How could this be? Because the authors of these manuscripts were new to the book biz, and their manuscripts contained a mistake common for first-time authors.
They were seduced by the plethora of formatting options offered by their word processing software. Different kinds of cool bullets, numerous fancy fonts and font sizes, ways to indent, easy to bold, italicize or underline, spacing, tab stops and margin options, header and footer options, tables and text boxes, pages of symbols to choose from – I could go on.
And the books I just edited seemed to use them all. Eek!
I’m not against all formatting. I’m against too many of these options used in one manuscript. And I’m especially against inconsistent formatting. If your first three subheads are 14 point bold, don’t make the next one 12 point italic. If you center a quotation in Chapter 4, then don’t simply indent one in Chapter 7. Again, I could go on.
The most important thing about formatting is consistency. A consistent format is like the Key in a road map, allowing your reader to feel comfortable that you are leading him/her in the right direction, and that s/he knows “where they are.” It allows them to feel safe, that the author can be trusted to alert them to landmarks or ditches. Inconsistent and too-busy formatting will confuse them, and can lead to distrust of the author’s message.
Another thing about inconsistent and too many different formats is that your book designer might become a little cranky. They will want everything to be as simple and consistent as possible, because they will design using professional layout software, so all your fancy fonts and different bullet shapes will be discarded anyway, and can make their job harder.
The final thing about too-busy inconsistent formatting is that it, like excessive wordiness, dilutes your message and diminishes the power of your words. If your words are compelling and your sentences sing, you do not need to use tricks to capture your readers.