Editing: Formatting your Manuscript

Whether you’re sending your manuscript to an agent, publisher, or editor, you need to make sure to format your book properly. Have you ever looked at something and your eyes literally just told you, “No,” and refused to read what was in front of you? All because it was that awfully formatted? Whether it was the font, size, or the lack of paragraph breaks, something made your eyes refuse to read, and we don’t want this happening to your potential agent – or, god forbid, your reader.

This is going to be pretty straight forward and to the point. Not much needs to be explained. I’ve done my research, and here’s what I’ve dug up:

  1. Pick a readable, moderate font. I don’t care if your book is based in Ancient Egypt, if you dare put your text – any of it – in Papyrus font, I will smash my Kindle into the ground. Not only is it obnoxious and distracting, if you pick a less common font, readers like Kindle or Nook might not be able to read it. Pick something mundane: Times New Roman or Courier New seems to be most people’s prime choice, but if you’re bypassing the agent and going straight to the eBook, TNR is your best bet. There seems to be some argument on if you have to have a serif font, so I’d go with one just to be safe.
  2. 12-point font. No exceptions.
  3. Chapters begin on new pages. These new pages are created with a page break, not by pressing the ‘enter’ key over and over. And don’t put tildes or crosses or stars between your chapters, either.
  4. Speaking of tildes, know the difference between three asterisks and a line break.  Three asterisks  between paragraphs means a change in perspective. A line break between paragraphs means significant time has passed. Don’t mess it up.
  5. Black font, white background.
  6. When submitting manuscripts, include a cover page. Cover pages should include your name, contact info (and your agent’s, if you have one), title of the book, and word count. Here are some examples.
  7. Insert a header formatted as “Last Name/Title/Page #”. This should not be on the title page
  8. End you manuscript with a single “#” on a line of it’s own, or “The End.” This signals to the reader that the MS is, indeed, finished.
  9. Don’t try to be unique or creative. It comes off as just annoying and you can’t read the rules.
  10. No matter what, follow the publisher/agent/editor’s guidelines. Ultimately, they’re the ones reading this. So, even though you know you should submit this in TNR, 12-point, black font, if they ask for size 72 Comic Sans in bright yellow with a picture of a unicorn instead of periods, well, give it to them (although if they’re asking for pics of animals instead of punctuation, you may want to rethink who you’re querying). They’re asking you that for a reason, and doing what they ask shows that you’re paying attention to them, not just mass emailing this to ten million people.

And those are the dirty details. If you’re looking for more information, try these sites.

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