Formatting Guidelines for Writers
Essential Writing Guides
Anyone can write a novel, but how would a person know the proper format for publishing? For example, what goes into the front matter? Or for that matter, what is the front matter?
In the past, when reading a new book, I tended to skip over the Title Page, the Copyright notations, Preface, Acknowledgments, Table of Contents, Dedication and Introduction and jumped right into reading the text. That worked until I tried to publish a novel of my own. Then I had questions.
Many of those questions were answered in The Chicago Manual of Style, now in its Seventeenth Edition, published by The University of Chicago Press in 2018. Their First Edition was published in 1906. "For more than one hundred years, The Chicago Manual of Style has remained the definitive guide for anyone who works with words."
What are the Parts of a Book?
For those trying to write a novel, some amount of time may have passed since that accelerated English class or literature course in high school or college. Trying to capture slices of life's experiences and preserve them in fictional text or in a non-fiction book may lead to questions about the proper format.
This may seem an easy task with all the word processing software and grammar guides available at the touch of a button, but you might be surprised at how often these guides may lead us astray. Take the following example from a popular word processing software.
Beyond the basics of capitalization, punctuation, spelling and grammar, once you've finally put down the pen (or keyboard) and started to format your long-awaited novel, where do you turn for advice on the set up for your book?
There are a number of helpful texts that can make the job easier and ensure that your reader will turn the pages beyond the front matter. Let's review what The Chicago Manual of Style suggests.
The Chicago Manual of Style
The Parts of a Book
According to The Chicago Manual, "publishers refer to the sheets of paper that you turn in a printed-and-bound book as leaves, and a page is one side of a leaf." In Chapter One, The Parts of a Book, they define the difference between a right facing page and a left facing page as "recto" for the right side of an open book and "verso" for the left side. There are specific rules that follow as to where the printing goes in the front matter, which are the pages that come before the first chapter begins.
"The front of the leaf, the side that lies to the right in an open book is called the recto."— The University of Chicago Press, from The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition
Sir or Madam will you read my book?
You can open any printed book in your house and find a variety of styles used over the years. For the most part, the format is consistent. The first chapter of a book usually begins on the right (recto) page with a blank verso page to its left. Chapter one traditionally begins with an odd numbered page, such as 1, or in the case where a long prologue is numbered, on the next recto page that follows, an odd numbered page.
Stephen King's Chapter 1 begins on the recto side with page 17 after three Forewords. In the third Foreword, he states, "The editor is always right." And then he adds, "The corollary is that no writer will take all of his or her editor's advice; for all have sinned and fallen short of editorial perfection." After all, it is your book and you do have choices.
For example, consider the modern writer, Michael Crichton, author of Micro, whose format follows The Chicago Manual for the most part. In this, one of his many hard cover books, a map of the island of Oahu appears on both the recto and verso sides of the inner cover, followed by a blank page on the verso side (the left side) and a half title on the right side or recto side.
Next is another blank (verso) page on the left, and a list of other novels by the author on the right side. The next page includes a nearly blank page on the left (verso) with only the Harper Collins Publishers logo, then, the full title page on the right (recto) with both authors' names.
On the reverse side of the full title page is the copyright information where the wording appears: "This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues are products of the author's imagination. . ." on the verso side before a dedication page on the right.
The back of the dedication page is blank on the left side of the open book with a poignant quote on the recto or right hand side of the open book.
Again, the verso, or left side of the following page is left blank with the Introduction starting on the recto (right) side of the open book.
Altogether, I counted eight (8) blank verso pages leading up to Chapter One text which began on the right hand side of the open book with no page number noted. The second page of chapter one began the page numbering sequence which was left blank on the first page of each chapter, although counted in the total.
There is a note in the back matter about the author having sold over 200 million books, which have been translated into thirty-six languages with thirteen of them made into films.
The Silver Chalice, Thomas B. Costain, 1952
From a different author of an earlier generation, the book, The Silver Chalice, starts with an inner cover map on verso and recto sides as well.
The left (verso) side of the first leaf is blank with a half-title on the recto side with no author's name below.
Next, there is a color drawing of a chalice on the recto side with the full title and author and publisher's name and date of publication following another blank left side page.
Next on the left is the copyright information and on the right page, another half title.
Again, there's a blank verso page, followed by the Prologue with the text starting halfway down on the recto side. Page numbering starts on page two and continues for twenty-six pages until a blank verso page ends the Prologue.
On the right facing page there is a half title that says, "Book One" with the back side of the leaf blank (verso).
Chapter one, indicated by a Roman numeral, begins on the recto side halfway down the page with page numbering continuing on the verso side with page number 30.
Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, How to Publish a Book, by Kawasaki and Welch, 2013
The reference book, APE, Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur also addresses the formatting techniques for modern authors. Their front matter is concise beginning with a full title page on the recto side of the first page after the cover.
On the verso side is their copyright information, Published in the United States by Nononina Press along with the ISBN number, the version and a note, Printed by CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC.
The following right side page lists other books by Guy Kawasaki. The back of that page is blank on the left side, followed by another half title page and a note about following the author on social networks.
In this book, the table of contents ends on a right facing page with the back (verso) of that page left blank.
Next comes the [Preface] on the recto side (right) with a quote by Benjamin Disraeli who states, "The best way to become acquainted with a subject is to write a book about it." There are seven (7) blank verso pages before chapter one begins.
Guy Kawasaki emphasizes the importance of the way the finished book looks saying in Chapter 9, "Appearance is everything." He recommends referring to The Chicago Manual of Style to ensure that the front matter of the self-published book is correct.
Perhaps the best key in self-publishing is to pick a method that you as an author feel most comfortable with starting with an established template that has served to sell millions of books.
As we see from countless examples in the grammar software, mistakes happen and no rule remains absolute. There are certain guidelines that help govern the formatting of publications that seem to gain the most acceptance among readers. And that, after all, is why we write; to reach the reader.
Other Useful Guides on Writing
Other guidelines and examples on the content of a book are found in the excellent writings of author, Stephen King, in his book, On Writing.
The reference book by Janet Burroway, called Writing Fiction shares examples of exercises designed to develop writing style.
In The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, copyright 1935, updated in 2000, the authors share key advice about writing, namely, "Omit Needless Words."
This leads to the purpose of this article which was for my own education more than for any other reason. I took the advice of my editor and opened a dozen books in my home and studied their format. This was a valuable exercise in discovering a pleasing book setup style for my second novel. That is a key factor. The author must be pleased with the finished product and so must the reader. It's a delicate balance.
The Elements of Style, Strunk and White
Important Tips from Stephen King in 1 Minute
© 2018 Peg Cole