Grammar and formatting: A Guide to preparing your submission.

After we have accepted your book for publication, you will have to prepare the MS for us to edit. This is a guide to basic grammar, punctuation and formatting.

Please read the following guidelines and ensure that your MS is in accordance with them before submitting it.

WE DO NOT ACCEPT paper MSS. All MSS must be prepared in digital format and saved in Microsoft Word Document format (.doc) or Rich Text Format (.rtf.) You do not need to use Microsoft Word or any other particular software, you can use one of the excellent free software packages such as Open Office or Scribus, which are available for free on the Web, as long as you save in one of the above formats.

We prefer submission to be as an email attachment.

The purpose of the edit that we carry out is twofold. The first and most important is to sharpen and focus the story and the language used.

The second is to prepare the MS for typesetting. Unfortunately if the MS is not properly prepared during word-processing, the latter task, which should be relatively quick and simple, can become excessive. While we recognise that everybody makes mistakes, we therefore require that MSS submitted for editing follow certain rules, in order that we are not forced to carry out unnecessary work correcting routine faults in basic English.

When preparing MSS for PlashMill Press, please observe the following simple rules. These are the house rules and we do not allow deviation. If we find that a MS has been submitted for editing with any of these errors we will return it to be corrected by you before proceeding. This may adversely impact on the publication schedule for your book, or incur increased costs, if your book is being published under the author assistance scheme.


Word and similar programmes are not used as typesetting programmes, but only as word processors. These programmes are useless for professional typesetting and unfortunately they introduce tagging and formatting that is incompatible with typesetting programmes. It is usually better to avoid inserting formatting in word processors, as NONE of the word processor formatting is used in typesetting. However, you should:

Use a proper structure of Heading (H1, H2 etc) tags. Set your chapter heads as H1, subchapters as H2 and so on.

Where italic or bold formatting is required, eg Homo sapiens, you must make this clear in a form that will survive transition from a word-processed document. It’s better to use the form [i]italics[i] and [b]bold[b]. So Homo sapiens would be expressed [i]Homo sapiens[i] Failure to do this means that your formatting will be lost.

However, NEVER use text boxes or other design formatting of any kind. These can be very difficult to deal with.

NEVER insert pictures into your MS. Instead, designate each picture a unique name and number and supply the pictures separately. (Guidance on picture submission is here.) The name of the picture files should be your book title and a number, like this: yourbooktitle001.jpg. In the MS, use the form [insert yourbooktitle001] to indicate where your think the picture should go.

Similarly, please don’t waste time inserting coloured text. It is annoying in the first place and will be stripped off immediately by us in the second.

We realise that if you have been secretarially trained, some of our rules may seem strange; however remember that it is NOT IMPORTANT how the MS looks since it just provides the raw text for typesetting. The look of the book is created in typesetting and any visual formatting you may introduce at the word-processing stage will be removed.


Like all publishers, we use a stylebook. Ours is closely based on the Guardian and Observer Style Guide, (web address) and most of the following rules are derived from that. These are strict rules.

General Rules.

Except for those MSS specifically aimed at the US market, Please ensure that the MS is created in British English. Some word-processing software sets American English as the default. Ensure that it is set to ‘British English.’ MSS submitted in any other form will be returned. If you use a spellchecker, ensure that it is also set to ‘British English.’ Furthermore, NEVER carry out a spell-correction automatically; instead always check each word individually, as well as the suggested replacement. This is because Word in particular comes with a limited dictionary and will often suggest inappropriate replacements for perfectly correct words.

Use either Arial or Times New Roman 12-point and set the line-spacing to double.

If you use the grammar-checking facility in MS Word, check every suggestion it makes; this tool makes a lot of mistakes, but it can still be useful.


Use ‘Smart Quotes.’ All modern word-processors can do this. However please pay attention to the following:


Like this ‘ ‘ Double quotes, like this ” ” are for secondary quotation inside single quotes.


These cause a great deal of trouble. An apostrophe ALWAYS looks like a tiny numeral ‘nine.’ The problem occurs when using an apostrophe to replace a letter at the beginning of a word, as word-processing software will always assume you are opening a quote and turn the apostrophe into a quotation mark, thus: ‘Ere, ‘Enry. This is WRONG. To get round it you must type two single quotes like this: ‘’ Then delete the first and type the word, like this: ’Ere, ’Enry. This is correct. I agree that it is a royal pain, but please express your dissatisfaction to Kermit, not me.

It and whose. The word ‘it’ NEVER takes a possessive apostrophe. So it is NOT ‘The cat broke it’s leg,’ but ‘The cat broke its leg.’ An apostrophe is used with ‘it’ to indicate a missing letter, usually the ‘i’ in ‘is’ so ‘it is raining’ becomes ‘it’s raining’. It’s just the way it is.

‘Who’s and ‘whose’ is another situation where many people slip up. ‘Who’s’ only ever indicates a missing letter, again, usually, from ‘is’. So, ‘who is awake?’ becomes ‘who’s awake’. Possessive and other situations do not take an apostrophe, so ‘Who’s umbrella is this?’ is wrong, it should be ‘Whose umbrella is this?’ The logic might take some time to make itself clear, but I am assured it is in there, somewhere.

