Give that Publisher What They Want Dernit! #4: Formating #2 (Advanced)

I am uber stoker to be able to dig into the wild and crazy brain of someone who is out there doing this crazy publishing stuff professionally. When you read this, you’re gonna want to slap yourself silly, because this is hearing it right from someone who does this for a living. For the next few weeks, we will be delving into the slush pile with professional editor and author Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Here we go…

The Writer’s Toolbox: Give ’Em What They Want! Why Formatting Is Important By Danielle Ackley-McPhail

(Originally published in Allegory Magazine ©2011)


So far, we’ve discussed that nothing will help your manuscript if the editor in question is not even willing to read it.

We’ve discussed remembering your contact information, and some basics… How to identify yourself, and your manuscript.

Last week we discussed basic formatting.  Now we’ll go into some special stuff.

Formatting #2

Special characters/formatting – originally when manuscripts were all submitted in hardcopy it was not possible to implement certain formatting or characters in print. Because of this certain conventions were developed to represent the formatting desired. As technology progressed, this changed, thanks to the advent of electronic typewriters and word processors, which had features for special formatting. This formatting issue was rendered all together moot once computers were on the scene. However, even once we had the ability to represent format true to form, manuscripts still had to be physically typeset to create the plates used on a printing press as recently as the mid to late 20th century, and publishers held to the traditional conventions because formatting was often easy to miss, causing errors in the typeset manuscript. Even now that most books are digitally typeset some publishers still require these methods of marking the format be observed. Here they are, for your writerly edification:

Bold – represented by asterisks bracketing the text to be set in bold.

Italic – represented by underlining text to be set in italics.

Underline – I am afraid I could not find a reference to how this was represented originally (before the age of computers) particularly given that underlining was used to indicate italics. I can only presume that is because it was and/or is exceedingly rare for underlined text to appear in books. (That, or I’m just not hitting the right search phrase that would give me the information I’m looking for.)

Next week we’ll discuss my personal nemesises… ellipsis and emdash.

Be there or be square, or, ummm… rejected?

Award-winning author Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for over seventeen years. Currently, she is a project editor and promotions manager for Dark Quest Books.

Her published works include four urban fantasy novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, and The Halfling’s Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale. She is also the author of a single-author collection of science fiction stories called A Legacy of Stars, the non-fiction writers guide, The Literary Handyman and is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Dragon’s Lure, and In An Iron Cage. Her work is included in numerous other anthologies and collections, including Rum and Runestones, Dark Furies, Breach the Hull, So It Begins, By Other Means, No Man’s Land, Space Pirates, Space Horrors, Barbarians at the Jumpgate, and Mermaid 13.

She is a member of the New Jersey Authors Network and Broad Universe, a writer’s organization focusing on promoting the works of women authors in the speculative genres.

Danielle lives somewhere in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail, mother-in-law Teresa, and three extremely spoiled cats. She can be found on LiveJournal (damcphail, badassfaeries, darkquestbooks, lit_handyman), Facebook (Danielle Ackley-McPhail), and Twitter (DAckley-McPhail). To learn more about her work, visit,, or

Website and/or blog,,



Amazon author page


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9 responses to “Give that Publisher What They Want Dernit! #4: Formating #2 (Advanced)

  1. Pingback: Write a Story with Me # 34 – Where is my family? by Siv Maria Ottem | Jennifer M Eaton

  2. Pingback: Write a Story with Me # 33 – What? OH NO! She didn’t! by Danielle Ackley McPhail | Jennifer M Eaton

  3. Oh, sorry, I meant that last comment of mine to be in response to kford2007’s comment. 😮

  4. Way back when, to indicated bold text, one would bracket the *bolded text*. And if you wanted to indicate that it should be italized, you bracketed the text with one underline, like _this_.

    Though I’m not a long-time writer, I do use these conventions. It helps for find/replace functions when formatting for Smashwords or Amazon.

  5. Publishers who still use this old stuff need to retire.

  6. I would love to have your insight on computer-inserted codes, such as the notorious “curly quotes,” when you get to advanced electronic submission formats.

  7. NancyS.Goodman

    Reblogged this on Rakes Rogues and Romance and commented:
    Some Excellent Writing Tips to Share)

  8. So, when getting ready to send our manuscripts out, we’re supposed to change all of our ‘bold’ text to living within * * and italics need to be underlined? This is very confusing. I don’t understand, especially about the italics. Why underline if we want italics? I’ve read this advice before and it stumped me.

    • First and foremost check the formatting guidelines that you’ll find on the publishers webiste. There’s a lot of common ground but sometimes you come across someone who’ll want things done a little differently. Do what they ask.

      It’s been my experience that when an editor wants to see the whole MS they want to read the story (assuming its well written, no typo’s, that sort of thing) not a whole bunch of distracting formatting.

      If by chance you get a contract then you’ll work with the house editor to bring your MS completely up to their specs.