Saturday, December 09, 2017

Format guidelines were not instituted to drive you crazy. That's just a perk.

Format guidelines were not instituted to drive you crazy.
That's just a perk.

I ask for full manuscripts to be formatted as follows:
12 point TNR
1" margins all around

page numbers in the header or footer
name/title in the header

Tabs with the tab key, not five spaces
Page breaks between chapters by command, not manual return/enter
Tab at the start of a new paragraph or line of dialogue

Recently I've had several authors who have inserted page numbers by hand, and a lot of you
seem to have lost your tab key.

When this happens, I generally send the manuscript back to you to fix.
It's easier to do it this way at the start and almost every agent or editor is going to ask for this
kind of formatting.

Here's why:
I'm reading (as are all other agents and editors) a LOT of manuscripts. When mss follow a consistent format, it helps me assess the pacing.  If I get to page twenty and I haven't yet gotten a glimmer of what's at stake for Our Hero/ine, then I know there's a problem. It's essential that page twenty be about the same amount of words across the board.

Send me a manuscript in Times New Roman, and page twenty is about 6000 words.
In Courier it's 4400 words.
In Verdana it's 5000 words.

Drop the size from 12 to 10 and 20 pages of TNR goes down to 17; 
in Courier 6500 words goes from 29 pages in 12 point to 21.

That's why when you send me something in anything other than TNR 12 the first thing I do is adjust the font and size.

Which means if you've inserted ANYTHING by hand that needs to come at the end of the page, it's now nowhere near the end of the page anywhere.

And if you've inserted manual line returns, those are affected by font and point size as well, and your sentences are now cattywampus.

A character takes up a different amount of space in various fonts. Change the font, you change how many characters make up a sentence, or how big the spaces are that you're using for a tab.

Some authors, frustrated by what seems like nit picky requirements want to send PDFs. I sympathize but it doesn't solve the problem.  A PDF in Courier still takes 29 pages for the number of words TNR 12 only needs 20 for.  I need to read a consistent format.

 So, get in the practice of using your word processing program for commands, not your keyboard.

Bottom line: don't format with your space bar. Don't use your return key for a new line unless it's a new paragraph or a new line of dialogue.


Anonymous said...

This is one reason Hollywood has such strict script formats.

The rule of thumb is: One script page is one minute of screen-time. So a producer can look at the total page number and know just how long the finished product would be.

Kitty said...

I never liked Verdana. She's such a diva.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Kitty: (snort laugh!)

I'm embarrassed to admit that it's only been this past year (or has it been two) that I discovered the indent-first-line-of-paragraph command. I'm trying to adjust to formatting requests while I write my drafts and revisions rather than as part of my spit-and-polish (I hope to get there someday with at least one WiP!).

Hi everybody. I've been in lurkdom for awhile. The holidays have undone me...

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I will be creating a template today with exactly these guidelines. I have been using Courier since Jesus was a boy - you know, that old-fashioned typewriter font. I feel old.

Oh, and it’s still snowing here in Dixie. It’s weird and so pretty.

Anonymous said...

Actually, though, a format guide can be a good thing for a writer, too.

We worry obsessively over getting the tiniest detail wrong. At least we don't have to worry about which font to use, font size, paper size, etc.

We can worry about building the best cart we can build, w/out having to re-invent the wheel each time.

Unknown said...

Hey Lisa, welcome home!

Over years of writing business proposals, I've gotten pretty good at formatting styles in Word. I'm happy to answer questions if anyone needs help with the items Janet described.

Amy Johnson said...

Yikes. I'm now thinking that for years I've been starting new chapters incorrectly. I took the advice I'd found in a couple of places to start a new chapter on a new page, a third of the way down the page. I've done this by repeatedly hitting the enter key at the end of a chapter until I reach a new page, a third of the way down, then starting the next chapter. Instead, I should insert a page break, and do what? Thanks for any help on this. Kathy?

Theresa said...

Cattywampus! What a great word to encounter on a snowy Saturday morning.

This is a wonderful explanation of why rules matter.

Kitty said...

Tabs with the tab key, not five spaces ... Tab at the start of a new paragraph or line of dialogue

If I understand this correctly, I shouldn't format "a new paragraph and line of dialogue" to indent a certain number of inches/spaces. Instead I should hit the ENTER key and then the TAB key. Is that correct?

Mister Furkles said...

So, why are your font examples in four-point type?

