First, I’d like to mention that my first P.J. Benson mystery, The Crows, is being featured on Pamela Thibodeaux website this coming Saturday, January 10th. http://pamswildroseblog.blogspot I’d love it if you’d stop by and make a comment.

Now, onto my weekly (first one in 2015) blog.

I am once again formatting a story I finished six months ago. Why again? Because when I first wrote the story I used Amazon’s KDP formatting guidelines. But when I sent the manuscript to an agent, she wanted it formatted following her guidelines, which were just a little different. And now there’s a publisher I’m sending the story to, and that publishing house has its formatting guidelines to follow.

Following formatting guidelines can be time consuming, but as far as I know, there have always been publishers, editors, and/or agents who have specific formatting guidelines or requirements. My guess is even those cavemen chiseling their messages in stone followed traditional forms.


Before the computer took over, typesetters and editors basically dictated the rules, some demanding one inch margins, others wanting an inch and a half. Back then you used two spaces after a period and underlined if you wanted something to appear in italics. Two standard fonts were generally accepted  (Pica and Elite), each giving a slightly different number of words you could fit on a line. And some editors were very picky about how many lines per page. They determined word count using that criteria.

Nowadays I hear writers complain about having to format—or re-format—their manuscripts to meet specific guidelines, but even though it takes a certain amount of time, the computer really has made it quite easy for most of us. On the other hand, does it really matter if chapter headings use numbers or written words? All caps or not? Bold or not?

For the publisher, I guess so. Most of the requirements reflect “House Style.” All of the books published by that particular publisher have the same type of chapter headings, have headers and footers set up the same, the spelling of certain words the same, and so on. In essence, publishers are now using us as typesetters.

So no wonder so many writers are going the self-publishing route. If we’re being asked to have our books edited before submitting (many agents are asking for this), being required to format so the book can easily be printed, and then forced to do most of the marketing (unless you’re a big name author), why not self-publish and at least earn most of the profits?

I’ll admit, I still like having a publishing house edit, print, and distribute my books, but I no longer dismiss the idea of self-publishing a story. I can understand why so many good writers are now following this path.

Hmm, I wonder if I formatted this blog right.


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12 Responses to Formatting

  1. Amen, sister! Some publishers have such complex, fussy formats that I feel like I’m jumping through hoops. Frustrating!

  2. Maris Soule says:

    Good image, Jacqueline. I am jumping.

  3. Melissa Keir says:

    I have no problems with formatting but then I’ve learned how to do it this past year and do it regularly now. I even do it for others. 🙂

    But you are right about computers making it easier. I can’t imagine how hard it would be back with the old typewriter and what about mistakes! Start over or use white out, which is still noticeable!!

    • Maris Soule says:

      You’re right, Melissa, the computer does make it easy. Nevertheless, it would be nice if there was one format used by all. Making changes isn’t difficult, still it takes time and creates the chance of error.

  4. Boy did you bring back the memories for me. As much as we/I complain about technology, it sure has made a writer’s life easier. I remember my first word processor and printer took up half the family room. Now I’m typing this on an iPad that fits in my hand.

  5. It’s so easy to change the formatting on the computer. I hated typing until the invention of the pc.
    Seems like these people could put their heads together and figure out a basic format.

    But there’s one publisher that chapter one begins on whatever page it lands on after all the other pages, table of contents, comments from other authors, blurb, all the preface type pages. Then the chapter begins.

  6. Diane Burton says:

    I am so grateful for the computer. Although I self-published, I have to format my books differently for each publisher. And don’t get me started on CreateSpace for print books. Their company, their rules.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Diane, in my opinion, self-publishing is a different matter. At least when you’re finished making the changes, you know the book will be available for purchase. There is a real reason for each of those companies to make specific demands.

  7. Terry Odell says:

    A lot of the problems arise because the different channels use different conversion software, and their e-readers also behave differently. While it would be nice to have a ‘one size fits all’, it’s a learning curve I’m willing to deal with for the money I’m making with my indie-published e-books. I can normally get the book formatted for the e-stores in under a day. CreateSpace does take longer (and I’ve paid a formatter to do the final tweaking on those to get the file to follow traditional book formatting conventions.)

    • Maris Soule says:

      Terry, I don’t mind the need to format for the different e-readers. That, at least, makes sense. It’s when one agent wants a manuscript formatted to her desires, then another wants the manuscript formatted to his desires. At least when you’re formatting for Kindle, Kobo or one of those electronic publishers, you know the end result will be a book that will be offered for sale. Not necessarily so with a blind submission to an agent or small publishing house.