Formatting Your Submission

Submitting a manuscript used to be easier. We all knew the format: 1 inch margins, Courier 12 pt font in WordPerfect, 25 lines per page, 5 spaces indent each paragraph. But woe upon us, computers and printers kept getting upgraded. Suddenly Courier didn’t produce dark print anymore. We had to download a font called Dark Courier to print our pages in a readable type. Some people diverged to Times New Roman, but stalwart writer that I was, I stuck with the old ways.

Then editors starting sending edits in Track Changes. We had no choice but to convert to Word. Computers got upgraded again. Now a font called New Courier produced dark enough print so that I could delete Dark Courier font from my machine. Soon printouts were no longer an issue at all. Online submissions became the norm. Instead of copying a manuscript and mailing a heavy box at the post office, we could attach a file on our computer and hit the send button. This was better, right?

Not necessarily, because now each publishing house had different formatting requirements. Witness the two houses for which I’m now writing. Let’s call them House A for my romances and House B for my mysteries. Both agree on .5 inch indent for each paragraph, em-dashes instead of hyphens or en-dashes, and one inch margins. But here’s where they differ:

House A: New Courier 12 pt.
House B: Times New Roman 12 pt.
House A: 25 lines per page
House B: Double spacing
House A: six lines down the page; capitalize first letter of each word
House B: one space down the page is blank, then the chapter heading comes on the next line. Then this is followed by another empty space before the text. Chapter heading should be bold and centered. First line of every chapter should begin flush left.
House A: No specific instructions
House B: Page number bottom center with .5 inch footer and .5 inch header. Header should have centered Author’s last nameBook Title
House A: Four asterisks centered
House B: Five asterisks centered
House A: Three periods with no spacing before, between or after.
House B: Three periods with a space before, between and after.

You get the idea? Plus the front material, meaning the title page, dedication and acknowledgements, as well as the back end info, might be different, too. You have to carefully examine the submission requirements to give your work its best chance.

The more you configure your work, the more often you’ll remember the next time. And if you’re just working with one publisher, you’ll have no problem…at least until you try to format for Kindle, Smashwords, and Nook.

How do you deal with this confusion?

20 thoughts on “Formatting Your Submission

  1. I think the way that I am going to deal with all of this is hire a savvy sixteen year old to do it for me! Forewarned is forearmed, Nancy. Thanks!

  2. Good idea, Joe! Plus there are lots of formatting services around with reasonable rates. The key is to read the submission guidelines carefully to see what’s required before getting started.

  3. I submit the same way to both houses on format. One requires hard copy in the standard old format & the other does everything via email. I use the format I first learned–25 lines per page, Courier New, 1-inch margins–to get my word count. I’ve never been told of any submission requirements & never asked either. I do track changes with one house & love it. Electronic submissions are so easy.

    Special requirements for astericks on scene breaks & header treatments do not affect the word count or a copy editors job imo. Seems odd & arbitrary, but if they require it, you’re being thorough & profession to comply.

    I’ve heard some houses require machine count only for a word count method, rather than 250 words per page as I described above. This might be something for digital ebooks only since the chapters scroll together.

  4. Jordan, both of my publishers have very specific requirements that they relay to authors. These are both ebook/POD houses so that may be why. You’re lucky if you don’t have to worry about these factors.

  5. I meant one of my pubs is ebook/POD and the other is POD. I don’t know why some have specific formatting requirements and other houses don’t. These are both small press.

  6. Nsncy: There are some details that drive me crazy. Formatting is one. I got a wonderful lead on a guy who does the whole Kindle, Smashwords, bit – at a bargain price. Well worth it. I remember that we used to format query letters (and manuscripts) too according to each agent’s instructions, before the days of e-mail. Thank heaven for word processing.

  7. The ebook thing can be different. The old format had more to do with word count for print so houses could estimate their cost per project. Interesting.

  8. This post startles me. I’m working on my tenth book for my fourth publisher (fifth, if you count a mid-contract reorganization), and I’ve never once been presented with a style sheet.

    I’ve always submitted in 12-pt Time New Roman, with whatever the default margins are in WordPerfect (for the first books) and now MS Word. I mark space breaks with a single # sign (the copyeditor’s mark for adding a space), and I always put spaces in my elipses.

    I use smart quotes because I like them, and I italicize instead of underlining. No one has ever asked me to do differently.

    It seems to me a strange thing in this digital world to have such stringent formatting requirements. Now that I think about it, I wonder if I’m unknowingly complicating the lives of the production editors . . .

    John Gilstrap

  9. Michael, I can do formatting for Kindle, Nook and Smashwords but I don’t know how to do a table of contents. Will have to consult someone for those instructions.

  10. Thanks for the tip on Scrivener, but what do you mean about standard format? Standard for whom?

    John, I used to put in a # sign for a space break but no more. Asterisks seem to be the thing now. When I configure for self-pubbing, I’ll use <><><> to make the breaks more distinctive.

    Both of my pubs send the authors their formatting guidelines, so if your publishing house hasn’t done so, I wouldn’t worry about it.

  11. My problem with formatting has always been with the file itself. When it’s turned over to the publisher, there’s always some bug in the program that messes up the formatting. It’s like a ghost in my machine that has outlived multiple fixes and upgrades, and it has driven me crazy!

  12. Kathryn, I used to have that problem when I sent my agent a file and it came out with weird codes. More recently, though, I had a problem with Silver Serenade when it first came out in ebook format, but this didn’t originate with me. The first two pages showed up underlined on my friend’s Kindle. She told me, and I notified the publisher. After uploading it again twice, they got the glitch fixed. Coding can be messed up any number of ways.

  13. I don’t know if I have the brains for all this stuff. I had a problem with the em dashes. Couldn’t make my computer make into two no matter what I did. Cursing, praying, crying, nothing worked.
    But the fact is you save money when you submit electronically. So now a lot more people can reject me!!

  14. Hi Nancy and all,

    I started out with the ePub process for Kindle – now that was a learning experience.

    No tabs (I had to take them all out).
    3 space indent for paragraphs.
    Times New Roman 12 pt font.
    1″ margins.
    Italicized sentences must be wrangled, and the italics (or Bold for that matter) turned off on the MS or the Up-loader will italicize everything after that command. (Imagine my surprise when I first saw my book on Kindle – grins.)

    I believe JSB pointed out that there’s nothing like using an e-reader to help you with editing. Joe Moore pointed out in one of his posts to remember to make EVERY change back on the original MS, or you’ll have a disaster on your hands.

    After several uploads I had a finished product I could be proud of. I could have hired someone to do all that for me, but it’s important for me to understand the Ins and Outs of everything.

    This way I understand everything that goes into why publishers charge so much for their services.

    Formatting adds tons of work to a finished story, but now I have my own style sheet for all my future self-pubbed work.

  15. Having come from the world of desktop publishing, a small piece of advice: set up paragraph styles in Word and use them faithfully. If every paragraph, every chapter title has a paragraph style associated with it, you can go modify the definition of the style and every bit of text with that style assigned to it changes. If you have two separate publishers, name your styles for the publishers: body text House A, body text House B. Should your publisher go belly up and you want to submit elsewhere, it’s about a two minute job to redefine a style so it meets requirements elsewhere. Word doesn’t play as nicely with paragraph styles as programs like PageMaker or InDesign, but if you cuss enough, it’ll do the job.


  16. Paula, I kept my own instructions too for self-pubbing. It’s necessary, especially since my self-pub effort has been a while and I already forgot what I did.

Comments are closed.