About tabs: the reason so many of us set the tab key to insert spaces, is that many of us work with formal documents and/or software. Any given document or software is likely to be the product, eventually, of several different people. For some, the tab is two spaces, for others eight, for still others it is a fixed fraction of an inch or in millimeters. Consequently, it is often a requirement that the tab key be set to insert space characters.

So, many people continue this practice in everything they write.

(Sometimes I wish I were a robot.)

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I'm going to nitpick: tabs, or indents?

Both are formatted quite differently behind the scenes.

Once upon a time I used yo use the tab key to indent my paragraphs. Now I use the Indent format option. No need to hit anything other than CR.

Unknown said...

I never even knew you could insert a page break. Only been using Word most of my life.

ACFranklin said...

Tabs, indents, variable tabs...may I inquire after specific instruction on these things? If it should be tabs, not indents, those are most easily dealt with at the rough draft stage. If they are tabs, then they should also be set for five spaces, correct?

Craig F said...

Tab each line of dialogue? Isn't that redundant? I thought quotation marks were standard.

I have seen a couple of books with indented dialogue and they always threw me.

Remember, folk, that this is for attachments. Email protocols do not support tabs in the body of the email. Always use an extra line space when sending pages for submission.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Thank you, Kathy Joyce.

Amy I'm on Word document. At the top of my document there is an insert tab. If you go there, you will find an insert page break. For indenting paragraphs, if I left click, among the menu is paragraph. Click that and you'll find an option to indent all paragraphs and you can choose how many spaces. Of course, I believe the very first paragraph is not indented?

If anyone else can explain this better in techie!! : )

Claire Bobrow said...

My hamster wheel just exploded.

Thinking of switching to papyrus and a stylus.

JEN Garrett said...

Knowing the importance of proper formatting, I did go crazy a little - not at your guidelines - at my Word app.

I'd exported my doc to Google docs for a critique. When I downloaded it again to my computer, lo and woe, all my tabs and become five spaces and all my carefully commanded page numbers were now "done by hand".

It's not hard to go over your entire manuscript and fix the error of your Word app's formatting ways (though a bit tedious). What a silly reason to get a pass on your manuscript!

Lennon Faris said...

OK, Googling how to make paragraph stuff in Word. I also have been using it my whole life and never knew there was such a command. I generally just put an extra space between chapters.

I like having all these written out, though.

JEN's comment makes me want to toss my computer out a tall building window.

Mister Furkles I would lol if it wouldn't get my leg bitten off. :)

Lennon Faris said...

Oops, I meant chapter stuff. I know about the paragraph stuff because my computer keeps trying to push it on me. My laptop is very insistent that it knows what I need.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

Thanks so much for these concise clarifying guidelines for fulls, Janet. Some questions:

- I have some lines (not many or too long, promise) which really do need to be in italics, via the word-processor's onboard command. Is there a fiat against this? And if so, how should we indicate that a sentence is italicised?

- Must manuscripts still be submitted in Micro$oft Word, or is Open Office now acceptable?

- Re our names in the header, do you prefer: surname first / given name first / don't care ?

- I assume lines are double-spaced?

- My take on tabs: You set a tab, but insert indents manually for each new para and line of dialogue (i.e. hit the tab key every single time and don't use any auto-format commands). Yea or Nay?

- This also means you DON'T want any extra line-spaces between paragraphs, just the indents. Yea or Nay?

[Exits to tumultuous whirring of hamster wheel in overdrive…]

Amy Johnson said...

Lisa, Thanks so much for responding to my plea. :) I think I'm good on making a page break and on indents for paragraphs; it's "Page breaks between chapters by command, not manual return/enter" that's throwing me. When I do a page break at the end of a chapter, I'm taken to the top of the next page (makes sense), but what about the advice to start a new chapter a third of the way down the page? How do I get a third of the way down other than repeatedly hitting "enter" until I get there? Or is our wonderful queen saying chapters should start at the top of a new page (not a third of the way down)?

Sam Mills said...

Uh oh, I'm also going to chime in and ask if using the "first line indent" function via the ruler is equivalent to manually hitting the tab button for every new paragraph.

(Anecdotally: I had a boss who liked to format with her space bar and it was QUITE the hellish experience to help her edit final documents before they went out. Every new word set off a chain reaction of nightmare formatting! So I sympathize.)

roadkills-r-us said...

THANK YOU! I always wondered about this obsession with the font I hate most of the common fonts. TNR makes my eyeballs itch. But at least I understand now.

