Stop making your editor’s life miserable!

Do you want to make your editor happy?

If so, learn the basics of formatting.

Why should you take time to format correctly?

Ignoring the basics of formatting is a sign that you are not serious about yourself or your work. By sending out poorly formatted work, you are putting it and yourself at a disadvantage.

Stop making your editors life miserable!

‘This manuscript is impossible to read.’

‘Why should I spend my time reformatting this writer’s work?’

If you want to be published, learn how to present your work

When submitting to magazines, do read their guidelines. Most will require similar formatting.

A common request is for Times New Roman 12 pt, single spaced, and aligned left. There are good reasons for this. Time New Roman is not a sexy font, but it is common enough to appear on almost every computer, laptop and tablet. It is also incorporated into most design and edit tools, so it is exceptionally easy to work with. Avoid using fancy fonts, your editor will not be impressed by them and it may bias them against you and your work.

Using the correct and/or requested format will save your editor time and frustration.

Formatting for submission.

Be aware, most publishers will request only a sample of your work in a first submission. When submitting to a publisher or agent, scan their websites for information on how they like work to be presented and if you can’t find the information there, pick up the phone and call.

The basics of book formatting.

The formatting guides I am using are applicable to most publishers but not all, so do check.

  • Use black. 12 point. Times New Roman.
  • Use a standard page size, 8.5X11 inches with margins set to 1 inch on all sides.

If you’re a Windows user, Word default is set to these settings so you have no adjustments to make. However, if you are importing work into Word, you should double-check your document to ensure page size and margins are correct.
To set page size in Word, use File->Page Setup and you will find a drop-down to select page size. Set margins by using Format->Document.

  • Use left justified for alignment. This aligns text along the left side of the page, leaving the right side non-uniform or ragged (unjustified).

Again, using Word, Format>Paragraph and select “Left” in the drop-down box.

  • Use a single space after periods.

If you have written your manuscript using two spaces after a period, you can adjust it simply with Word using the Find and Replace tool. Type two blank spaces into “Find” and one blank space into “Replace” then select “Replace All” This will remove all double spaces. 

  • Use double line spacing (unless otherwise specified).

Double line spacing is far easier to read than single. It also gives your work space to be appreciated on the page.

To format line spacing in Word, use-> Format -> Paragraph, then select “Double” in the drop-down under “Line spacing.”

  • Manually indent paragraphs by 0.5 inches—don’t hit tab or space to indent.

Be aware, setting tabs and indents is not the same as just hitting tab on your keyboard.

To manually indent using Word. Format -> Paragraph->Indentation-> Left and select .5 and First line from the drop-down.

Be aware, the first paragraph of a section is generally not indented, so these will need to be set back. This also applies to the first paragraph after a heading, subheading or list.

NOTE: The rules above apply to fiction. Non-fiction often uses no indentation or a line break between paragraphs.

  • Page breaks

Page breaks appear at the start of chapters and anchor the text. If you use return multiple times to get to the next page, stop doing it. Instead use the top toolbar/menu in Word Insert -> Break- > Page Break.

  • Numbering pages

Page numbering is important and there are rules for formatting that apply. 

First, to insert page numbers using Word use the top toolbar/menu and Insert ->Page Numbers.
On your manuscript, place the page number in the top left side of your page.

Preliminary pages (title pages, contents etc.) should use roman numerals (i, iii etc.). The actual work should use arabic numerals (1, 2 etc.).

Place the title of your work at the top right. To do this, use your mouse to click into the header box at the top of any page and insert the title. Once you do this, the rest of the pages will be auto populated.

Use Word and only Word

Many writers use different tools for writing—I myself use Scrivener and Pages. However, when sending work to an editor, send it in Word (A .Doc or .Docx file) because Word’s “Track Changes” feature is the tool your editor is most likely to use when marking up your document. It is not unheard of for editors to disregard work sent in other formats. Finally, send your work as one complete document, not as separate chapters or sections.

Implement these simple steps and who knows, you might end up liking your editor, but more importantly, they might end up liking your work.

About the contributor

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  1. Fantastic formatting tips – thank you.
    Could you please clarify re line spacing, though – your submissions page (which links directly to this article) says to single-space lines, but the article says to double space.

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