Lisa Lenard-Cook

The Lonely Writer’s Companion – 2014

December 31, 2013
Written by
Lisa Lenard-Cook

The Lonely Writer's Companion

“What’s the Big Deal About Formatting?”

Welcome to the new improved Lonely Writer’s Companion! The format’s simple: You send in your questions, and each month I’ll select one to answer. Email your questions to me c/o dbooth@authorlink.com. (Be sure to put “Question for The Lonely Writer’s Companion” in the subject line.) You can also contact me through my website, www.lisalenardcook.com

"If I had a nickel for each time someone asked me this question, I wouldn’t have to work for a living."
—Lenard-Cook

Question: In various guises, this month’s question comes from more than one person, so I’ve once again glommed them together into one: What’s the big deal about formatting, anyway? Why do editors and agents insist on double-spacing, Times New Roman, and a new page for each new chapter, to name just a few?

The Lonely Writer responds: As my Grandma used to say, “If I had a nickel for each time someone asked me this question, I wouldn’t have to work for a living.” But you’re a professional, right? This means you’ve done your homework and learned that editors and agents expect manuscripts to be double-spaced, without fancy fonts, new pages for new chapters spaced halfway down, and pages numbered sequentially. When, as a literary journal editor, I receive a manuscript that doesn’t follow this format, I don’t read it. When, as a manuscript editor, I receive a single-spaced manuscript, the writer who’s paying me to edit often can’t read my notes because there isn’t room for me to squeeze editorial marks between the lines. When, as a critique group member, I receive a manuscript without page numbers, I write them in—crankily. Come on. How hard is it to click on insert page numbers?

"What if someone handed you a business card that was so hard to read you couldn’t figure out what it was they did?"
—Lenard-Cook

Then there’s the matter of mutual respect—not just the way you expect to be treated but the way you treat others. What if someone handed you a business card that was so hard to read you couldn’t figure out what it was they did? Would you want to hire them to, say, fix your roof, or represent you in court? That’s how editors feel when you send them a manuscript that hasn’t been formatted according to industry standards: they don’t want to hire you. And please, save those fancy fonts for birthday cards. Most of them are impossible to decipher.

Let’s look at a few of those formatting requirements from a publisher’s point of view. Starting a new chapter on a new page alerts readers to the fact of that new chapter. Page numbering is so self-explanatory I can’t believe I have to address it here (but I do). Using tabs to indent each paragraph rather than space, space, spacing means that when a book designer steps in, she won’t have to reformat. Putting your name, address, phone number, and email on your manuscript means an editor can get in touch with you when s/he decides to buy it.

"So be a pro. Show us some respect."
—Lenard-Cook

So be a pro. Show us some respect. And understand that the effort you make now will pay off when your book goes into production. Formatting matters. It’s part of the business of being a writer.

 

Got a question for The Lonely Writer’s Companion? Email it to me c/o dbooth@authorlink.com. (Be sure to put “Question for The Lonely Writer’s Companion” in the subject line.) Your question could appear in a future column.

 

Find Your Story Writer Your Memoir
Find Your Story,
Write Your Memoir

by Lisa Lenard-Cook
and Lynn C. Miller
Buy This Book via Amazon.com

PEN-short-listed author Lisa Lenard-Cook’s most recent book is Find Your Story, Write Your Memoir (University of Wisconsin Press), which she co-authored with Lynn C. Miller, with whom she co-founded of ABQ Writers Co-op (abqwriterscoop.com), creating community in New Mexico for writers everywhere. She's an editor of the literary magazine bosque, on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, and the Board of Narrative Arts Center in Santa Fe. Website: lisalenardcook.com

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