Writing Tip #12 – Formatting

Formatting (for submission purposes as well as contests) The Synopsis and Sample Chapters

Now I am taking on this topic for two reason.  The first; well its simple and a good way for me to get back up in the saddle.  And Second; Formatting has changed some what in just the last few years and I feel the need to share what I have learned.

So lets begin.

Formatting for submission whether it be to an agent, editor or for a contest may not seem like a huge matter.  I mean really as long as it is legible how much could it matter.  Well like everything in the writing business it matters a great deal because it will show how seriously you take the “business”.

First I want to give a basic format that will be acceptable when there are no specific instructions given as to format requirements.  This should be what you use if you are submitting for a contest, to your writing or critique group, to an agency or editor who still likes to receive paper submission (although this is starting to become a rare occurrence)

Starting with the paper, use plain white 8.5 x 11 general purpose or copy paper.  Nothing else.  Do not think you will get away with slipping in more words by using larger paper, no professional wants colored paper, and they will not remember your name because they will never get past it being embossed on the stationary and it will be in the round file, or given today’s environmentally minded people the recycle bin.  So just keep it simple, and as it were cheap.

As a note I do sandwich my submission between two thicker pieces if paper mostly so it does not get bent or wrinkled in transit.

Now for what goes on the paper:

FIRST the FONT.  The only two (2) acceptable fonts that I am aware of anywhere in publishing are New Times Roman and Courier New.  The ONLY pitch allowed will be 12 Pitch.  Every line will be double spaced.  DOUBLE SPACED, do not use some 1.34 space or even 1.72 space thinking, again to get in more words all it will get you is tossed.

Use your header/footer tool and create a header.  In the left corner will go your name and the title of the novel, it is acceptable to use only your last name if you like but make sure that you keep it consistent (which the tool should insure) throughout the submission.  In the right corner you need the page number. JUST the number.  A numeral and not a Roman type and one every single page.  Yes I know your book is going to have the numbers at the bottom center, but this isn’t your book… yet so do it this way.

Now set your margins so that you have 1 inch margins all around.  You will have a rough right margin do not set the format to stretch to the right margin and do not exceed 1 inch right.

The basic reason for this is word count.  These standards allow for a fairly reliable word count of about 250 words per page and this helps determine total word count by chapter as well as for the novel.  Remember this is paper copies we are speaking about and even word count tools on computers will vary.  If an agent or editor or contest judge wants to have a rough idea of your word count they will use this formula.

The first page of your submission will be the one page that is not like the others.  At least for the sample chapters the synopsis will be consistent first to last page.  For your sample chapters the first page will start about 1/3rd the way down.  You will center your title and then your name under the title.  After your name everything will be Left Margin Flush, this usually includes the chapter numbers/names although I have never heard anyone complain if you do center your chapter head.

For your synopsis you will start at the top of the page not 1/3rd the way down and you will not have your title and name any place other than in the header.

Make sure that your page numbers from your sample chapters and synopsis are separate and it is also wise to add the word “synopsis” to the header although not necessary.

Every page that follows will start at the top of the page and go down to the bottom.  If a chapter ends mid page start the next chapter on a fresh page.  Do not place extra spaces between paragraphs and if you have a scene change or change in POV (point of view) place a return after the last sentence use either THREE “#” or THREE “*” centered then a return and continue writing.  It is again simple but simple always means fewer chances to make errors

Because your synopsis is not usually chapter by chapter but more plot point to plot point (I will get to the synopsis writing soon) you will be able to use all your page space which is valuable as most synopsis are only 3 to 5 pages long and have to give so much information.  Every bit of space counts.

If you have been asked for sample chapters, it is likely going to be specific like “the first 3 chapters” but some requests are for a specific page count such as “first 50 pages”.  Now if this happens and page “50” ends with a partial sentence or at an awkward place something that is not “finished” it is actually better to back up and cut the submission at a natural place, even if this means you only submit 47 pages.  What you want to create with your submission is both a scene of completion and a desire to read more.

Of course nothing is going to sell you better than your writing, but the entire point is to get your writing looked at and proper formatting is part of getting that accomplished.

So until next time,

Write ON!