would be useful to compile it!

Drop me a note if you have things you think I should address!

Dawn Montgomery said...

THANK YOU!!! You shortcut goddess...I would LOVE to see a post on how to do em dashes and other such formatting specifics...Just sayin' *WEG*

veinglory said...

I made an emdash short sut key on my keyboard. A sure sign that I use them too much :)

Maura Anderson said...

The standard Word shortcuts are:

elipsis = Alt+Ctrl+.
em dash = Alt+Ctrl+Num-

The em dash is confusing but it means to hold down the Alt key AND the Control key and press the - on the Numeric keypad.

I'm often on a laptop that doesn't have a separate numeric pad so I changed this.

I'll put this on my list to write a post on later :)

Bernita said...

Kind of you, thank you.
I use Word

Dawn Montgomery said...