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FORMATTING

December 11, 2013

It never fails to surprise me how many writers out there never think of the consequences of why they put down what they do on their electronic media, whichever word processor they use. I can’t vouch for the few of you that still might use an actual typewriter or write by hand, but most, especially if you’re reading this, are using some kind of computer software program to record your musings.
I’ve seen it all, from plain flat Courier font to some of the most god-awful frilly flowery mish-mashes of formatting hell. Maybe writers love to look at their work and think agents and publishers will be impressed with their Word or Works or whatever word processing skills. Nothing could be further from the truth!
SUBMISSION FORMATTING RULES
Most, if not all submissions will require certain formatting rules. If the requested material is to be in print form, there’s a lot of leeway on getting the recipient an acceptable print copy. If they request it in electronic format, there are certain guidelines that are usually more rigid, but may also seem deceptively easy.
In other words, watch out! As an example, see below:
STRIP STRIP STRIP!
If… you ever want to get your masterpiece electronically published in any of the acceptable formats, be prepared to run a formatting obstacle course! One of the first things anyone knowledgeable is going to do is strip ALL the formatting out of your document. If you weren’t aware, there are literally tens if not hundreds of possible formatting “thingies” that could screw up a Kindle, Nook, or other e-book. Trust me! Thousands of self-published authors have found that out the hard way, especially when the author didn’t properly format the book by doing it themselves, or got an inexperienced “expert” to do it for them. The result was an almost indecipherable mess that the public took to the reviews to slam.
Your masterpiece of literature now has plenty of one and two star reviews that have nothing to do with the story, but instead have to do with pages that are blank, paragraphs that end abruptly in the middle of a sentence, words with capital letters in the middle, partially italicized or bolded words, foreign fonts, different sized fonts, etc.
Here’s a trick for you, especially if you use Word. In your toolbar up top, if it’s not visible, look for the Show Paragraph Marks tool. It looks like this:

Show Formatting Image 2

Turn it on. You’d be surprised what it shows you. There’s a dot between each word to indicate spaces. Guess what? If there are two dots, when the formatting takes place, you’re going to have an uneven gap between those two words, even if it’s justified. Ever seen a degree symbol that’s invisible between words with this Show Paragraph Marks tool off? That’s a spacer that’s a remnant from other programs like Apple, etc. In Word, it’s not a degree symbol, and though it’s invisible, it can cause all kinds of grief if left in there instead of replacing it with a regular space. This “magic” Show Paragraph Marks button reveals tab marks, shift returns, headers, double spaces after periods before paragraph markers, and many formatting marks which you otherwise would never know were there. All of this stuff can seriously affect the formatting of your e-document.
I keep mine on all the time, though a lot of writers don’t like the clutter. I find it always lets me know where I stand. I especially like it because I often import stuff from other word processing files into our Observer’s Challenge from Apple and other foreign word processors. Let me tell you, I see all kinds of weird symbols, even if I use the Paste Unformatted Text Only function. It doesn’t always work as advertised.
KEEP IT SIMPLE AND CLEAN
You should always write in the most simple and clean style and keep out fancy formatting. You’ll likely regret it later, unless you’re doing something that will not be sent in for e-publishing. I use my own formatting sometimes for these web articles and for the Observer’s Challenge.
Food for thought that will hopefully save you a lot of grief down the road.
Happy writing!

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