Author Book Publishing Guidelines; Need to Know

As an author, probably one of the last things you want to even think about are publishing guidelines. Am I right? As a published writer and textual content editor I know only too well just how overwhelming the publishing requirements can be, especially when your highest priority is the quality of your book manuscript content.

I have used the logo to accompany this article not out of any bias, rather, to share many of the content and formatting ‘guidelines’ that Amazon stipulates in their overall terms of use which are common to most publishers. Again, remember that publisher guidelines do vary to a degree, thus the critical advance review necessary by all authors. Always keep in mind that even with the same publisher platform used repeatedly, over time the publishers make changes to their guidelines and publishing software so you need to be acutely aware of current guidelines in advance of writing and publishing a new book.

Disregard the foregoing at your own peril, frustration and stressful experience finding out that, after writing your book or novel, you now have to backtrack to make time-consuming and costly changes to modify those issues that arise during the submission process where content formatting conflicts with publisher requirements. Having a clear, advance understanding of all content and formatting guidelines will save you, the author, a lot of time, anxiety and expense to resolve issues that become evident during the submission and online preview stages and thereby also mitigating extra cost to hire someone to fix the problems.

Even if you have a regular proofreader/editor, hand over a manuscript that is as clean and guideline compliant as possible to minimize the cost for that editor to resolve conflicting issues, especially those on the formatting side which can translate into hours of work undoing evident format problems.

Be aware that publishing houses will most often reject your manuscript because of  conflicting content and formatting issues and request that you have all issues resolved and then resubmit your manuscript for their further scrutiny before allowing it to be published live to the retail level. The publisher is indeed a stake holder who wants to ensure that quality products are published under their name and were they to ignore content quality issues, they too would be losing revenue on lost current and future sales potential.

Let’s get down to some basics that every author must consider and make decisions on in advance of manuscript submission. My comments are based on my own knowledge and experience and not those of Amazon or any other publisher/distributor. As Amazon is the largest book publication distributor globally today with a half-dozen publishing platforms and counting, I will base most of my observations on their content and formatting guidelines which really should be the compass for any author planning to publish today. The majority of my client publishing services have involved Amazon and each client’s chosen publishing platform. See Amazon Content Guidelines and Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines for more information.

Priority 1; Select Your Publisher

Before you put ‘pen to paper’, even before deciding on a title and mapping out your storyline and key elements of your characters, settings, geographical locations, genre and more, chose your publishing platform first! Why start with the publishing platform decision? Read on.

There are a multitude of book publishing platforms to choose from today. Whether you are going the traditional publishing route or the increasingly popular indie/self-publishing approach for your publishing needs, the very first thing authors need to understand is that there are differences in content and formatting guidelines among those many publishers. Do not make the mistake of writing an entire manuscript only to find out during publisher/distributor selection after the fact that how your manuscript has been formatted (or its content) is in direct conflict with your eventual chosen publisher guidelines.

Once you login with your chosen publisher/distributor, go straight to their linked Content and Formatting Guidelines section(s) and review all aspects of those guidelines carefully. If you are confused by certain terms of the guidelines follow-up with a query to the Support/Help division, site Discussion Forum and site search utility to find the answers you need. If you can’t find the answers to your questions, searching through the major search engines will also produce a volume of results to review. Be fully informed about the content and formatting process before diving headlong into the creative writing process.

Content Guidelines Basics

Each publisher has their own parameters when it comes to what they deem appropriate content and what content is to be excluded from publication submissions. ‘Guidelines’ should be read as ‘Rules and Regulations’ or must-follow essentials to ensure that your manuscript does not face rejection.

Content sure to be prohibited by the publisher typically includes pornography, offensive content, illegal content/materials, stolen content (the works of another), privacy infringement, recopied/reproduced distribution that is prohibited by legal copyright or otherwise contravenes Intellectual Property Rights, content that is solely for the purpose of promotional copy, unauthorized use of textual or visual/image content and more.

