Give that Publisher What They Want Dernit! Part Five – Formatting #3 The dreaded emdash and ellipse

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 #3 The dreaded emdash and ellipse (and some stuff on quotations)

Emdash – represented as two hyphens. In this time of computers, most programs automatically convert the double hyphen to an emdash. Depending on the publisher’s preferred style, they will have a space before and after the emdash “—” or “ — ” in the finished book.

Ellipsis – depending on the publisher’s preferred style these can be represented in multiple ways:

  • Three periods in a row with no spaces before, after, or in between. “…”
  • Three periods in a row with a space before and after. “ … ”
  • Three periods with one character space between each period and a space before and after. “ . . . ”

Quotation marks and Apostrophes – many word processing programs have a feature for smart quotes or straight quotes. (For those who don’t know what I mean by smart quotes, those are the curly ones.) I have never encountered a publisher that has expressed a preference either way, but I can tell you that as an editor who is also a typesetter one of my biggest pet peeves is straight quotes. And let me tell you why… Even though it is possible for me to do a simple “Find and Replace” to convert straight quotes into smart quotes, it causes several formatting problems for me. First off, quotation marks sometimes end up facing the wrong direction when they follow punctuation that is not a period, requiring that I go in and manually turn them around. Second, in the case of apostrophes—as opposed to single quotes—when those occur at the beginning of a word, as in the case of dialect ( ’em, ’twere, ’twas, etc), the program does not recognized the convention and flips it around as if it was intended as a single quote, again requiring the typesetter to go through the entire manuscript manually correcting. These aren’t so difficult to correct, but they are definitely easy to miss, thus making them a headache of the highest order when they introduce errors into an already edited manuscript.

Next week we’ll sum all this advice up.

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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10 responses to “Give that Publisher What They Want Dernit! Part Five – Formatting #3 The dreaded emdash and ellipse

  1. Such minute details, I had no idea about. I’m more stressed than I was ten minutes ago. However, I’m glad this information is being shared. Thank you.

  2. Following up on what brni said above, you can avoid problems with incorrect character conversion by not using a word processor’s autoformatting. For example, instead of having the program convert two dashes to an em dash, you use numeric formatting instead. The “universal” numeric format for an em dash is to hold down the key while typing 0151. You can also use the “character map” that comes with most PCs. I’m guessing Mac has its way to do this, too, but I’m not familiar with it. 😉

    • And however WP edited my comment led to it omitting “alt” — hold down the alt key!

      • ROFLMAO! Dern WP!

        Thanks for posting. That is certainly an option for those that are familiar with that process. Sadly, a lot of authors out there have more of a user-friendly (or unfriendly!) relationship with computers, rather than a tech-savvy one.

        In either case, thank you so much for sharing!



  3. Heh. Funny, I prefer straight quotes. Smart quotes (and any “special characters” like em-dashes, ellipses, etc. that are created by autoformatting in a word processor) are encoded in different ways by different software, so when cutting and pasting blocks of text, you often end up with characters that don’t decode properly in the new format.

    • Hey, brni,

      From a typesetter’s point of view, smart quotes and other Word formatting is not a problem because text is imported, not copied and pasted so all the formatting is intact.

      When there are straight quotes I need to convert them to smart quotes because they do not look professional in print. When I convert them I run into the problems aforementioned in the article.

      However, I completely get what you are saying in regards to text that I want to copy and past into say a web design program or a blog post. But then, that is a completely different context.

      Thanks for reading and posting!



  4. Good information. Certainly things I’ve not thought about. Sigh. So much to know. 🙂

    • Thanks for reading, Carrie. Don’t worry about it. No matter what you learn, at some point you’re always going to encounter someone who does it different. The important thing is to familiarize yourself with the preferences of whatever venue you are submitting to. Some of them couldn’t care less how you do certain things (such as, perhaps, straight versus smart quotes) but not observing other things they prefer can get you an automatic rejection.

      It’s a fickle business…

      Good luck and don’t stress too much.



      • I’ve been pulling my hair out lately stressing over manuscript requirements. It’s scary when you submit to multiple publishers… making sure you change the margins and indents to the CORRECT specs for each one. ERGHHH! But ya gotta do what you gotta do.