10 Minute Mentor – Formatting

26 May

Formatting seemed like a brilliant place to begin the 10 Minute Mentor adventure. Personally, the first few chapters I slam down on the page hard and fast – no formatting at all, just words. Often it looks closer to a realllly poorly written script than a manuscript.

But, some people like to set things up ahead of time…have a nice clean format to work with. And so, welcome to the first installation of the 10 Minute Mentor: Formatting.

Formatting your manuscript correctly may not be a make or break to a book deal, but it does show the professionalism and preparation that everyone desires in a business partner. These guidelines are what I’ve been taught are the “standard” from several authors and sites for print publishing submissions. E-publishing guidelines are often different. For example, I’ve been told most E-pubs would rather have italics actually be italicized where most print pubs still wish to have them underlined. Also, always check that there are not guidelines listed wherever your sending your manuscript to. Obviously submission guidelines always trump the elusive “standard” for more than just formatting.

So, open your Word document and let’s get started with the basics. 

 STEP ONE: Margins 
  • Under ‘File’ on your tool bar, click ‘Page Setup’   
  • Click the Margins tab at the top   
  • Ensure that you’ve selected ‘Portrait’   (Landscape turns the page sideways)
  • Enter ‘1’ in the drop down boxes for Top, Bottom, Left, and Right (this gives you 1 inch margins all the way around)
  • Hit ‘OK’ at the bottom, right-hand corner 

Personally I use ‘Courier New’ size 12 or ‘Times New Roman’ depending on the project. It’s easy for pages/word calculation. 

Anything you wish to be italicized in your manuscript, should actually be underlined. Do not italicize in your manuscript. 

There is a difference between hyphens (within a word) and em-dashes (outside words). For an em-dash, Word will turn 2 hyphens into an em-dash  

STEP THREE: Page Format 
  • Under ‘Format’ on your tool bar, click ‘Paragraph’
  • Next to ‘Before’ and ‘After’ enter ‘0’ – ‘Auto’ will NOT do what you want it to.  
  • In the drop-down box under ‘Space’ click ‘Exactly’
  • In the selection box next to where you just picked ‘Exactly,’ type ‘25’ – DON’T type ‘lines’ as was previously there. Typing just ‘25’ will do the trick
  • At the top of the Paragraph Formatting box is the tab ‘Line and Page Breaks’ – click this
  • Ensure that all the boxes on this page are unmarked
  • Hit ‘OK’ at the bottom, right-hand corner 

Also, you need to set your ruler at the top of the page so each paragraph is indented. This will simplify things and make sure that your tabs aren’t lost in some programs. To do this , move the top marker on the ruler in to the .5 point. This is the first major line on your ruler.

STEP FOUR: The Header 
  • Under ‘View’ on your tool bar, click ‘Header and Footer’
  • When they pop open, in the Header Type: 
    BOOK TITLE IN CAPS / Last name (on left hand side)                                                        Click the “#” sign in toolbar (on right hand side to number your pages)
STEP FIVE: Page Set-up

Each chapter should begin 1/3 of the way down the page.  Center the chapter heading, whether it’s “Chapter 1” or “Emily’s Exciting Entrance To The Novel” or a quote… Whatever the kick-off for each chapter is, center it. Personally, I put 6 hard-returns. This is roughly 1/3 of the page once your manuscript is formatted. The standard answer to “why do this”  when I asked around —>It helps editors and agents calculate book length.  

Now your manuscript is set up to look pretty… well, as pretty as Times New Romans gets. The creative part is up to you!

REMEMBER: The work is in the writing, the formatting is the gift wrap.

7 Responses to “10 Minute Mentor – Formatting”

  1. mgbuehrlen May 26, 2010 at 10:20 am #

    Just wanted to add that the underline vs. italics in a manuscript isn’t a hard and fast rule nowadays. I’ve asked a few agents and they’ve all said the same: underlining is held over from typewriter days, just like two spaces after periods. It was hard to differentiate between italics and regular font. Now, though, with Word and other digital programs, it’s not so much a problem. I guess it just comes down to preference.


  2. briaq May 26, 2010 at 10:22 am #

    Nods – this is the arguement I got from writers last time I posted this. But, when I checked with 3 editors, they all said the perfered underlining since they don’t to a direct transfer of a program — which makes ZERO sense to me. Why would the reenter all that data… Um, hello? This is why readers are annoyed with typos writer’s work their butts off to get rid of.


    Anyway, every time I blog about formatting, writers say this. But, personally, I’m going to stick with what editors have told me.

  3. mgbuehrlen May 26, 2010 at 10:25 am #

    Yup — I was going to add to my last sentence that I meant it’s the editor’s/agent’s preference (not the writer’s). Gotta do what they say!

  4. danieford May 26, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    Interesting post/comments re: the underline vs italics debate/issue. Formatting was one of the things that always used to trip me up at first.

  5. Kimberly Farris May 26, 2010 at 10:44 pm #

    I just installed Word few weeks ago and haven’t set up the formatting yet.

    Thanks for doing this.

  6. Cambria Dillon May 27, 2010 at 5:15 pm #

    Such a helpful post. I always forget the formatting in the header part. And have I mentioned yet that I think this 10-minute mentor series is brilliant?

  7. briaq May 27, 2010 at 5:47 pm #

    Thanks ladies – I think sometimes we even forget what the basics ARE! I mean, formating, we eventually do it in our sleep when we open a new document (or set it to default *grin*) — But when I was new, I remember everyone saying over and over and over again “make sure it’s in standard format.” Too many ARG moments over basics 🙂

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