formatting thoughts

I thought I was picky in my formatting, in my approach to the appearance of my manuscripts, but my awesome mentor out-formats me like none other.

And I like it.

I’m going to share a few manuscript formatting tips here, gathered from my Pitch Wars experience and from combing the corners of the internet for advice. Your query letter is super important, your story and writing and style and voice are key, but having a professional-looking manuscript to send when you’re asked for a partial or a full won’t hurt your chances, either!

Giving credit where credit’s due

I’m ashamed to admit I can’t remember who tweeted about this–and it’s ironic given the sub-header I gave this section–but an agent (I think) mentioned on Twitter that you should always put your name in your manuscript. Not in the header, in the manuscript itself (probably on the first page, which should be a title page depending on who you ask), just in case he/she happens to read it on a Kindle or other device. You want your agent reader to know who you are!

Chapters

  • Make chapter titles the same font and size as the rest of your manuscript (I think bold is okay, but that’s it–no underlining or italics or other fancy-ness).
  • Treat a chapter title like a book title and capitalize words appropriately (which I didn’t do because I thought it looked cool . . . but it’s WRONG so it has to go).
  • Insert a page break between chapters (so that each chapter starts on a new page).

Punctuation

When it comes to dashes, em dashes without spaces are the way to go. Stuff like “He spun—with the grace of a swan but the weight of an elephant—and inevitably slammed into the door.” Technically I could get away with “He – and I quote – actually said that” but I’d rather go with what’s more commonly accepted.

Ellipses are weird. Annoying. (And I use too many of them.) In a sentence, you’re supposed to use them like “He said . . . that I was skinny.” SO MUCH SPACE. And Word counts those as words and breaks your word count. Good times. Now, if it’s the end of a sentence or line, like if someone’s trailing off, you add a FOURTH dot: “I don’t know about that. . . .”

Really.

Scene breaks

You’re not done with your chapter yet, but you’re changing the scene or the POV or something. I’ve seen asterisks and dashes and extra lines and other things used to highlight scene breaks, but I learned that there’s a preferred format: a single centered # or three centered * * * (separated by spaces as shown). That’s it. A manuscript looks a little extra spiffy once you use those, in my opinion.

One space

One of my biggest pet peeves when reading a Word document is finding two spaces between sentences. One. Use one. Just one space. It looks better. It reads better. It’s better. Really.

Other page stuff

  • Times New Roman 12-point font.
  • One-inch margins.
  • Half-inch indents for each paragraph.
  • Align left, not justified (translation: the left side needs to be straight, the right side can go any which way it wants). (That wasn’t meant to be innuendo, but I’ll take it.)

Unsure whether or not to believe me?

This post talks about similar points (and much more). And formatting guidelines can get even pickier.

I wouldn’t hold it against you if you decided to follow some of these and completely ignore others. But, whatever you choose to do, be consistent! The point here is you want your potential agent to dive into your words. Help them out by formatting your manuscript well!

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