5 Formatting Mistakes to Avoid in Your Manuscript

Do you want your self published book’s layout to look as polished as possible, to give it an even greater chance of success? If you do, this blog will help! Here are 5 formatting mistakes to avoid in your manuscript, and why high quality formatting matters to readers.

5 Formatting Mistakes to Avoid in Your Manuscript

1) Widows and orphans

Widows and orphans are sentences (or parts of sentences) left ‘dangling’ alone at the top and/or bottom of pages. They look really messy and break the flow of the text. This is a major no-no! A book’s purpose is to keep the reader reading without interruption, so be mindful of anything that could jeopardise that absorption.

Widows and orphans can be fixed by:

  • Editing text
  • Adjusting font size
  • Adjusting line spacing
  • Adding page breaks
  • Creating breaks within paragraphs to add extra space

However, these solutions can have knock-on effects for later pages as the text readjusts itself around the changes. Therefore, every page needs checking methodically!

2) Overly dense text

Overly dense text reduces the amount of white space on a page.

Imagine trying to read a novel without indented paragraphs, or line breaks, or clear differentiation between headings or even chapters themselves. It would probably feel quite headache-inducing. Imagine trying to read a nonfiction book that didn’t have subheadings or bullet points or bite-sized, easily readable sections. It would probably be much more difficult to navigate, let alone absorb, the content.

White space is essential in a manuscript to make the text as easy to read as possible.

3) Too narrow margins

As with overly dense text, margins that are too narrow also reduce the white space around the text in a print book. A reader should never be forced to bend a paperback’s spine back on itself just to see text that’s been stretched into the inside margin (also known as the gutter)!

Recommended margin sizes often depend on the size of the book itself, and sometimes the number of pages too. Always check the margin measurement specifications for your chosen platform(s). Amazon KDP’s paperback margin size guidelines can be found here.

5 Formatting Mistakes to Avoid in Your Manuscript

4) Spelling and/or punctuation errors

Although this is obvious, it’s always worth mentioning again. My blog post How to Self Edit Your Novel – Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar is a good starting point for checking spelling, punctuation and grammar before sending your manuscript to a professional editor and proofreader.

A book can be formatted much more efficiently once it has been proofread (although it’s not always done this way in traditional publishing). This results in fewer remaining errors and changes at the formatting stage, which saves both the author and the formatter a lot of time.

5) Bold/italic/number inconsistencies

Consistency is crucial throughout a manuscript. Particularly the use of bold and/or italic fonts and number formatting.

Bold and/or italics might be used for headings and/or subheadings but they need to be consistently formatted throughout the whole book, not chop and change by section or chapter. Numbers might be used for lists but there are still quite a few variations to choose from, for example: one or 1 or 1. or 1).

A self publishing author can always choose their own preferences when it comes to all formatting decisions, but (again!) they must be consistent throughout the whole book. The little details are important.

Why does formatting matter?

Formatting matters because layout and content errors and inconsistencies will annoy and/or distract and/or confuse your readers. Moreover, they will make your book look unpolished and unprofessional. An unpolished and unprofessional book risks:

  • Negative reviews
  • Negative word of mouth
  • A disinterested/disloyal readership

However, a professionally edited, proofread and formatted book (with a genre-appropriate professional looking cover) is much more likely to receive:

  • Positive reviews
  • Positive word of mouth
  • An interested/loyal readership
  • Professional respect
  • And hopefully more sales because of all of these!

A book’s formatting should never overpower its content. Readers should glide seamlessly through the book without any distractions whatsoever, if the formatting has been done well.

If you’ve found ‘5 Formatting Mistakes to Avoid in Your Manuscript’ helpful, click on these related posts for more information about book formatting:

Penning and Planning – The Formatting Process

5 Ways to Prepare a Manuscript for Formatting

What Are the Pros and Cons of Vellum Formatting

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