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Format???!

It’s a holiday weekend and I want to keep it short so I will weigh in on the subject that causes weapons to be drawn and blood to run in crimson rivers on writers’ forums. Formatting. It is unbelievable how upset people get on this subject. Well, actually it is believable. It is, after all, one of the few things we much put-upon writers actually control.

I have a theory about what format we should use: The one that professionals use. Not the one that (according to a certain website I won’t name) makes you look or at least feel “hip.” (Formatting makes one “hip”? Oh, reeeeaaaly? *snort*)

Not the one that is prettiest. The one that is professional. Do you really want to look unprofessional to the people you are trying to convince to pay you money–preferably lots of it?

Now, if that isn’t what you care about, you will disagree with much of what I am going to say. That’s all right, too. My name isn’t going on the title page, so I’ll do it this way and you do yours in a Wingbat font or whatever you fancy. All is good.

There are reasons why a certain format has been long been used by professionals. It is not because it looks like the manuscript was written on a typewriter. It isn’t (very definitely) because it looks pretty–because it doesn’t. It is because it makes life easier for editors. We want to make editors happy, darling little creatures that they are.

I will include the usual caveat. Read the guidelines of anyone you are sending a submission to. If they say use Wingbat, then use Wingbat–for them only though. Thankfully, in the world of today with computers, you can change with the press of a “Select All.”

Here is how I format a novel manuscript:

Margin: 1 inch all around although you can go up to 1 1/2 inch.

Font: A MONOSPACE font, which means do not use Times New Roman or, Jove help us, something really fancy in a script font. I use Courier Dark. No, it isn’t pretty. I’m not submitting because it is pretty. It is easy to read AND easy for an editor/agent to mark-up. There are other monospace fonts if you care to look.

Spacing: Double space.

Indent: The first line of every paragraph 1/2 inch.

Header: Starting on page one (not including the title page) right justified including writer’s last name, title and page number.

The title page should include legal name and contact information in the upper left-hand corner, single spaced. Centered your title just above the middle of the page. One double-spaced line beneath the title, centered, put “by” and your name or pen name. One double-spaced line beneath your name put the word count rounded to the nearest thousand.

If you don’t have an agent, that’s it. If you have an agent, your agent’s contact information, including name, business name, mailing address, phone number, e-mail address should be left justified, single-spaced, bottom of the page.

That’s it.

Oh, not quite. Chapter heads. A third of the way down a new page in whatever way such things take you except don’t get fancy with your fonts. Whether you spell the number out or put in a chapter name doesn’t matter. There actually is something that is up to you. This is your chance. Go crazy with it.

I didn’t make all this up on my own. Of course, I got all this from someone or several ‘someones’, so I should credit them. They say pretty much the same thing.

http://www.shunn.net/format/novel.html

http://hollylisle.com/index.php/How-To-s/how-to-format-a-manuscript.html

http://www.sfwriter.com/mschklst.htm

Now, we only have to write stories to go in that format. Do I really need to mention that having a great, well-written story is more important than the format it goes in?

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