Formatting Matters

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By Amy Giuffrida

One of the least fun things in the world for a writer to think about is formatting. However, this is so important when you are submitting your work to agents and editors. Even though your story is really what draws an agent in, skipping over the basics of formatting your manuscript can make a difference in whether or not you receive a request to see more. Why? There are two main reasons.

Reading the manuscript is difficult. 

Sending your text in an email is difficult enough, but if your font is small and your paragraphs are single spaced, all it looks like is a wall of words. It’s very hard to for an agent to read this on a computer. 

It takes time to reformat. 

You don’t want an agent or editor to be thinking right away that you’re manuscript needs to be completely overhauled before reading a word of your story. First impressions count. So, how do you format a manuscript? It’s super simple. Follow these 10 steps and your story will look amazing!

1.  Times New Roman, 12-point, black

Don’t get fancy with your text. Plain is good. If you want a special effect, reserve this for when you get published.

2.  Left justify

This sounds like something we all do; however, it’s a good reminder to NEVER center your text. If you wish for your chapter title to be centered, you may certainly do this. All other text should be aligned to the left.

3.  1 inch margins

On a standard 8 1/2 x11 inch page, you should have the document set to have 1 inch margins on every side. Most programs use this as its standard, but it is important to make sure before beginning to write.

4.  Single space after periods

I know. I know. I was taught to use two spaces back when I had to take a typing class in junior high, but one space is the industry standard. Fixing this spacing takes a looooooong time, so it’s best to do it right the first time.

5.  Double-Space

All of your lines should be double spaced. DO NOT just use the return key to do this. Formatting correctly, you need to use your programs menu to chose double-spaced (2.0) as your spacing. There is also no need to then add extra spaces between paragraphs.

6.  .5 inch paragraph indent

Please don’t be a tabster. Hitting the tab key makes formatting later extremely difficult. You will need to format your document by choosing the “First Line” option in the program you write in. From here you are able to set the distance. 

7.  Don’t indent the first paragraph of each chapter

This is a special way fiction is formatted, so you’ll have to turn off that “First Line” option at the beginning of each chapter.

8.  Page breaks

Hitting the return key again and again to get to a new page is another way to make your story not look nice when you submit it. Depending on if you use Word or Pages, this can look like a big mess on someone else’s computer when they open your document. You want you writing to read well and look the part, so instead of hitting return to get to a new page, at the end of each chapter, insert a page break. This will take you directly to a new page. 

9.  Number your pages

Although this doesn’t matter when you send your pages in the body of an email, it will when you are sending pages via an attachment. The best placement for these are at the bottom of the page. It helps the person reading your manuscript to keep their place, so it is important.

10. Check your email formatting

Once you do all of this work and you’re ready to send out queries, the task is to keep it looking clean in the body of an email. Copying and pasting your first pages into an email doesn’t always stay nice in its transfer. No one is asking you to be perfect, but I’d advise you to create and send it to yourself first. See how it looks. If the spacing is off, fix it in the email. Don’t go into your document and make changes. You’ll want that document to be formatted correctly when you get the exciting request to see more pages.

And don’t worry. Once you get use to this standard, you will format everything this way. It will become old hat. Formatting your beautiful words will help to draw in agents and editors. There’s nothing better than a writer who takes their time and puts effort into all things writing.

Amy Giuffrida is an assistant with Holloway Literary. Follow her on Twitter @kissedbyink.