Monday, April 11, 2011

To Writer with Love ~ Formatting

I've been an editor for nearly ten years, and in every one of those years, I have preached the necessity for writers to practice a life-long learning of the writing craft. With the proliferation of technology and writers' increasing ability to self-publish (print or electronic books), it is more important than ever for writers to grab the reins and study--writing and industry.

One stop that most writers come to in their journey to Publishdom is Editorland. This is where writers submit their works to those who can help polish the manuscript and assist in making it a strong literary product before writers decide to either self-publish or submit their works to agents. Now, we all know editors vary in style and in purpose. Some focus solely on the project; whereas, others focus on the project and the writer--making the editing experience a teachable moment. That's for a whole other post.

Despite the differences in types of editors and what they all do, I feel fairly safe in saying there are a few things we all come to expect from writers--and quite honestly, writers should come to expect to see from themselves. I'm going to address one big thing in this post: FORMATTING.

Presentation matters. Would you go to an interview at a Fortune 500 company in a pair of wrinkled pants you pulled out the hamper, a T-shirt, sneakers, and hair that hasn't seen a comb in a long, long time? Then why would you present a manuscript to an editor that actually does not look like a manuscript?

Why is it important to make sure your manuscript looks like a manuscript? There are several reasons, but here's one that gets to the bottom line. Editors edit. And for the most part, our fees reflect that--editing. The minute we get a manuscript in which we will be doing major restructuring, too, that fee goes up...and usually it goes up a lot. Save yourself the embarrassment (of not doing it yourself) and money, and well, do it yourself.

I could easily rattle off a list here of some "guidelines" to assist with this, but all I would be doing is reinventing the wheel because there are scores of sites that offer this information [like here, here, and here], for free, mind you, to assist writers today in this endeavor. So, there really is no excuse for this one. There is knowledge out there to be had...that you don't even have to pay for.

The industry is far too competitive for writers NOT to know at LEAST the basics. You want to be an "author," then as a writer you need to BRING it. Present editors with a manuscript that shows you care about your literary project as much as you expect them to.

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically, and her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell is now available for purchase. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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  1. Thank you for the links, and the reminders.

  2. And, when in doubt, check the publisher's or agent's guidelines. One of my publishers insists on a very specific formatting, which is different from the "norm." But if that's what they want, that's what you have to give them.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  3. I'm very close to sending off my manuscript. Thanks for the links.

    As Terry said, it's important to know what the publisher/agent wants. What makes me sweat bullets are the agents and publishers that don't have specific guidelines. Most of the agents I'm preparing to query don't have that information posted.

  4. Can't get around it. Looks always seem to matter in whatever endeavor you try. You need to follow the rules to get anywhere.

    Morgan Mandel

  5. Most freelance editors have formatting specifications on their websites, as well. I know I do--not that clients always take the time to read them.

    But this is how important presentation is: as a developmental editor, I often see manuscripts in pretty rough shape (even though the ms may be nowhere near the author's first draft). But when that ms arrives in 12 pt Times New Roman, adhering to all other standard formatting specifications, and with a cover letter that shows they've been to my site-- along with an SASE for the manuscript's return!-- I think: "Wow, this person know show to conduct business. S/he might just might make it."

    I once heard an agent say, at an agent panel, that if your manuscript shows a solid command of the English language, is formatted correctly, and is printed on clean white paper--no thumbprints or coffee stains or curled edges)-- you're already in the top 10% of manuscripts.

    So I agree with Shon: WHY NOT GIVE YOURSELF THE LEG UP?

  6. Another useful link is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website: Manuscript Format.

    HearWriteNow & Blood-Red Pencil

  7. For digital publishing the formatting requirements are different from what many of us have been accustomed to. It pays to find out what each publishing medium requires. But the bottom line, as Shon point out, is the professional look to the ms. I appreciate Kathryn's comment, too. The cover letter counts, even if it is e-mail.

  8. I have a question about fonts. One of the links said that submitting your manuscript in Times New Roman looked lazy as it is the default font. I use it because most of the reading said it is becoming standard.

    I don't mind using Courier, but all of the links said to underline italics instead of using italics when using Courier. My manuscript takes place in a fantasy world, and I have a lot of untranslatable italicized words from fantasy languages. It looks very strange to me to underline them.

    Any suggestions?

  9. Scooter, you know, a few years ago (maybe about 5), an author read some of my work and suggested that I underline italics. It was something her agent requested. But what I've found is that is one of those things that isn't a hard, fast rule. Now, I don't underline instead of using italics. Now I think in regards to using Courier and italics, sometimes, the italicized Courier font isn't as emphasized as other fonts--at least in my opinion (and others). I would check out those agents, editors you plan to submit to and see what their guidelines are and format work accordingly. This can, I know, be a pain in the butt when you end up having to go back and reformat a large part of your manuscript, but in the end, it makes you look good.

    As for TNR and Courier, I use both. And I'm not sure how lazy TNR looks; Courier for me is extremely standard, generic looking. A lot of times, it's all about preference, and knowing what preferences editors and agents have so that you can adhere to them.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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