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4 classic formatting mistakes to avoid as an author

11 September 2017

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When you embark on a self-publishing journey, you benefit from an immense amount of control over your hard work.

However, with control comes responsibility, and as nice as it is to be your own ‘boss’ in the world of book publishing, there’s one thing you’ll need to ensure doesn’t slip - the formatting.

A messy manuscript won’t win you many fans and, regardless, it’s never much fun to work in the literary equivalent of an untidy shed.

So, without further ado, we’ve put together four of what we believe to be the most common formatting mistakes made by authors. Avoid them at all costs…

1. Don’t use double spaces after full-stops

Sure, when you were learning to type, two taps of the space bar after every period was the done thing.

Not any more - as we demonstrate on this very blog. See?

The two space rule actually harks back to the days of the typewriter where additional space was required after full-stops for greater readability.

Modern fonts and word processors have no such trouble with legibility, therefore make sure you always opt for single spaces after each period.

2. Don’t hard indent

A hard intend is when a paragraph’s indentation is created by manually tapping the ‘tab’ key.

Doing this will normally result in an indent that’s far larger than required. Instead, follow these principles:

  • For fiction, go for just a small indent at the start of each paragraph
  • For non-fiction, use block paragraphs rather than indents (as we have in this blog post)
  • Most word processors will offer the option to automatically create indentations for the first line of each paragraph - turn it on
  • If you’re unsure as to how big your indents should be, grab your favourite book and see what format its author used - you’ll almost certainly find it’ll follow the rules above.

3. Tread carefully with hyphens

Bad use of hyphenation is a very common writer error, but it’s one that’s incredibly hard to stay on top of.

This is because the rules for hyphenation differ depending on the grammatical situation in which you find yourself.

Although every rule attributed to writing can (and, often, should) be broken, try and stay on top of your hyphens by following these rules:

  • Two or more words that function as an adjective when placed together need a hyphen (e.g. ‘two-way street’ or ‘light-green trainers’)
  • Leave compound words such as toothbrush or housekeeper as single words
  • When writing numbers as words, join them together with hyphens (e.g. ‘sixty-three’)

If you’re ever unsure, we highly recommend checking Oliver Strunk’s ‘The Elements of Style’.

4. Quotes or apostrophes?

Again, this is another element of writing that’s up for debate, but getting mixed up with your quotes and apostrophes may be viewed by the more attentive readers as a sign that you’ve rushed things.

Apostrophes should be used for possessive form (i.e. ‘the dog’s favourite bone’) and contractions (i.e. ‘The dog’s eating from its bowl. It’s a happy dog’). Avoid using them when writing plural forms (i.e. ‘three dogs ran through the park’).

Quotes are used when quoting someone or for an ironic term - but try not to over-use the latter, because too many quotes can be “rather irritating”.

Wrap up

Don’t worry - event the best selling authors make these mistakes, and that’s for one very simple reason: they’d all much rather just get on with the business of writing.

That’s what excites us as authors, after all. Only, if you’re writing something that you want to see on the physical and digital shelves of bookshops, paying attention to the tiny technical details really will help you succeed - we promise.

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