Plurals NEVER take apostrophes, so ‘many year’s later’ is wrong, it should be ‘many years later’. But beware, a plural formed by adding an ‘s’ to a noun may then take a possessive apostrophe. This often catches people out regarding units of time, so remember, ‘a years work’ should be ‘a year’s work’ and ‘two years work’ should be ‘two years’ work’. Even highly educated writers make mistakes with this, so don’t feel bad; but if I catch anyone submitting ‘the boy’s went out to play’, ‘in the 1990’s’, or similar abuses, I shall wish to know the reason why.

‘Sheep’ are always ‘sheep’, but ‘fish’ can sometimes be ‘fishes’ especially in a poetic mood. Use caution with the latter.


Double-spacing went out with manual typewriters. It is old-fashioned, unprofessional, unnecessary and infernally annoying to grumpy editors like me.

Do not indent pars.

In particular please NEVER tab indent paragraphs, or introduce multiple spaces to form an indent. The correct method is to use no indents at all and leave a line space between paragraphs, as in this document. This is done by pressing ‘return’ twice after the stop where you wish to split the paragraph. This is easy to read and can be quickly changed during typesetting, when indents and all other layout issues are dealt with.

Similarly, do not left-indent longer quotes. Simply make a paragraph break before and after and use quotation marks. We’ll deal with the insets in typesetting. Remember than any such quote MUST be attributed and, certainly in a work of non-fiction, you should provide a footnote with full details.

While we are here, keep your paragraphs to less than 300 words. A par almost never needs to be that long and they read badly. Avoid run-on sentences and limit the numbers of subordinate clauses; and while you’re at it, do learn where to use commas, semi-colons and colons. In general, try to vary sentence length and be aware of rhythm in the reading.

We do not live in 1850, so avoid Dickensian levels of wordiness. If you can say it in three words, don’t use ten. Modern authors are not paid by the word. And note: one adjective is fine, two raise the editoriqal eyebrows and three is a hanging offence. While use of multiple adjectives may have been fashionable in the past, do try to avoid it today.

Footnotes and endnotes:

You may use either Chicago or Harvard style, or any other you fancy, as long as you are consistent throughout the document. My own preference is for Chicago, but that is incidental. We tend not to use chapter end-notes, but again, this is possible. I personally feel that the information should be on the page that it is relevant to, rather than forcing the reader to move away in order to check it, so I’m sniffy about end-notes, at least in print books.

However, if we produce an eBook from your MS, the footnotes will be placed either at the end of the chapter or the end of the book. This is because page length in eBooks (other than .pdf) is not specified and depends on the reading device and software. (Effectively, each chapter becomes a ‘page’.) So, while Harvard tends to break up the flow of text and can be annoying to read, it might be preferable to Chicago here, especially if you have a lot of footnotes. (If you don’t know the difference between these and other footnote styles, see the guides linked above.)

Names of houses, ships, songs, poems, books, plays, you get my drift, should always be in italics. Please identify these as described above.

Please DO NOT EVER insert tables. In the unlikely event that a table will have to be inserted, insert an instruction to that effect in the text and make this clear in a covering note. NEVER insert text boxes or text areas under any circumstances.


Please DO NOT use tab indents to left. If you have to set out columns, tabs are permissible to separate them.

Poems and songs. The main rules are: DO NOT indent to left; capitalise the first word of every line; ensure that proper punctuation is used throughout.

Remember that if you are quoting someone else’s work you must have their permission first, except for brief excerpts, which must always be properly attributed. NEVER plagiarise.(We check.)

Rules of Grammar and Spelling

We use two dictionaries: The Oxford Dictionary for English, and The Concise Scots Dictionary for Scots. These will be the arbitrary reference in case of dispute. As far as grammar and usage is concerned, our primary source is Fowler, ‘The King’s English’ and successors thereto. Scots is not a unified language with accepted standards of usage, so we rely on authors to accurately reflect the ‘voice’ of those they are quoting.

Okay is spelled okay, never OK


Punctuation marks go inside quotation marks, not outside, like this:

‘Look, John,’ NOT ‘Look, John’. Quotes must always have the first word capitalised, even when continuing a sentence after a quote break.

Acronyms and abbreviations.

We do not use points between the letters of an acronym, so use ‘BBC,’ not ‘B.B.C.’ The rule is that when using an acronym that is not well known, use the full name first, then the explain the acronym, thus: ‘He made his way to the Statutory Office of Fatuous Applications, better known as SOFA, and…’ In works of non-fiction, use the journalistic method: ‘The Statutory Office of Fatuous Applications (SOFA) …’ In fiction, you may then use terms like ‘the Office’ (note the capitalisation, or the acronym, but in non-fiction, it’s better to use the acronym for all subsequent usage.

Mother and Father, Mum and Dad, Doctor, and similar.

If used as names, these are Proper Nouns and take a capital, eg, ‘In the kitchen, Mum was scolding Sis.’ However if used in any other way, they are just nouns and don’t, eg, ‘The doctor was in the surgery treating my mum.’ If there are people out there who still call their parents ‘Mother’ and ‘Father,’ by the way, they’re pretty elusive; do bear this in mind when crafting stairhead dramas and such.

