Style and Formatting: Consistency is King


Before I started querying my first manuscript, I spent a lot of time thinking about the minutiae of style and formatting. Like most new writers, I was very concerned that I look professional, and figured that part of the appeal was surely presenting a manuscript that needed the least amount of work done to get it into shape.

Now, that’s 100% true when it comes to editing, spelling and grammar, but I was obsessing over little things — things that can easily be fixed with a find and replace. I knew rules like not using double spaces after a full stop, and not to use a silly font (sorry, Comic Sans). But what about double quotes versus single quotes around dialogue? Margin and line spacing? Em rules versus en rules?

It was enough to make a girl neurotic. *twitch*

Not-so-random anecdote: I’m planning on self-publishing a book in a few months’ time, and as part of that I’ve been discussing points of style with Our Kim (one of my fab beta readers) and Our Lauren (my wonderful editor). One thing Kim raised and Lauren and I subsequently discussed was ellipses. You know, these guys… They indicate a sentence/thought/speech is trailing off … or some words have been … omitted. But the thing with ellipses is EVERYONE FORMATS THEM DIFFERENTLY. Some presses put a space on either side, no matter what. Some do that, except they don’t have a space before an end quote. Some do that and put a space between each dot as well. Some say no spaces anywhere (that is the policy of my publisher, Turquoise Morning Press).

Ah, English, you so crazy.

My personal preference is to have a space on either side, unless the ellipses are the terminating punctuation in a sentence (replacing a full stop), when I don’t like the space. My logic is that I wouldn’t put a space before any other terminating punctuation, so why should the ellipsis get singled out for special treatment? Lauren agreed it seemed as reasonable as any other approach given the lack of a defined grammatical rule, and that she’d edit based on that guidance.

The thing is, realising this was a bit of a light bulb moment for me, and I wish I could go back in time and illuminate my former, twitchy self.

No one, agent or publisher, is going to choose to reject your manuscript because you didn’t put a space between each dot in an ellipsis. 

A lot of publishers — although not all — have a style sheet that they provide newly signed authors. In TMP’s case, it was six pages. It covered all those things I’d been stressing about, and more! Although it was a relief when I got it, thinking of the time I’d wasted worrying about little details made me grimace too.

Now, if you’re planning on submitting to a particular publishing house, you could study their books and see how they handle the tiny details. (I’d wager you’d be surprised to see inconsistencies between works, due to the house letting the author stick with what they’d chosen.) To my mind, though, in the absence of any clear direction in their submission guidelines, your time is better spent making sure the words are the best they can be, and that whatever style you’ve chosen to go with is consistently applied throughout the document.

Do you have a particular style that you love or hate? 

Cassandra Page is an urban fantasy writer who believes in faeries and the Doctor, and loves em rules, semicolons and the number thirteen. Just because.

Cassandra Page

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