LibreOffice (and I thought MS:Word, but it's been a while) lets me set paragraph styles with indents as a distance (say, .5"). I have no idea whether that prints as a tab or spaces. Why would that one matter?


Kregger said...

Ms. Reid,
I understand estimating word count by page count or vice versa.
Do agents then want all page breaks eliminated?
Of course, this is done with a formatting tool and not the obsessive-compulsive pressing of the return button.
Paper and ink are cheap, but not that cheap.

RosannaM said...

I'm with Claire. May start writing on yellow legal pads with a pen. In cursive and hire a pro typist/formatter.

Colin Smith said...

Since I've been working in IT for over 20 years, and started work in the States as an admin assistant, the how-tos of formatting a Word doc have never been an issue. What is considered appropriate formatting for novels/short stories, etc.--that's a different issue! I had to research and ask just like everyone else.

Since I've queried a couple of novels and had some success with short stories, and no-one has rejected a submission for incorrect formatting, perhaps I can offer some pointers, with the usual caveat that Janet can stick plum pudding in my ears and fill my nose with tinsel if I'm wrong.

Tabbing: In Word, on the ruler you have two slidey pointers. They face each other when you open a new doc. If you slide the top one, you set the indentation for every new paragraph (i.e., when you hit Enter). The bottom pointer essentially sets where the margin is. Your top slider should be set to 0.5".

Italicizing: Back before word processors, you would underline to indicate italics. I think that's still acceptable, though most agents are good with you using your word processor's italics.

OpenOffice: Agents typically want to see Word docs (i.e., .doc or .docx files). I think it's safe to say every popular word processing app recognizes the .doc file format. You can save your file as a .doc in OpenOffice, and that's what you should do. I don't think OpenOffice will save as .docx yet, but that's not a problem since they all recognize .doc files.

Headers: Typically, you want a header on the top right in the format LAST NAME / ABBREVIATED NOVEL TITLE / PAGE NUMBER (e.g., SMITH / CARKOON / 2). In Word, you can insert page numbers, as well as change their size and font. I make sure the page number and header text is the same font and size as the rest of the doc (i.e., Times New Roman 12pt). If you are using a version of Word from within the last 10 years, you should be able to double-click the header to bring up the header settings. I recommend playing around with the various options to see what they do. You'll probably learn more that way than from me trying to tell you.

In fact, one of the best ways to learn your way around your word processing tool is to experiment. Save a version of your WiP just for this purpose (e.g., call it "FormatPlay.doc"), so if you screw things up and can't fix it, you haven't messed up your WiP.

I hope that's helpful. :)

Colin Smith said...

Oh, a couple more things:

Page Breaks: To insert a page break (for a new chapter), in Word, the Control-Enter keystroke will do the job.

Line Spacing: Set the line spacing to double. Make sure the "Before" and "After" spacings are set to 0.

Chapter Formatting: I have in the past started the first chapters about half-way down the page. I would hit Enter until I reached what I thought was about the half-way mark. I would then start each subsequent chapter at the top of the page as usual. Opinion on this might vary, but, as I said, I haven't had a ms rejected for this, so it may not matter too much.

Headers--Correction: I said to put your name, title, and page number on top right. NO. Sorry--that's good for short stories, but it seems the correct format for novels is NAME / TITLE on the top left, and page number on the bottom right. At least that's what I've done. I'm open to correction.

Joseph S. said...

Except for font type and font size, and maybe page break, I thought Word did everything properly.

Julie Weathers said...

I stopped indenting paragraphs and dialogue and went to the double space because an agent complained that formatting got screwed up in emails and to stop using tabs.

Now I'm back to reformatting using the tab. Praise God someone has said definitively do this not that.

I use TNR, 1" margins, page breaks, ####### to denote breaks within chapters, page numbers in header, header--Weathers-The Rain Crow-(Page Number)

Glitter optional.

The agent or editor knows exactly what's at stake for the heroine, what the circumstances are, where she is, and they've got a pretty good idea of what kind of character she is.

It's the best I can do.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: As I noted above, I've always used indent as opposed to hitting the Tab key, and I've not had a single agent complain. Maybe they just found more substantial reasons to reject my ms... :)

Colin Smith said...

Julie: ... and your page number formatting is more like what I do for short stories. I checked my novel submissions and saw I had put name/title in the header, and page number in the footer. I'm sure I read somewhere that is preferred. We may have to have an official adjudicator called in on that one... :)

Casey Karp said...

