Stop using two spaces after the period. Just don’t do it. In print books it isn’t that big a deal except for the fact that odds are good you are going to miss a few, or add an extra, and then things look funny. In ebooks, it creates a much bigger problem. I remove them – always. The software does it for me, so it’s not a really big deal. But it’s an old habit from old technology and it’s time to stop.
Never, never use spaces to indent anything: paragraphs, sections that you want indented - anything. I have to remove all of them and it’s difficult and time consuming. I’ll cover paragraphs in the section on tabs, but if you want to indent a section (perhaps you are writing a paragraph in the form of a letter), use the indent key on Word’s toolbar (and if you don’t use Word, your word processor has one too). Just click the button once to tell me you want it indented; remember you are in 8.5" x 11"! Or, easier yet, just leave me special instructions in square brackets [ ] - more on that at the end of this post.
Never, never use tabs to indent paragraphs. Never use the tab key – period. I remove all of them. If you want a section indented, use the indent key. If you want your paragraphs indented on the first line, use the styles. Styles in Word are wonderful tools, designed to save you oodles of time. You’ll see the styles in the toolbar. Two are the most important to the prose author: Normal and Heading 1.
This part gets a little geeky, but it’s not that hard. When you start a new piece (don’t do this to an existing, long document), write your chapter heading. Make it look the way you want – center it (use the center button, not spaces or tabs!), bold it – whatever. Highlight the beautiful heading you just created and right-click the Heading 1 style and choose “Update Heading 1 to Match Selection” and now all your chapter titles, using Heading 1, will look like that. Next time you write a chapter title, highlight and click Heading 1 and it will change to that style.
|Update Style to Match Selection|
Same procedure with the Normal style: write a paragraph. Set it up the way you want it. Use the ruler to set your first line paragraph indent (drag the little upside-down triangle thingie to do that), set the line spacing to 2.0, maybe change the font and size to something you like better for writing.
|Upside-down Triangle Thingie to Set Paragraph Indent|
|Set Line Spacing|
Once you’re done, highlight the paragraph you just created and then right-click the Normal style and choose “Update Normal to Match Selection.” Done. Don’t worry about the first line of a chapter or section (it should not have an indent); that’s my job.
Never, never use the Enter key to advance to a new page. I have to remove all of those too. Use the Insert Page Break button. Or better yet, don’t do any page breaks at all. Because, I have to remove all of your page breaks anyway to format the headers and page numbers correctly! If I see your chapter heading, I’ll know to insert the appropriate break. However, having written myself, I know it’s nice to have chapters start on a new page. So, use the button!
|Insert Page Break|
Keep your titles short. What looks good in 8.5” x 11” might not work well in 5” x 8”. If you want a table of contents, long chapter titles mean either a wrapped table or a tiny font. And the top of the page can look unbalanced or goofy if the title is really long. Poets: keep in mind that your lines will wrap if they are long – you have about 6.5” to work with at 8.5” x 11” with a 1” margin left and right; you only have 4” if your book is 5” x 8”!
Avoid ellipses or dashes at the end of a sentence. Inevitably, they wrap and end up on a line all by themselves. It’s like a law of nature or something.
Lastly, if you have special instructions for your formatter, put them in square brackets [ ]. You can tell me to indent this section rather than do it yourself. Or even [format this like an email] and I’ll do my best to get it to look right – that way you can focus on the content, not the look.
I hope these suggestions help you focus on what you do best: creating the content.