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NESFA Press Style Guide

This is a draft style guide, last modifed on 2020-08-30.


NESFA Press has a house style, but it serves as a guide for editors, not a set of hard-and-fast rules. We do insist that editors have a reason for choosing to use another style, and ask that deviations from what is published here be for reasons other than ignorance or accident.

When making typesetting, style, and spelling decisions, we refer to the CMS (Chicago Manual of Style) and the Merriam-Webster Unabridged dictionary. Online versions are OK too.

We call the project leader for a book the honcho for that book. The honcho is also an editor, but there may be other editors helping out. The honcho of a NESFA Press book is responsible for selecting the material to be included, acquiring the text in computer-readable form, proofing it (potentially with the help of others), typesetting it, and providing camera-ready copy for the entire book. The honcho is also responsible for all aspects of preparing the dustjacket for printing, including selecting and procuring the art to be used. There is help available on all of this, but it is the honcho‘s responsibility to use that help to make it all happen. Other folks within NESFA normally handle contracts (working closely with the honcho), pricing, and production (getting the book printed and shipped).

Overall, our prejudice is for typographic simplicity. In no case should any aspect of the typography of a NESFA Press book draw attention to itself and away from the text. Our books are for readers, so editorial choices should always favor presenting reading material legibly and economically.

We highly recommend reading Teresa Nielsen Hayden‘s superb essay “On Copyediting” in NESFA Press’s Making Book, which not only talks a lot more than we can here about book style, but does it in a far more entertaining way.

NESFA Press is not in the business of publishing scholarly texts; our books are for readers like us and are meant to be read and enjoyed. Good editing will often improve the story the author originally submitted, so we will use the best (in our judgment) version of a story produced during the author’s lifetime, unless we know that the author disapproved of it. Consequently, where the original editor’s work improved a story, we prefer to print the edited version. But NESFA Press is not in the business of rewriting stories posthumously even if we think we know better.

NESFA Press editors are very cautious editors, but they are editors and they do make editorial decisions.


Font: We generally use 11pt or 12pt Adobe Garamond (Pro) as the body font. We usually allow the leading (line spacing) to be calculated automatically. Adobe InDesign uses a 1.2 multiplier resulting in leading values of 13.2pt and 14.4, respectively — these are resonable compromises between compactness and readability. For some of our books 11pt/12.6pt seems to work. The display font varies more: as long as it is readable, it’s at the editor’s whim (though using Garamond for that, too, is OK, a contrasting font is preferred).

Page numbering: We number the pages using Arabic numerals starting at the very first page of the front matter and continuing to the last page. Blank pages and most pages in the front and back matter are numbered, but the number is not printed on the page. We do not re-start numbering with the first story page. (If it really bothers the editor not to use Roman numerals on the front matter, OK, but the pages are still numbered consecutively in one series from the very front to the end. E.g., page 10 follows page ix.) Blank pages never have a printed page number or a header. When a page number is printed, it appears centered under the text on the first page of a story, and at the upper, outer corners of other text pages.

Page layout: We use a few different schemes for running headers. In most cases either the book title or the author is in the header of the left-hand page, whichever one seems right based on what kind of book it is (collection, anthology, novel, nonfiction, etc.).  The header on the right-hand page normally shows the story or chapter title, again depending on the type of material in the book.  Headers are centered over the page, with page numbers at the outer margins.  We might alter that if an editor or the honcho really wants a different design, but most adhere to the above description. The headers are usually in a display font different from the body font. There are no running headers on blank pages or on the first page of a story. The point of a running header is to give the reader a location hint in the book. There is usually no rule under the running header.

When space is not an issue at all, stories or chapters begin about 1/3 of the way down a right-hand page with a blank, facing left-hand page. The title is above the start of the story. When this is impractical (e.g., due to having many stories) the editor does what the editor must, starting with dropping the requirement of a blank left-hand page, to simply starting a story on the next available page (left or right), or even setting the stories run-in where a new story begins a few blank lines after the end of the previous story. The title is typically set in the chosen display font.

Text is always justified — we don’t do ragged right, except for special categories of text that are offset in some way, such as lists, or poetry. We indent normal body paragraphs and have the space between paragraphs the same as the space between other lines. We prefer indents of 0.25″ or less, often 0.1875″ or 0.175″. Initial paragraphs and any paragraphs after an obvious separator (a blank line, a trio of asterisks or diamonds, a setoff block of poetry, etc.) are not indented.

We do not use a blank line between ordinary paragraphs. We sometimes use blank lines to indicate scene and time changes. Whether the paragraph following a blank line should be indented or not is a source of discussion. And, as an edge case when using a blank line as a scene or time change separator, if the blank line occurs at the beginning or end of a page, it may either be left out or changed to the three-marker form of separator below.

More often, as a scene or time change separator, we use a line of three markers (asterisks, diamonds, etc.) separated by three or four spaces. We then place a blank line (either full height or half-height) above and below the line of markers. The above/below spaces are sized to keep lines on facing pages to align. After this form of separator, the subsequent paragraph is not indented.

Large initial capitals or a few initial words in uppercase or smallcaps are used when the interior designer finds it interesting.

For footnotes that explain or amplify the footnoted text, we prefer to place them at the bottom of the page containing the footnoted text, not at the end of the story or article.

On the other hand, scholarly references or material not immediately useful in understanding the footnoted text may be placed at the end as end notes.

We make a major effort to balance the columns on facing pages, and to keep the lines of text lined up between pages. This means we avoid typography which would cause a chunk of text to occupy anything other than an integral multiple of the body text line height.


Copyediting: Frequently a NESFA Press book will be assembled from disparate sources after the author’s death. When we’re lucky, we have multiple texts to work from or know of a text which claims to have been revised by the author. Nevertheless, errors creep in. Our policy is to edit with a light hand, correcting obvious errors, and using the author’s preferred text if that can be discerned. Whatever we do, we try to avoid oddities in the text which will cause the reader’s brain to slam to a halt.

Blank lines are used in a story to indicate a change of scene or a jump in time. Many magazines put blank lines in more-or-less arbitrarily, so plan on making changes. This is most definitely an area where the editor should expect to exercise judgment and to make changes. Do not assume that the author had anything to do with any scene-change typography in any printed version. Look at it, understand it, and change it as appropriate.

In general, everything else to the contrary not withstanding, if an author has a consistent style and knows what s/he is doing, we had best not mess with it. (E.g., you don’t want to add a lot of commas to a Malzberg text.)