Since it seems to be sharing time, I'll throw my stuff in.

I write in Courier New because TNR is too small for my eyes. 1" margins, Control-Enter for chapter breaks, Enter then Tab to start a new paragraph. Header is Karp / Title / #

I write with Word set to do single spacing, but then do a global change to double-spacing before I submit.

I've yet to get a rejection on the basis of formatting. If an agent specifically says TNR only, I'll do a global change there too. [Making a note to add Janet to that list.]

I strongly encourage y'all to read up on Styles in Word. You can set up a style to include all of the formatting--font, size, spacing, indent--and then if you need to change it, you just make the change to the style and it updates the entire manuscript. Very convenient. That's how I do the change from single to double spacing: I just change the "Normal Text" style and it's done.

Unknown said...

My question too. I set styles to indent at the beginning of each para. Janet, are you saying to enter manual tabs, or use auto indents? Or, is there an auto rab that I don't know about?

Unknown said...

Janet, now I'm confused. I just set *everything* up as a style, so it's all pretty much automated. I'm happy to explain how to do this, if that's acceptable. For example, to Amy's question, you can set heading 1 (chapter title) to start a third of the way down the page. Every time you click chapter 1, it will do this.

Julie Weathers said...


I will probably set auto-indent. I've seen agents suggest both page numbers at the top and bottom right, but most don't seem to care as long as they are in a header or footer and pages are numbered.

Joseph S. said...

i'm with Collin. I hit the "enter" key for a new paragraph. I never use the tab key. It maybe too late to change my muscle memory on this.

(I just tried to use the tab key. Hit the Caps Lock key instead. What a mess. I think I'll stick with the tried and true method.)

Anonymous said...

Janet, thank you for the explanation of why this matters! Never occurred to me it was to assess pacing.

For anyone confused about how to use "styles" to format docs in Word, I highly recommend this Smashwords Style Guide. It's free, so I'm not helping line anyone's pockets with filthy lucre. ;)

Really, the step-by-step instructions are detailed and clear, and there are even screenshots of some steps. It will take a while to go through it if you're not familiar with the concept, but this is time well spent.

Off topic: After a day/night of cold rain and sleet, it's finally snowing here too. Big fat lazy flakes. So beautiful and peaceful to watch it fall. Bonus: it's melting as soon as it hits the ground.

Craig F said...

If this is a confessional I will admit to using the tab key. I do this because it is much easier to edit using it.

I really didn't want to move past Word 03. It was simple, straightforward and didn't toss you a curve every three pages. With this computer I got stuck with Word 16. It is not simple, straightforward and it does throw you a curve every three pages.

I got stuck a few times when auto indent came on. It was hard for me to get out of it or edit it. I'll keep it as simple as I can.

I still am thrown by the indented dialogue.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

My question about italics is really whether *any* format commands are acceptable for them, be it underlining or italicising - because I don’t know which commands screw things up in transit and which don’t. I seem to recall that they’re frowned on in some submission circles, but I really need them, and do know the obvious things, like not to over-use. So can I just stick with the normal word-processor commands, or is there some other requirement regarding this issue?

Craig F said...

I think that if I hit the right agent during the right phase of the moon something as simple as indented dialogue is not going to make a big difference.

If they see commercial appeal a lot can be overlooked.

John Davis Frain said...

"I believe the very first paragraph is not indented?"

I used to think this too, because it matches the format of novels that you read. But I have learned it's NOT the way to submit. Make an agent happy and indent each paragraph.

Wow, leave it to a group of writers to take a straight line and turn it into complex origami.

Colin Smith said...

John: II think it's good to remember that we're talking about manuscript formats for agent/editor submissions, which don't necessarily correspond to how the final book will be formatted. I'm glad you raised the point about not indenting the first paragraph. We should look to the guidelines given by agents/editors, not how we think our text will look when it's published.

Kate Larkindale said...

Here's another tip that might be helpful. Don't write your drafts in TNR. Use other fonts and change to a new one for every read through. It's amazing how different the MS looks in a different font, and you can often pick up mistakes you've missed on previous passes.

Save TNR for your final, final draft. The one you're sending out.

Anonymous said...

Craig, re indented dialog, it only gets indented/tabbed if it's the first line of a new paragraph. Not ALL dialog (for instance, not if it's embedded in a paragraph). See below. Blogger won't let me actually indent, but the places I've marked with > there should be an indent. Notice in the last para, the dialog is just part of the paragraph, no special indent.

