Sunday, April 16, 2017

The ABCs of Book Writing: F is for FORMATTING . . .

Infographic for Weekly Blog Series on Book Writing and Publishing: F is for FORMATTING
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. . . and FOUR reasons to FIGURE it out.

So what's the big deal about manuscript formatting? It's just something boring that I'll worry about later or get someone else to fix. If I want to write my book with a purple comic font on a yellow background, that's my choice and it's OK for now.

Well, yes—and, then again, quite possibly no. In fact, there is some basis for getting your formatting right—right now, as you work on your first draft.

Four reasons to figure out formatting now

1. Formatting is its own thing of beauty with intrinsic value, like a newly stretched and primed blank canvas. A correctly formatted manuscript may contain unresolved writing issues, but at least you can feel like a professional because the tangible expression of your ideas—ultimately the only thing that counts—is presented to meet book trade standards.

2. Formatting may help you write more easily. With correct, functional formatting in place, you have one less thing to worry about, freeing at least some small part of your mind for creative endeavor. It is a further boon that proper formatting eliminates annoying, distracting glitches and reduces the possibility of file corruption. Finally, professional-level formatting that you learned to do yourself may also contribute to your confidence as a writer geared to success.

3.  A correctly formatted manuscript meets the basic expectation of the publishing industry. Sending a sloppily, incorrectly formatted manuscript to agents and publishers will result in its immediate relegation to the reject pile. It won't matter how beautifully you write, as no one will be bothered to read what looks like a substandard production.

I recall visiting the office of my New York agent. The latest manuscript from her highest-earning, best-selling author had just arrived. My agent handed it to me to look over. Of course, the writing style was polished, but I was also struck by the presentation of the work: heavy white bond paper, clear black font, generous margins, correctly placed headers, and so on. This was an object lesson to me that in the real-world book trade, ability to format is right up there with literary talent.

4. Formatting facilitates book design. Designers can fix most formatting errors and oversights. But why not give them something that already looks good? It might well lead to a better final design, and it will save on production costs.

Formatting your manuscript

The following list presupposes that you are writing in Microsoft Word. If you are using some other kind of writing program, you should still be able to conform to these guidelines. Doing so will produce a professional-looking manuscript and reduce compatibility issues across programs.

Basics of formatting a book manuscript

Set up margins. One inch all around.

Set up line spacing. Double.

Use a standard font. 12-point Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier. Black, no colors.

Include an unnumbered title page. It should contain the book title, your name and contact information, word count, and copyright line: Copyright © 20xx by Your Name.

Start the body on page 1. Insert a header and page numbering. Your Name / Your Book Title (shortened if long) / 1. Align the header right.

Start each chapter on a new page. Use Insert/Page Break, not extra enters, to make a new page. For both print and ebook layout, drop the chapter heading down the equivalent of four single-spaced lines. Alignment may be centered or left. Chapter number and title, if any, can be all caps, bolded, or a combination of these.

Align main text. Left, not justified. First line of each chapter may be set flush left or indented as below.

Spacing between sentences. One space, not two.

Indent paragraphs. Use the tab key, not spaces. Better still, set up an indented paragraph style using Styles for Normal Text.

Italicization. Use the italic font, not underlining.

Submitting the manuscript. If printing, use 20-lb. bond paper. If sending digitally, follow recipient's instructions.

Format margins, title page & paragraph style
Set up margins, unnumbered title page, and paragraph style for your book manuscript.
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A final note. IMPORTANT—If you follow the above guidelines, your manuscript will be professionally acceptable. But to enhance your manuscript's chances for a favorable reception, always check agents' and publishers' websites to determine specific requirements and preferences.

Proper formatting can enhance your chances of publication success by making a good first impression on agents, publishers, and designers. You can hardly go wrong by easing the lives of the professional support people on which authors depend. Not least of all, as you progress with your draft, a well-formatted manuscript will help add to both your sense of  professionalism and satisfaction as a writer.

Coming next week . . . "G is for GRAMMAR"

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