All your formatting questions answered

Should you single or double-space your manuscript? What fonts are okay and not okay to use?

From author Philip Athans, here’s a wonderful post on how and how not to format: Manuscript Format. He’s also created a helpful PDF of what agents and editors like to see in terms of formatting, which you can find here. His philosophy is: Leave all your creativity in your story, and none in your presentation. I agree!

I was part of the workshop Phil mentions in his post, and during the Q&A one of the participants asked about formatting his pages as to not interrupt the flow of his words. I understand that authors want their books read a certain way and because of this, it’s tempting to format in a non-standard way. There are several problems with this, however. First, not all formatting will translate the same way between word processing platforms. I use Word for Mac 2011, and when I see documents that were written in Google Docs or Scrivener, even if they’re saved as .doc files, they don’t always come out looking the same way they do to the author. Second, when a book is produced by a publisher, they’re going to focus more on things like paper and font size, not the specific flow of words. Third, you can’t count on the visual aspect of a book to carry your message across. The design of a book is just one part of the overall package. And what about people who prefer audiobooks? All they have are your words.

Speaking only for myself, I’d also like to add that I prefer that submissions come in .doc, .docx, or .rtf format, not PDF. PDFs are great for reading on my computer, so I won’t discount them altogether, but I like to read full manuscripts (or anything beyond 50 pages, really), on my Kindle. And since I’m one of those people who tends to hang on to my electronics until they die, I’m still using a 2-year-old Kindle Keyboard, which I only have because my second-generation white Kindle broke past the point of repair.  I don’t own a tablet and it might be a couple of years before I buy one. And a certain company named after a long river, despite its billions of dollars, can’t seem to figure out how to make PDFs readable on its e-ink readers. PDFs come out really, really tiny.

When in doubt, go Times New Roman.

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2 thoughts on “All your formatting questions answered

  1. Hooray! Someone besides me who doesn’t buy the bestest newest tech–I thought I was the only one on my first Kindle.
    Personally, I like Courier New, but TNR is do-able.

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