Monday, April 18, 2011

Formatting your MS

In today's world of e-readers, getting the format on your manuscript is super important. How important? So important that I'll reject your ms if it isn't formatted properly? No way. I'm not that picky. But it is one of the first things I fix in the revisions stage. But if you get your format fixed before it gets to an agent, she might just forget she's reading a ms on her e-reader because it looks just like a real book! Or it's just one less thing for her to notice.

So, what's the correct format? (I'm using Microsoft Word and I'm reading on a Kindle; please let everyone know if there are different standards for different programs.)

Personally, I prefer Times New Roman 12 pt font, but you can use something equivalent (Arial or Courier)--but don't use Harry Potter font or something equally weird. It's about the words, not how clever you are with ClipArt (please don't add ClipArt).

Make sure you have one inch margins all around (this is a throw back from my English Lit days and I have no idea if the margins actually make a difference).

Next, press Select+A on your keyboard (or go up to the Edit drop down menu and choose Select All), this should highlight your entire document. Right click somewhere and go to Paragraph. Under the Indents and Spacing Tab, go to Indentation. Set Left and Right at 0". Set Special for First Line (this will make your paragraphs automatically indent), By .5". Don't ever use the TAB key; this will not show up on an e-reader.

Not done yet. Now go to the next section, still fixing Paragraph, labeled Spacing. Before and After should be 0pt, and Line Spacing should be Double (unless you've been told to use something else). This will make your paragraphs evenly spaced. Don't take for granted that your entire ms is properly spaced already, there are always mistakes.

For new chapters, you can press Enter a few times or, to get the new chapter on a new page, press Ctrl+Enter. This will put your chapter on a new page and show up nicely on an e-reader (if you press Enter too many times then it might show up on the e-reader as a blank page before we get to the new chapter--profoundly annoying for some reason). Also, don't put your chapter titles in fancy fonts. It doesn't even need to be in a bigger font.

Now your ms should be in the correct format. If you have an e-reader handy, or if you can borrow one from a friend, send the doc to yourself and scroll through the pages.

Viola! You've just eliminated a step from the agent's revising process, made your ms look a lot neater, and it looks like a real book on an e-reader!

Update 4/20/11: Reader @Kris informs us that you can use Find and Replace (Ctrl+f) to delete all your tabs by using ^t in MS Word. Thank you Kris for the information! Hopefully that will cut down on the time it takes to reformat your documents.

Update 4/29/11: For new chapters use Ctrl+Enter. I originally said use shift+enter; that does nothing. Thanks Kris (different Kris than above--I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone, are all Kris's extremely smart?) for pointing this out! Also to @Bonita's question, no, your chapter titles don't need to be centered. I have no preference on this. Do it or not, just don't spend a whole lot of time on it.

Update 3/23/12: Cassandra Marshall has a great checklist for formatting that I stumbled across, you can find it here. Also, if my info becomes obsolete, what with e-readers updating faster than I can type, please do update us masses!

Skim through the comments, several people have been extremely helpful on this topic!

Happy writing!


Krista Van Dolzer said...

Thanks, Vickie! I didn't realize e-readers don't recognize tabs. This is good to know.

Tiffany Evans said...

Thank you, Vickie! This is great to know. I'll apply it to my MS right away.

Kimberlee Turley said...

I believe "First Line" and "Hanging" are two separate features.

Also, just want to point out there is a discrepancy among Word versions for the default page margins. In MS Word 2007 they are 1", in Word 2003, they are 1.25".

Bkloss said...

Thanks, Vickie! This is VERY good to know. Off to edit my format...

Reina M. Williams said...

Thanks! These are simple tips that make sense. :)

Karlene Petitt said...

Heather sent me to your blog. I'm so happy she did. This is very helpful. Thank you.

Heather said...

This is fantastic Vickie! Thank you so much! I'm bookmarking this and telling all my friends. I didn't know the ereader tricks!

Unknown said...

Didn't know the tab thing! Glad I saw this before I start querying in a week or two.

Vickie Motter said...

@Clutzattack, thanks for catching my error! I fixed it so I won't confuse anyone anymore. For your other advice, I think 2003 is 1", I've always used 2003 not 2007. I'll look into this, thank you. But word to the wise to everyone, guess and check! Trial and Error!

Gina Ciocca said...

I've been looking for this advice everywhere, and haven't been able to find anything as specific or succinct. Thank you!

Huntress said...

*sigh* Thankx for the info. Formatting correctly for E-readers is fairly new. It helps you and helps the writer.
Thankx again.

Alex said...

My god...thank you. Formatting is a nightmare for me, I really appreciate the blow by blow.

Unknown said...

This post is incredibly helpful--I had no idea about the TAB function not showing up on ereaders. Time to reformat my ms. Thanks! :)

Becky Wallace said...

You are my HERO! This is the best post on formatting I've found. Thank you!

Becky Wallace said...

P.S. Is it cool if I re-post this on my blog tomorrow? You'll obviously get the credit.

Christa Desir said...

This is awesome. The only thing I would add for those still doing it: take out the two spaces between sentences. Apparently, everyone just does one space these days (I might have been using Writing in Style from 1997). This can easily be tackled with the Find/Replace edit features.

Also, sorry that my first comment got deleted. I am not sure how I did that. Perhaps you can do your next post about comment posting:)

Tina Moss said...

I use STYLES in MS Word which creates a wonderful layout and easily so. Does anyone know if it translates to ereaders?

Beth C. said...

This is very interesting. I had no idea that TAB didn't show up on e-readers.

Stephsco said...

ZOMG did not know about the Tab dealie. Thank you!

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Oh the formatting guidelines of each agency.../lament.

Rainy of the Dark (Rainy Kaye) said...

