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Formatting Bloopers by Joan Leacott

The Things That I See…

On Beyond Zebra! by Dr. Seuss is a story of young Conrad Cornelius o’Donald o’Dell whose friend has a unique set of letters beyond the end of the alphabet, to the things that he sees.

As an avid reader, I see things in published books. As a writer, grammar is a reluctant interest. As a formatter of fiction and non-fiction, I’m a stickler for good layout. The combination of reader, writer, and formatter gives me a unique perspective of things beyond “The End”.

I’m not talking about dead people, though Beyond the End is an interesting title.

I’m talking about bloopers in published and soon-to-be published books. Here’s a list of what I see beyond the final edit.


Foreign Words

Most writers know to italicize words in another language.

But when don’t you italicize foreign language?

When the word or phrase has entered the English language as a standard phrase, e.g. déjà vu, fin de siècle, pièce de résistance; they aren’t italicized though they are correctly accented. If the word or phrase hasn’t been absorbed, then it’s italicized and accented, e.g., “How do you say ‘umbrella’ in French?” Amy asked. “C’est un parapluie,” Micheline replied. Note the punctuation around the dialogue is not italicized.

Titles of Other Works

Naming long works such as books, magazines, TV shows etc. Cosmopolitan, PBS News Hour, Virgin River. Use quotation marks only when you can’t format italics like in website headlines. Shorter works that are part of longer works, e.g., an episode of a TV series, articles in a magazine, or song lyrics, are not italicized but enclosed in quotation marks.

Vessels and Ships

The vessel’s (any vessel) name is italicized; the prefix is not italicized; MV Chippewa, RMS Titanic, Space Shuttle Challenger, USS Constitution.

Quotations from Other Works

A short quotation (epigraph) serving as an introduction to the book or a chapter, is block formatted and indented, sometimes italicised, and does not include quotation marks.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

—Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Another option is to use a smaller font. Whichever combination you choose, make it consistent throughout your manuscript.

Emphasizing Text

Seen mostly in non-fiction self-help works, authors use caps, bold, italics, even underline to emphasize a point. This is overkill. Can you re-write your text, so you don’t feel you have to SHOUT AT YOUR READER!

Funny how shouting makes people cover their ears, so they don’t hear your message.

Block Formatting

This isn’t the same as fully-justified, when the text fills the line from side to side. Block formatting is when there are no first line indents and space is inserted between paragraphs. It’s fine for business letters, not so much for books, whether ebook or print. The worst layout is when the blank lines are missing from the block layout; it’s so confusing. Block paragraphs force frequent page turns which is annoying on devices with smaller screens. Not to mention the wasted paper in a print book. Nobody wants a confused or annoyed reader!

The exceptions? Poetry can pretty much be laid out according to the author’s wishes. Books formatted to meet large print specifications have their own requirements.

Dangling Sentences

This happens when a paragraph mark or manual sentence break sneaks into the middle of a sentence and breaks it at an awkward spot. The end of the sentence is left dangling on a separate line. How do you find stray paragraph marks in Microsoft Word?

  1. Change the margins of your manuscript. On the Layout tab, in the Page Setup group, click on Margins. click on a different setting than your current selection.
  2. Show the hidden formatting symbols. On the Home tab, in the Paragraph group, click on the pilcrow (the funny-looking uppercase P).
  3. Scroll through your document to find and delete the stray pilcrows (¶) or manual sentence breaks (↵). Use “^l” the Find command for the manual sentence breaks.


Missing Altogether

Commas, quotation marks, periods have all gone AWOL at one time or another.

Interrupted Dialogue

Use commas and lower-case letters to frame the narrative that interrupts dialogue.

“Don’t tell me,” she clapped her hands over her ears, “what she did. I’m so tired of her foolishness!”

Where Have All the Commas Gone?

In beginning times one was restricted to Terrestia.

Huh? Is this a math quiz?

As she drove along the spotted dog ran into the road.

Huh? Where is she driving?

One tiny little mark can the the difference between confusion and clarity. How many times do you think a reader wants to re-read a sentence before she tosses the book?

Credits for Your Team

If you’ve used any work other than your own in your self-published book, you need either a license or permission to use it.

Cover art, illustrations, photographs, etc. purchased from stock photography sites often require a credit on the copyright page. Check the specific licensing agreement. NEVER copy and paste an image from anywhere on the internet without permission.

Fonts also have licenses. Check your source; personal use fonts are just that, personal, not commercial. Also, check if the license permits usage in a logo. Most fonts don’t; no matter what the logo-maker site says.

Cover artists, editors, and formatters don’t typically require a credit, but it’s good karma to acknowledge the freelancers you’ve hired.

Permissions and citations of other written works is a whole study unto themselves and depend on which style you’re using, e.g., Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), American Psychological Association (APA). There are style guides for technical writers, academics, lawyers and so on. There are guides for American, British, and Canadian English. Plus, you can create your own house style. The rule above all is consistency, e.g., choose one a stick with it.

Check Your Details

Is the bird singing in a nearby tree realistic in the story location and time of year? You don’t open a champagne bottle with a corkscrew, but you can use a sword. It’s called sabrage. Who knew? It takes way more than twenty minutes to create a pizza from scratch; that’s just the baking time in a household oven. You probably know someone, somewhere, who’d love to help you with their expertise. If not, take your favorite search engine for a spin. “Who knows, there’s no telling…”


For more in-depth information, check out the following links:

Wikipedia: Style Guides
Chicago Manual of Style
Grammar Book
Woven Red Author Services: DIY Editing

Beyond “The End”

Are you interested in self-publishing the manuscript where you’ve just typed “The End”? Want to know what to do next and next and next? Learn the six steps needed to prepare a manuscript for self-publication in “Between ‘The End’ and the Upload” presented by Joan Leacott right here on Savvy Authors, July 8th to 21st. Register NOW!



Instructor Joan Frantschuk, Principal of Woven Red Author Services and self-published as Joan Leacott has taught hundreds of newbie and experienced wr...