Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Some Formatting Basics

I cobbled together a basic grammar cheat-sheet a while back, and while grammar is most definitely the more important thing to watch out for in a manuscript, there are still a few formatting and editing things I'm often surprised when reading submissions (or even from clients!) that writers aren't using.

In lieu of a Love/Hate post, as this is somewhat related to things I love and hate to see, here are a few common things you should know about editing and formatting as a writer:

Indent with tab - not spaces!

  • And once you indent with tab, hitting "Enter" after the end of a sentence will automatically start your new paragraph indented correctly.

Use Track Changes

This is an essential editing tool for all writers to be comfortable with. Editors, agents and copy editors all use it to quickly and efficiently track what is changing, and by whom. If you haven't used this feature, give it a try; locate Track Changes in your version of Word, turn it on and make some changes.

  • You must either accept or deny all changes (you can do a sweep and "accept all" if you like, or go one-by-one) in order for the comment bubbles and colored words/lines not to pop up when you send the document to someone else. Comments must be deleted as well, or those will also pop up when you send the document to someone else. Just changing the view to show "final without mark-up" will not hide your tracked changes from others.
  • Also, please be kind and let your agent or editor know if you ARE sending a document with track changes...I have totally just forwarded a manuscript to my e-reader not knowing, and thought, wait, nothing changed! (It either meshes all the tracked changes in with the old manuscript, or just shows the old manuscript, on the e-reader - at least on my Kindle).

Insert: Page Break

USE THIS between chapters (unless stylistically you're not for some reason). It will prevent your chapters from running together in e-readers. It will also prevent your chapters from suddenly appearing in the middle of a page or at the end of a page if you make edits to the chapter before it.

Name your document professionally - and have a title page

I can't tell you how many "first 30 pages" or "synopsis"s I've uploaded to my e-reader. I won't remember what is what by the time I get to reading it, which is bad for you if I'm disoriented going into the read.

  • So, please save your documents as a recognizable something ( such as "last name - title" or "last name - title synopsis") and pop in a title page with your full name and title. 
  • Bonus points if you include your query or hook in the title page, too, to get me excited all over again before I dive in
Standard font size is 12, Times New Roman preferred
  • Courier is ok, and italicizing vs. underlining for emphasis can be up to you, though italicizing is preferred


  1. Good notes. Especially the tabbing/centering with spaces! Or forced indents (shift+enter) and forced line breaks (shift+return).

    Tracked changes are also essential... I'm putting an anthology together right now and so many of the authors have just sent me back a clean file after my edits, and I have to go back and read from start to finish just to make sure my changes were acknowledged.

  2. I've seen so many formatting questions lately. Querying writers will appreciate these clear guidelines

  3. Thanks for this. The last bullet point is interesting since I have had at least a few writers tell me that in order to denote italics in your MS, you need to underline.

  4. For the record: if you've submitted to me and did NOT do one of the above, don't worry, I'm not going to hold it against you! These are preferences, and good to know, but I don't base rep on them. :)

    Also - I should have mentioned, I'm speaking to longer texts here; for picture books, indents to first line are usually not used, nor would I expect to see a title page!

  5. A couple of weeks ago, a romance novelist on Facebook posted a question about how people felt about two spaces after a period vs. one space. Oh my goodness--you wouldn't believe the storm that set off! The rule has been one space for something like two decades but people were saying they've always done two spaces and always will and they've been publishing with a major publisher for ten years and nobody minds, etc., etc. I don't think anyone would be rejected for it, but younger copyeditors probably don't understand it! I found it interesting people were really upset that anyone would suggest they change.

  6. I have edited so many technical works with those same crazy formatting issues. I know that my grammar is not perfect, but I am obsessive over formatting. Every time I see a spaced-in paragraph or return-return page break I cringe a little inside.