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  • Writer's pictureTERRY ANN MARSH

From Premise to Published: Formatting

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

The simple definition of formatting is to put things in proper order. This means, as a writer, you will have to format, or prepare, your manuscript so it is ready to be looked at by an agent for representation or an editor for publication.

There is much to formatting. Books and books have been written about it. As in any profession or artistic endeavor, there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. And since there are so many genres of writing and different types of publishers, the formatting will often differ from one manuscript to another.

The advent of technology has made the whole process easier, cheaper and quicker. Forget the romantic notion of wrapping your novel up in brown paper tied with twine and sending it off to an editor who responds in a lovely, personal, hand-written letter. That makes for a wonderful movie sequence but has little to do with today’s reality.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on formatting – I don’t need to be. I just need to know how to format the manuscripts I send out. The best advice I can give you is to look carefully at the website of the publishing house or agent you want to send your material to and do EXACTLY as they outline on their webpage. If they say 1” margins, double-spaced, 12-point font, then, for goodness’ sake, do it!

If you are submitting a picture book and they make of point of saying they don’t publish books with more than 500 words, don’t send them you 1000-word bee book and hope they’ll change their mind. They won’t. Don’t waste your time, or theirs.

Besides being aware of the specifics that agents and publishers want in the manuscripts they receive, you should also be aware of general rules that apply to all categories of writing. I can sum it up in two words - write well. Spelling counts. Grammar counts. Use spell check, know where to put a comma, know how to use quotes, etc. If you are unsure if you are doing something correctly, look it up. A few minutes of your time is worth the end result of making your submission as close to perfect as you can.

This is it! You’ve completed your manuscript. You’ve had it critiqued a couple of times. You’ve edited and re-edited it. You’re ready to submit. Find the publisher or agent you want to send it to, read their submission guidelines, and follow them. Do your homework and match your submission to an editor that would be interested in it. If possible, try to find the editor’s name. It is not always possible, but I’ve been known to make a few phone calls trying to see if I could find a name not listed on a website. I felt like a creeper, but I did get a name. Now….hit send!

Congratulations! You have completed your task. You finished what you set out to do. It was hard and you did it. Whether you get a response, get an agent, get a publisher, or not, you can at least give yourself a moment of “Well Done!”

Now, that that moment’s over – what’s next?

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