>And somehow not as mind-numbingly terrifying now that she could see it. But maybe that was because she was already dead. It seemed likely.

>"I've died and gone to hell," she mumbled.

>"Don't be insulting," said the dragon.

>Zoey drew in a sharp breath. She knew dragons were dangerously unpredictable, but had never heard of one that could speak.

>It spoke again, sounding oddly bored. "So, what's your treasure? Where is it?"

Hope that helps!

Craig F said...

Yes, thank you. I stand corrected. I was wrong. I looked at several books I have on a TBR pile and saw that I was wrong.

John Davis Frain said...

Hey, hey, kdjames! Blast from the past there ... Blogging challenge from 2016 maybe? I remember that fun story. At least, that's how I remember it. Maybe there was a tragic ending I'm blocking. Anyway, where sits it now? the hopeful reader asked.

Anonymous said...

Craig, I don't think you were "wrong" so much as you were just overthinking things. I'm surprised it wasn't ME doing it, for a change. :)

John, I'm flattered you remember it! I've been working on expanding it into something resembling a novel and finally figured out just a week or so ago how it ends. I know, I'm pathetically slow (plus, this past year has been hell on my creativity). But now that I have an actual (non-tragic) ending to work toward, it's moving pretty quickly. Thanks for asking!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Late to the game today. I live by TNR 12. Have been for almost 40 years. If you want to be a pro, format per Janet. Nuff said. Nike.

Joseph S. said...

Casey Karp, You may know this but just in case:

In Word, clicking on 'VIEW' and 'Page Width' should solve your TNR size issue.

Stacy said...

Another vote for setting up auto-indent in Word with the ruler. Also, when I set up double spacing, I check the "Don't add extra space between paragraphs of the same style." I have a template, too.

I think Gary Corby had a novel template he shared at one point, but Google is failing me, so maybe I imagined it.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

Janet - when you get a (hahahahahaha) spare minute - could we have a WIR on this blog post? Loads of helpful info in the comments, but no clear consensus on what we're actually supposed to DO about that wretched tab situation. Hit the tab key manually every time? Set it up globally as an auto-command? Leave a blank line-space between paras or not? Run and hide under the nearest rock?

Also an updated clue as to acceptable word processor programmes (if we get a choice) would be much appreciated, because it's relevant to the tab situation (not to mention our wallets). Is the open-source .odt format still a no-no?

Kitty said...

I picture Janet holding her head in her hands and groaning OH NO.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

LOL! Or drowning her sharkly sorrows with Verdana and Lucida.

Casey Karp said...

Joseph, how much that helps depends on whether I'm at my desktop or my laptop. It makes a big difference in the first case, not so much in the second.

Besides, if I use magnification tricks like that, my eyes won't be forced to improve themselves in self-defense.

What do you mean, "It doesn't work that way"?

Janice Grinyer said...

Phew. At least I'm doing something right in editing...

Joseph S. said...

Casey Karp

I haven't progressed to a laptop quite yet. But I'm a whiz at crashing desk tops.

Kae Ridwyn said...

Emerging from my 'not enough time to comment' status to say thanks QOTKU for your explanations and I'm with the 'hamster wheel exploded' scenario over here. Thanks Colin for all the tips - I'm going to need to print out this post and comments, so I can go through it in more detail! And a quick question for any Scrivener writers out there - does Scrivener do this for you?
And finally YAY at KDJames - I'm with John and excited about Zoey the novel! I'd offer to beta-read but I really, really shouldn't :(

Bonnie Shaljean said...

I haven’t used Scrivener in some years - not its fault: it’s on a dead computer and I never upgraded, for various reasons that don’t reflect badly on that programme. But even then, they had a very useful novel template, complete with headers and the third-of-the-way-down-the-page chapter openers, plus a whole lot more. And it seamlessly integrates with Word (dunno about .odt docs). Also the guy that invented it is very nice and helpful (I was one of the first users, when nobody had heard of it.) So I’d say Yes, go for it.

I second (or third, or fourth, of wherever we’re up to) the YAYYY KD JAMES :-)

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

For those who are reading this very late, who are fretting over the thought that they're going to have to go line-by-line through their MS to change five spaces to tabs, or even tabs to indents, Search n Replace is your friend. Ctrl-H.

Not only will it allow you to replace a character with another, but it will also search and replace formatting.

^t represents a tab character. ^p represents a hard return (paragraph mark).

Search for five spaces, replace with a tab. Save yourself hours and tears.