Monday, April 14, 2014

Before You Submit: Formatting

After you've completed editing and gotten your story into shape, take a minute to double check your publisher's guidelines and make sure your manuscript adheres to their specs. I'm not just talking about content guidelines. Publishers also have specific formatting guidelines, and they usually have them for a reason, so make an effort to conform your manuscript to their style.

Some of these guidelines might include:
  1. Line spacing. 1 – 1.5 spacing is usually preferred, but always double check. Different publishers have different preferences on this.

  2. Spacing between paragraphs. This one is overlooked a lot in submissions to LT3, which can be frustrating as it's one of the more aggravating ones to fix.

    LT3's preferred formatting is to have a single space between paragraphs and for that space to be made with a hard return (pressing the "enter" key) as opposed to using the "add a space before/after paragraph" formatting feature. This may seem like a small thing, but it actually makes a difference when we're formatting the various ebook formats later.

    It can be very time-consuming stripping out the formatting feature and adding the hard returns later. This can also lead to accidentally removing scene breaks since some authors only use additional spaces and not an identifying feature (ie, ***) to mark scene changes. More than once this has been found to be the case when authors review their galley proofs.

    If the guidelines say to use the formatting feature, then use it. But if the guidelines say to use hard returns, then do that.

    ETA: if you've already written your manuscript using the formatting feature, there's a simple find/replace you can use to add the hard returns. Open the find/replace window and type ^p into the "find" field and ^p^p into the "replace" field. This will add the space between all paragraphs in one fell swoop and save you the tedious task of doing it manually.

  3. Scene breaks. As mentioned above, scene breaks are a lot easier to find and account for in formatting if they're clearly marked. Additional spaces aren't always easily caught, so it helps if the author uses some symbol or marking to identify them.

    Most publishers are likely to state in their guidelines how to mark scene breaks. If they do not, I suggest something simple but easy to spot (eg, *** or #). Centering them also helps distinguish the break from the main text.

  4. Chapter breaks. My experience is that most publishers prefer that new chapters start on a new page and that the author use the "page break" feature as opposed to using a hard return (pressing "enter") until they reach a new page.

    Using returns to get to a new page isn't ideal because any changes made to formatting such as margins, gutters, font size, font style, etc, will affect the text  and page numbers. Chapter headings that were at the top of a page will shift & move with these changes and end up elsewhere on the page. This will then be one more thing that has to be hunted down and fixed before we can move on with formatting.

    Save us all some time and use "page break" when you start a new chapter.

  5. Quotation marks. Some publishers prefer curly (or smart) “quotes”, others prefer straight "quotes". Be aware of which one the publisher you're submitting to prefers and adjust them accordingly. Note that in Word you can use the find/replace feature to change them en masse if you get them wrong the first time. The following images show how to change the settings in Word 2010:

    And in OpenOffice:

  6. Headers/footers. This is another one that tends to get overlooked in submissions to LT3. Some publishers may require certain information; others may prefer that you leave them blank. Follow the formatting instructions as outlined by the publisher you're submitting to.

If all this seems rather arbitrary, just know that it's not. And if you don't take the time now to adjust your formatting to the publisher's specifications, someone else down the line is going to have to spend time stripping/removing/fixing things you were asked to take care of before they can do the work they're actually supposed to be doing.

Ignoring these guidelines and not following through also suggests to the publishers that perhaps you're not so good at paying attention or following directions. This definitely is not a bonus in your favor. So spare the extra minute to check over the formatting guidelines and make certain you meet them all.

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