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Formatting: The Other Critique

Updated on July 31, 2014
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Neil is an owner of DragonTech Writing, a techncial writing firm located in Logan, Utah. He is also a published freelance writer.

Something as simple as a ruler can be an invaluable tool when considering formatting.
Something as simple as a ruler can be an invaluable tool when considering formatting.
Most word processors have a ruler function that can be turned on or off.
Most word processors have a ruler function that can be turned on or off.

Suggestions

Here are a couple examples of E-books or websites I use for formatting a piece for publication.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52

This link is for the Smashwords style guide, a must read to publish e-books at Smashwords.com

https://www.createspace.com/Help/Book/Artwork.do;jsessionid=5C7535B5F6ECFF06B4B3F795D8682C50.bf1be6e9b4b587f368f883dd5f37cd2d

This is the resource page for createspace through Amazon.com for print on demand books.

Making your words look good.

Words can evoke emotion, imagination, and even learning, when properly spun. Unfortunately these things can only happen if the words are read. In much the same way as restaurant entrees are better accepted when they look appetizing, words must have an appealing or at least familiar form and pattern to get the reader to take that first taste, and keep reading once they are engaged. (Yes, poor formatting will take a reader out of the story as quickly as poor writing) Poets have known this for years, but for novelists this may be a new concept.
In the not so distant past, writers would type their prose on paper, or print it with a computer printer, in a very specific standard (read that dull) format and send those words to one of the few publishers looking for new works in the hope that the editor would see what they saw. For a lucky few the editor would fuss and fiddle with the formatting, cover, and a variety of other elements until they had a book meeting their exacting (or sometimes, not so exacting) standards and then they would publish the work. Those publishers still exist, but with the advent of the e-book, and print-on-demand, there's a new kid in town.
Until recently self publishing was usually so expensive that only rich and well established writers could pursue this option. Now, options such as Smashwords.com and Createspace have made publishing an E-book virtually free, and a print-on-demand book can be done for the cost of a proof or two. The question is, are those self published books of high enough quality to be worth the time to read? Initial surveys indicated that many of these self published works lacked the quality writing expected by the casual reader. So is there a solution?
Recognizing that half the problem was poor formatting, several groups created programs that will create the standard (dull?) format for you. This is fine for family and friends, but may not be enough to get the masses interested in the book, no matter how well written it is. Here are three ideas on how to avoid common pitfalls and spice the formatting up a bit.
Read with eye for how others format, particularly, how they make covers, and separate paragraphs pages and chapters. The old adage ‘if you want to learn to write, read’, fits as much for formatting as it does for the actual act of writing. Make sure to read each of the various media you want to work in (E-books, Print books, etc.) and take note of how they are formatted.
Next, become a perfectionist (as much as possible, we all miss things). Make sure every line of the work is perfectly aligned. A graphic artist friend of mine takes this very seriously, to the point that he will take a ruler and measure a printed work and never works without the ruler grids activated in whatever program he is using. Line spacing and alignment are especially important with poetry so that the reader knows where to place emphasis, and breaks.
And finally, get critique from a graphic artist or other formatting expert. Finding a formatting expert may not be easy, but if you are self publishing, it is a good idea. Ask the members of the local writers group, they may know of someone if there isn't someone in the group.
There is more information on formatting out there and formatting is just one of many elements to consider when self publishing, but it is an important element to consider if you want to get noticed.

qed.

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