Formatting Guidelines

Formatting is, for most authors, the more complex and confusing among publishing guidelines information. I always recommend that my clients have a solid understanding of required formatting basics and that they start fresh in the writing process by pre-formatting their MS Word document that is fully compliant with the chosen publisher’s guidelines and be sure to not introduce formatting that is in direct conflict with the guidelines.

Keyboard Formatting Basics:

As a professional editor, my best and first recommendation to any author is to fully understand how various keyboard tabs and the formatting tools found at the top of your open MS Word document will each have an impact on the visual presentation of your manuscript content when published. Be aware that upon submission, your manuscript is mechanically scanned by the publisher’s submission conversion software and any evident (conflicting) content/formatting issues will be identified and flagged for your attention before proceeding any further with the submission process. You cannot avoid/bypass the conversion analysis process.

Here are some of the more prominent formatting keyboard/Word document elements to be aware of (do NOT make assumptions; follow the guidelines):

  • Add media (photos/videos, graphics)
  • Headline and body text styles (normal, headline (H1, H2, H3, H4 etc.), title, subtitle, emphasis, quote and more
  • Font Face; Times New Roman, Cambria, Arial etc. Be aware which the publisher accepts
  • Font Size; 12 pt., 14 pt., 165 pt., etc. Be aware of which the publisher accepts
  • Font color (standard for manuscript body text is ‘automatic black’
  • ‘Forced’ Font Characteristics i.e. Bold, Italics etc.
  • Paragraph text alignment to margins and line spacing/paragraph spacing settings
  • First line indents
  • Pagination settings
  • Proper creation of ‘page breaks’
  • Correct image insertion, photo pixels/resolution/size and location i.e. separate from body text content
  • Hyperlinks
  • Header, footer and page numbering formats
  • Page layout; margins, page orientation, page trim size
  • References; formatted Table of Contents for book navigation, Footnotes/Endnote formatting, citations, captions,
  • Review: Spelling/Grammar Check & Readability Scoring, word/character counts, change tracking, side-by-side page change comparison and more.
  • View: A multiple of ways to view pages on the screen from single to two page, page zoom for reading ease/magnification.
  • special characters
  • capitalization, multi-selection
  • Enter/hard return
  • Quotation/single quote/punctuation
  • Proofread

The foregoing are the more commonly used functions to be fully familiar with. There are also keyboard keys that are never to be used as they introduce conflicting formatting to the document/manuscript which plays absolute havoc with the visual presentation/orientation of textual content when uploaded through the publisher conversion software i.e. use of the tab key to advance down the page and/or onto the next page, repeated hard enters or spacebar tapping to advance or create paragraph spacing.

Be aware that in some instances, even though each publisher platform stipulates acceptable font face and size etc. their conversion software will make automatic changes to content to coincide with the selected distribution networks for your publication. Be absolutely sure to follow their guidelines regarding accepted font face type and font size among other guidelines to ensure that conflict is not overtly created between your content and the conversion software.


Always keep in mind that the publisher establishes guidelines to ensure that content quality, including visual presentation, is the best it can be for the majority of readers, the purchasing consumer. Readers have their own reading preferences and by following the guidelines you afford the reader the best personal reading experience based on their individual preferences. In doing so the reader can set their own reading preferences accordingly. Attempting to give published content pizzazz or flare is not accepted in the publishing world anymore for that reason.

The foregoing is, of course, only scratching the surface but it gives you a starting point from which to become aware and publisher compliant and as such get you started in the right direction when you sit down to begin the creative writing process for your next book or novel publication. The better the overall experience for the purchasing reader, the greater the likelihood that they will want to read your subsequent publications as well! Of course, how well the content is written is the key!

Refer back to the Key Word Blog often for more tips and insights for best publishing/content development practices. Subscribe to this blog at the top of the page so that you never miss new posts as soon as they are published!

As always, if you found this information useful please SHARE the post with your own followers, friends and associates! Your comments are most welcome and appreciated!

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