Formatting sidebars in proposals

Good day

I am working on a self-help book. It is my plan to insert boxes or sidebars with factoids, excerpts from research, checklists and the like. Can you please advise:

What is the appropriate way to show sidebars or other boxed information? Should I simply write sidebar and list the text below, or should I format the document as I envisage it would look if published and place my sidebars and other boxed information below or beside according to my intention?

Is it acceptable to place some passages in italics if that is how I visualise these passages being published (for example I might include anecdotes from other people with the heading “Killer Yap’s story” and the anecdote in italics) or would this annoy the *(&*^% out of the agent/publisher?

You're writing a non fiction proposal so chances are all the querying and submissions are going to be done electronically. This means you strip out every single bit of formatting you can. I can't tell you the complete and utter pain in the probiscus it is to have someone send me a word .doc with graphs and bars in it.

I have no idea why but it inevitably screws up spell check, pagination and everything else.

PDFs work well but they have other issues (like they are attachments and hardly anyone takes attachments in slush piles I'm told).

Make it look good when it's plain, and you'll never worry that someone said no cause they literally couldn't get column A into page B.


Anonymous said...

In submitting to magazines, when you have sidebar material, the publishers I've dealt with have you submit that on a separate page. In your cover letter, you reference that you've enclosed a 750 word article and a 200 word sidebar.

Don't know if it's the same with books.

If that helps.

Dave Fragments said...

I had the assignment for 16 months to collect the text for technical (scirntific) factsheets, check it for clarity, jargon and generally good English and then pass it on to a Graphics Shop to format in InDesign, Pagemaker or Quark. There were at least two sidebars, all sorts of addresses, phone #'s, contract numbers, pictures, and very well defined headers and footers.

Believe Miss Snark and me when two people say - do not format your text and send it to anyone. When people did that to me, I immediately asked for a plain text file and ignored the rest. I gleefully ignored the formatted version.

Sorry to be blunt, but you are not trained to do typesetting and layout with InDesign, Pagemaker or Quark or any of the packages on a linotype. SO your pathetic WORD file will always look like garbage no matter what you do.

Don't waste your time. Leave it to an illustrator. XIQAY has the right idea-- title one block of text BODY and the other SIDEBAR.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

In all the book manuscripts I edit that have sidebars, boxes, and other special display material, the authors have typed


at the start of a sidebar and


at the end of the sidebar. They do something similar for boxes. This makes it much easier for whoever will tag (code) the ms. for the typesetter. These authors also add callouts for the sidebars, boxes, etc. parenthetically, like this:

(Place sidebar 14 about here.)

Anonymous said...

Similarly, I've seen some pre-press material lately which had a series of short case studies at the very end of the document, with a short reference to each one at an appropriate place in the text. In the published version they'll sit as shaded boxes alongside some of the text.

Anonymous said...

"Why does one need a self-help book? If you need a book to help yourself, that's not self-help. That's help. If you could do it yourself you wouldn't need any help."

-George Carlin

Anonymous said...

I have one textbook in print and, apart from "camera ready artwork", I simply sent in plain text. Having some training as a technical draughtsman helped here.

The editor at Hodder thanked me for making her job easier.

Yasmine Galenorn said...

When I was writing nonfiction, I would, right after the passage that related to the sidebar in question, type a header: Sidebar, then the info in the sidebar, then the header for the next section. That's how my then-publisher preferred us to do it. (And the submissions were hard copy, not email...but that's been a few years so...)

Anonymous said...

Test designer weighing in here...

Katherine has it exactly right. Tell us when the text for a sidebar begins and ends, or give us insertions clearly marked, and we will make it all pretty on the page.

If you want a particular section to be all italics, you can make it all italics. The text designer probably won't agree (long sections of italics are hard to read), but we will at least know that you want that text to look different and will design it different (I tend to set sidebars or case studies in a contrasting font, frex a sans-serif when the rest of the text is serifed).

Peter L. Winkler said...

Dear Miss Snark:

You write, "You're writing a non fiction proposal so chances are all the querying and submissions are going to be done electronically."

I'm surprised you say that, since you don't accept queries by email and have recommended aginst it in previous posts, as when you noted how a colleague spends all of 3 seconds glancing at emails before deleting them.

Anonymous said...

Very helpful thank you everyone.

Katharine: typing begin / end sidebar makes a lot of sense

Anonymous said...

Adding more "amens"--I used to be an editor at a non-fiction house for how-to books, which were crammed with lists, sidebars, charts, tables, graphics, photos, offset text, you name it. Authors sent proposals (via agents) in plain text with "begin list" or whatever as others have indicated. We were much more interested in the content of the book than whether the author could format a table.

When your work is accepted for publication, the house will tell you how to format the ms, and in fact likely will send you a coded style sheet to use as you work.

Note: ALL our submissions came electronically--this was five years ago even. We never saw anything on paper until we were into page proofs.

Dan Lewis said...

I worked at a textbook compositor for a few years. We took edited manuscripts from the publisher and typeset them all the way to the printer. We mostly did college textbooks for Pearson (Longman, etc.) in Quark. So all the following advice carries caveats. If you want to be helpful as you write your book, ask your publisher for advice in formatting your MS. Keep in mind that the publisher will pay the compositor to set your MS. That is not your job.

Some well-designed math books had footnotes, sidebars for key terms, and eight different kinds of boxes. It was much easier to format these books properly when every item's type (footnote, sidebar, figure, table, box 8), beginning, and ending were clearly labeled. Where applicable, accurate numbering of items in sequence (notes, numbered boxes) was also extremely helpful.

What was not helpful was an author attempting to guess the layout of their book and adding a lot of formatting in MS Word to make it look accurate. A big reason is that your MS probably will not be laid out like the finished product. The layout of items on the page happens relatively late in the process and is heavily design-dependent. Another big reason is that adding lots of formatting can make the production process very time consuming as we extract the content from the formatting.

Here are some things you would have avoided for our house: Word's footnotes; Word's floating boxes containing text or art; Word's magic bulleting and numbering. In all cases, taking these things out of the magic boxes and putting them in the main flow of the text as text (well-labeled) would help us.

Our designs were usually compromises between the design staff at the publisher and our technical staff accounting for extra content. With few exceptions, the designs bore no relation to the appearance of the MS. Whether passages appear in italics, for instance, is a design decision that you don't need to anticipate. What you can reasonably expect is that the design will faithfully display the letter and spirit of your content.