Time to Get Rid of Finicky Formatting Rules

Guest Post by Ron Fritsch

With the rise of eBooks and independent publishing, I believe it’s time to get rid of the finicky book-formatting rules that exist only because they represent the traditional way things have been done in the book world.

Consider this June 10, 2013, post by Joel Friedlander at The Book Designer entitled “Top 5 Book Design Layout Errors Illustrated.” If a book includes any of these “errors,” Friedlander tells us, you can be certain it’s been “designed by an amateur.”

Ah, yes, that dreaded word: “amateur.” For an indie author such as myself, who some would say is an “amateur” by definition—a writer whose works the traditional publishing world hasn’t vetted—it’s difficult to understand why the book design can’t be just as “amateur” as the writing. I’m not trying to fool the world into thinking “New York” has published my novels. I’ve proudly published them myself.

So let’s consider those “top 5” errors we amateurs make in designing our books.

The first is “no hyphenation.” Friedlander argues violating this rule while using the required full justification (see his fifth error) results in “huge spaces between words.” The example he provides, though, doesn’t have “huge spaces between words.” I’d much rather see the spaces he points to than ugly hyphens at the end of every other line. I’ll continue to violate this silly “rule,” thank you.

The second error is “rampant running heads.” Oh, mercy me—a header on the opening page of a chapter. The world trembles beneath my feet. This is closely related to the third error, “unblank blank pages.” This time the header is on the blank even-numbered page at the end of a chapter. What will those amateurs do next? I must say I dislike running to the head a great deal more than I do any “running head.”

The fourth error is “mangled margins,” which appear to be margins too close to the edge of the page. If the reader can still read the text, what difference does it make, other than saving a tree or two?

The fifth error is “rag right composition.” I’d call this “left justification,” which this post uses. I’ve chosen to use full justification for my books. But if somebody else has a great story to tell, writes it beautifully, and wants to use “rag right,” why should I care? (At least that writer doesn’t have to obsess about hyphens.)

I have in mind two other formatting rules I’d junk along with Friedlander’s five. The first is the rule requiring a dropped-cap letter on the first word of a chapter. I’ve never understood the point of this bizarre rule and refuse to follow it.

Violating the next rule resulted in a low score for a book I entered in a contest. According to the judge’s comments, the story and the writing were quite all right. When I went to publish the novel on CreateSpace, though, my Word program wasn’t cooperating with my desire to have my name as the header on the even-numbered pages, and the title of the book on the uneven-numbered pages. So I used the title for the header on all the pages and published—and took my punishment for doing so. Can anybody imagine a reader in the middle of a paperback novel wondering who wrote it and complaining because they had to look at the cover or the first page to find out?

The reason for rules governing formatting should be the same as it is for editing rules: to make it as easy as possible for a reader to consume and enjoy what the writer has to say. Everything else is beside the point.

Ron Fritsch is the author of an epic four-book series of novels set in prehistory. His books can be previewed at www.promisedvalley.com or his Amazon author page.



Posted on July 3, 2013, in Blogging Authors, Writing & Publishing. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. if books are well marketed and distribued it can make writers to do more says http://unn.edu.ng/department/library-and-information-science

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