I'm sure it sounds like an echo by now, but I didn't know tabs don't show up on e-readers. Thanks for the insight!

Unknown said...

Thank you! But one other question - does it make any difference whether the file is ".doc" or ".docx"?

Unknown said...

Bethany, it does make a difference - use the .doc one, it's more universally accepted.

And for anyone looking for an easy way to eliminate the tabs after applying the auto indent function, type in ^t in the find and replace field, that represents tab in word.

Ever gotten an ebook that had full line spaces instead of tabs between paragraphs? that's a result of the tabs interacting with the conversion software too.

(My book design guy at Deeply Dapper patiently explained all of this to me a few days ago while he was fixing my book for release... I'd never known any of it!)

Check In To The ROUS Motel!

Melanie said...

Great info, Vickie! Thanks. Will get on it :D

Mart Ramirez said...

Great post, Vickie!

Bill said...

I try to be careful with formatting, but didn't realize its effect on e-readers. As I just ordered my own Kindle, I will take your advice and try reading it on there. Thanks.

Anita Saxena said...

I did not know about Shift+Enter. Can't wait to use this. A far as the tab button, is there a quick fix to undo all the tabs I've used?

Vickie Motter said...

@Anita to quickly delete all your tabs, follow @Kris's advice by going to Search and Replace (Ctrl+f) and use ^t for the tabs. Let me know if this works. I didn't know about this either and am curious to know how well it works!

Unknown said...

If you use Open Office, it's a bit trickier, but not much, you bring up the find box (Ctrl-F) and type in \t then you have to select the "More options" box and check "regular Expressions" this will allow you to easily find and replace all of your tabs there!

You can also use that to find carriage returns by finding $ and empty carriage returns (A line with no text in it) with ^$

Hope those help!

Bonita Herold said...

Thanks for the info. I don't think anyone's asked this question yet. Should the chapter headings be centered?

Sarah Laurenson said...

If you select all and make formatting changes - like double spacing and first line by 0.5" - then it will also change your first page contact info as well as title and chapter headings. The title and chapter headings may wind up centered plus indented by 0.5"

I do find it easier though to do the select all and then go back and fix the formatting on the chapter headings individually.

Another thing to search for is multiple spacings. I've noticed sometimes that people will put 5 spaces instead of a tab for the first line.

While newer versions of Word may have 1.25" margins, you can update the default to 1".

From Word Help:
On the File menu, click Page Setup, and then click the Margins tab.
Under Margins, select the options you want.
To change the default margins, click Default after you select new margin settings. The new default settings are saved in the template on which the document is based. Each new document based on that template automatically uses the new margin settings.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Fantastic! Thanks for the tips!

Julie Musil said...

All great tips, thanks guys! I use Apple's "Pages" program, so I'll have to search for equivalent tips. I convert it to Word before sending, so I'll start with that.

Matthew MacNish said...

I never use the tab key when writing, but this is still excellent information. Thanks Vickie!

Shannon Hitchcock said...

Well, I wasn't smart enough to set tabs. I've been hitting the space bar on the computer five times for every new paragraph. I'm totally cringing in embarrassment. :)

Now when I select all and do the Format, Paragraph, Special, First Line etc., it moves my margin over too far. I'm sure it's because I had already done the space bar thingey. Anybody have a fix?

Anonymous said...

Shannon, it does that until you take out the tabs or spaces that you'd inserted prior to setting the first line margin. I would use find and replace, but it sounds like it might get dicey and complicated... Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this! Appreciate! :)

Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks so much for this! I've been trying to tell editing clients about not using the tab key and here's an authority laying down the law. Also, how do you feel about 1) Moving the first line of the first paragraph flush with the left margin? 2) Two spaces after a period? 3) Underlining vs. italics vs ALL CAPS for book titles?

1600 Words A Day said...

Ah. This may explain why so many digital ARCs look so funky on my Kindle. Also, now I'm paranoid a out my ms formatting.

Febe Moss said...

Thanks for this post! Really helpful.

Also, it looks like your twitter graphic isn't working:-( What's your twitter handle? I'd love to follow you.

Anonymous said...

Formatting can be frustrating. I had to help have from someone with CreateSpace. They were a real life saver. Thanks for the tips!

Uh oh. I see your Word Verification (WV) is still on. I'm on a mission to rid the world of this unnecessary evil frustration! Please stop by my blog and select the How To Turn Off Your Word Verification tab and help make the world a better place one blog at a t ime.

Matthew MacNish said...

I've been playing with this today, because I'm finally querying, and after setting Special for First Line to .5, and then emailing my .doc MS to my account for conversion, the beginnings of paragraphs are not indented when I read the .azw file on my iPhone Kindle app. I can't check it on my actual Kindle until I get home, but I will try to come back with an update once I do.

Thanks again!

Matthew MacNish said...

It didn't work on my Kindle either. Probably something to do with the method their conversion by email uses.

Cortney Pearson said...

Thanks, Vickie! Bebopping over from Cupid's blog post on this--I had no idea about Tabs! So good to know! :D

ilima said...

I've been hearing people talk about this tabs thing but haven't figured out how to do it until now. Thanks!

Editor Cassandra said...

Thanks for linking to my formatting checklist!

You've got a great blog, I can't believe I didn't know about it until now! I've added you on GFC!

All the best,


Mark Fenger said...

So.... Hypothetically, if we used tabs instead of formatting for paragraph indents and sent you manuscript samples, would we be better off fixing it and re-submitting, or would you rather not have your in-box cluttered with multiple manuscripts?

Just hypothetically of course. I'm asking for a friend (yeah that's it, she'll believe that).


Jolene Haley said...

Thank you so much for this awesome post! Incredible helpful and I had no idea how to format a MS for an e-reader before now. You're amazing.

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