Friday, May 13, 2016

Format Standards: They're A-Changin'

A popular post from August 2011

by Annette Lyon

As an editor, I used to be able to use a broad brush with certain formatting and punctuation rules.

With the rise of e-books, some of those rules have undergone shifts. While the market there is still too new to have concrete standards, here are a few things to keep in mind if you plan to format your manuscript as an e-book.

Em Dashes
It used to be that an em dash never had spaces before or after. Ever.

E-reading devices, however, make that a problem. They interpret the words on either side of an em dash as one word. If that lump of words and a dash land at the end of a line, the whole things wraps to the next line. This leaves an unsightly gap in the text.

There are coding solutions for that, but the most common fix is simply to add a space before and after each em dash to avoid any odd breaks. The one exception would be if the em dash is at the end of a quote where someone is interrupted, such as:
"What are you—"
In that case, you don't want the word, the dash, or the closing quotes separated. They need to be together. (So no spaces.)

Chapter Breaks
The standard rules is to always start on a new page with a hard-page break. Hitting the ENTER key a bunch of times to get to the next page didn't count, because that messes up codes and whatnot. You needed a hard-page break, made with control+enter.

I personally still prefer e-books to begin new chapters on a new "page" (at the top of the screen). There is no strict standard here, but many e-book writers and readers don't bother doing that, and instead just add a number of returns before starting with the next chapter.

If you're going with gaps instead of new pages, be sure the gaps are all the same size, such as five carriage returns each. It's also a good idea to give the reader a visual break if you aren't giving them a solid page break, so add several asterisks before the new chapter.

It's wise to create a clear difference between a section break and a chapter break, so use a smaller number of returns (say, three) between section breaks and a smaller number of asterisks (such as three for sections instead of five, used for chapter breaks).

Front Matter & Back Matter
Keep in mind how e-books are generally read: e-devices begin with Chapter One (or maybe a prologue or preface). The cover, title page, acknowledgments, dedication, contents, and more, are skipped over unless the reader clicks the BACK button to manually read them.

If it's really important to you for the reader to see something (the acknowledgments, for example), put it at the end of the file.

Coding and Files
You can find several books online about how to format and code a file in e-book form. You can find businesses and individuals you offer conversion services as well. Whatever you do, try to make the text and the file as clean as possible.

That means sending a copy to your Kindle or other e-reading device and reading it there. Check for funky formatting problems. Read through it and catch typos you didn't in any other way. Click through the whole thing to make sure it looks and feels right.

The vast majority of e-books sold are still through Amazon on the Kindle, but more and more people are buying other e-readers, so it's wise to get your books onto Smashwords, which supports virtually any file type. If you follow all their instructions, Smashwords will also put your book up for sale through Barnes & Noble (for the Nook), onto the Sony readers, and even the Apple iStore. But note that formatting for Smashwords is far more complicated than for the Kindle.

Your E-book Editor
Whether it's a beta reader or a hired freelance editor, tell the person reading your manuscript that you plan to publish the piece in e-book form.

That way they won't add hard page breaks, delete the spaces next to the em dashes, or otherwise change the format to what used to be the rule.


Donna K. Weaver said...

Good information.

-Jo- said...

Really good information, thanks!

Anonymous said...

My frustration is growing due to one "expert" saying this, another saying something in direct conflict with the firs two experts. Heh.
I love writing! However, the search for accurate, professional info is frustrating to the extreme.

tonyl said...

Wow. A little late, but, the em dash is a breaking character, not a non-breaking character. What that means IRL is that if an em dash appears at the end of a line, it will be pushed, alone, to the next line. It is not treated as a word if in the form of word--word. That's probably not so bad, but when the em dash signals an interruption, it can flow to the next line, leaving its word behind. The way to avoid this is to use a Word Joiner character between them. However, the Word Joiner is not universally interpreted properly by either Kindle or epub e-readers. Good luck!