Practise and practice.

This is a whole rule about one word. In most usages in Standard English, this word is a verb; it describes an action and is spelled ‘practise;’ ‘One should practise the guitar every day’, ‘Practise makes perfect’ and so on.

‘Practice’ is a noun used when referring to a thing, eg, ‘the doctor’s practice covered several villages.’ BUT BEWARE—’The doctor’s practise was to establish whether the patient was breathing before asking any questions.’

Ise and ize.

Many Latinate words use these endings, for example synthesise, synthesize. Modern Standard British English uses the –ise ending, although the Oxford standard is –ize. Irrespective of the somewhat arcane logic of the Oxford apologists, which smacks in any case of linguistic snobbery, we prefer –ise, -ising, -ised for British English.

Split Infinitives.

Contrary to popular impression, there is no rule in English preventing the use of a ‘split infinitive.’ In fact, because in English an infinitive is actually two words, it is moot whether the expression has any meaning at all. The ‘rule’ comes (again) from classical scholars obsessed with observing Latinate grammar rules. English is not Latin, whatever they may say in the dusty corridors of academe, so you may indeed split your infinitives. However, if I come across more than three on a page, I might indicate that one can have too much of a good thing!

Be aware, however, that inserting an adverb between the two parts of an infinitive, eg ‘To boldly go out into the world,’ will emphasise the phrase. If trying to work round this, avoid, as far as possible, the commonly heard alternative of putting the adverb first, ‘Boldly to go out into the world.’ This is hideous, clumsy, does not have the same meaning, and draws attention to the fact that the writer has a grammatical problem. Instead move the adverb to the end of the phrase like this: ‘To go out into the world boldly.’

Nevertheless, where emphasis is desired, inserting the adverb between the parts of the infinitive is effective and an entirely legitimate technique.

‘An’ and words beginning with ‘h.’

This should not be a problem but unfortunately, linguistic snobbery has made it one. The indefinite article ‘an’ SHOULD NEVER BE USED BEFORE WORDS BEGINNING WITH THE LETTER ‘H.’ The correct indefinite article to use before words beginning with ‘h’ is ‘a’ eg ‘a hospital.’ Constructions like ‘an horrific,’ ‘an hospital, ‘an horror story,’ or for that matter ‘an hedge,’ are wrong and should NEVER be used.

I think this curse arose because in former days it was permissible to say ‘an hotel,’ but the assumption was being made that the reader would use the French form of ‘hotel,’ in which the ‘h’ is silent. This use is archaic, but unfortunately, ill-educated people have come to think that using ‘an’ is a badge of sophistication. It is not, it is just an affectation, and it is WRONG. The only place it may be permissible to use ‘an’ before ‘h’ today is in reported speech, if the character speaking is prone to such linguistic foibles.

‘You and I,’ or ‘You and me?’

Yet again, linguistic snobbery has created confusion where there should not be, and this has become the subject of another erroneous affectation.

Whether to use ‘I’ or ‘me’ depends simply on whether the person is the subject or the object of the sentence. Subject takes ‘I,’ object takes ‘me.’ ‘Jim and I,’ or ‘You and I,’ may therefore be INCORRECT, depending on the context.

Think of it like this; if the ‘you’ were not there, which would be correct? Would you say ‘Jim gave the books to I,’ or ‘Me walked to the shops?’ We sincerely hope not.

So ‘Jim gave the books to Fred and I,’ is WRONG, and ‘Jim gave the books to Fred and me,’ is correct, as is, ‘Jim gave the books to you and me.’ Likewise, ‘You and I walked to the shops,’ is correct, and ‘You and me walked to the shops,’ is WRONG. It’s really very simple.

Courtesy, by the way, rather than grammar, indicates putting the other person before yourself in the sentence.

Aren’t for ‘am not’.

I have left the most egregious for last. This horrible violation of language is an offence worthy of capital punishment. THERE IS NO SUCH CONSTRUCTION AS ‘I AREN’T’.

If you find yourself compelled to reduce ‘I am not’, then, for dear Pete’s sake, say ‘I’m not,’ which will not offend the most sensitive of ears; but ‘I aren’t’ is the linguistic equivalent of dragging your fingernails down a chalkboard. Even the distinctly awkward ‘I amn’t’ would be preferable, but please, only in reported colloquial speech. Do not commit this sin before me.

Writing in Scots.

We support writing in Scots and the use of Scots. We recognise that there is considerable variation within the language, which has at least seven official dialects. Please observe the conventions of modern written Scots and DO NOT introduce large numbers of apostrophes. This is archaic and hard to read. The apostrophes were formerly inserted to represent letters that appear in English words but not in the Scots cognates. Since it is now recognised that Scots is a language in its own right and not a corruption of English, and has its own orthography, there is no need for the apostrophes.

Furthermore, where possible, please try to keep to the orthography defined in The Concise Scots Dictionary. (If, by the way, you think that Scots is not a language, be warned; you will get no sympathy here.)