Let’s talk formatting by Marci Clark
As an editor/designer, I see manuscripts come at me with all kinds of crazy, wonky, how-the-hell-did-you-do-that formatting. Be kind to your editor/designer, peeps. Clean up your mess a little before submitting it.
Some houses provide a style guide. Double check for any submission rules before sending your book and risking a default rejection. If the house is relaxed on their formatting, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother cleaning up the formatting any less than you’d bother cleaning up the content.
If they don’t have a style for submissions, a pretty basic format is appreciated. Centered chapter headings, .3 to .5 indent on new paragraphs, 1.5 spaced lines, all black text in a basic font/typeface (making it “pretty” won’t impress your editor), and no all capped or underlined words (use italics for emphasis). Something like this:
Jessica closed her eyes as the candles on her birthday cake flickered just a few inches away. Eleven of them. Eleven candles meant her wish was even stronger than last year. Just like last year, she took a breath and thought the one thing she’d thought on her birthday for as long as she could remember—I wish I had a mom.
Opening her eyes, she blew the candles out with one big breath. She smiled as everyone cheered like she’d done some great thing.
She wasn’t sure if it was because she was the only kid in the family—the only biological kid anyway, there were plenty of what her dad called Grandma’s strays—or if it was because she had Down syndrome, but everyone always seemed to overreact to what she did. Blowing out her birthday candles didn’t really call for applause. She rolled her eyes and sat back in her chair but couldn’t help the grin that spread across her face.
Here are a few shortcuts when it comes to cleaning up your manuscript. Note: I have a PC, so I don’t know if these translate to a Mac.
We are no longer a society of the double space after ending a sentence. One space. One. But if you have a habit of adding two, no problem. There’s a quick fix. Open up your find/replace option. In the find box, hit the space bar twice. In the replace box, hit the space bar once. Then select replace all. Do that until the find/replace reaches zero.
No. Just no. Do not use the tab button when indenting. Go to the top of the document, select the page layout tab an set your indent for the document there. Sometimes hitting the tab is natural. You can fix that as well. In the find/replace option, find ^t and replace with nothing. Leave the replace box blank. Replace all. Then select all on your document and set your tab as indicated above-through the page layout option.
Spaces before or after paragraphs:
These hidden spaces may seem innocent enough, but if you are self publishing, these extra spaces can cause the designer a lot of stress depending on which program they use to convert your document. Remove extra spaces by again using the find/replace option. Find: space bar^p, and replace with ^p. Replace all. Do the same, but with the space on the other side of the paragraph break. ^pspacebar, replace with ^p. This will give you clean returns throughout.
These also are pain when formatting. Find/replace ^l with ^p.
As for the document, please, please, PLEASE do not hit the enter button multiple times to start a new chapter. Nooo!!! Use a solid page break. Ctrl+Enter will break the page and give you (and your designer) a clean start on the next chapter. The problem with hitting enter over and over is that while it may push the chapter heading to a new page on your computer screen, it doesn’t always work out that way on your editor’s screen. If not, your chapter headings end up in all kinds of crazy places. Just do a page break, and nobody has to wonder WTF.
There are a dozens of little things that could also be done, but this really hits the big ones. Follow these tips, and your editor/designer will love you just a little more.
Marci Clark is a freelance editor, book/cover art/promo materials designer, published author, and all around publishing nerd. She’s worked for Kensington Publishing since 2014, as well as several indie houses over the years. She is proficient in self-publishing and would love to help you with all your publishing needs, including premade or custom cover art.
Reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to discuss your project with her.
Sample taken from Jessica’s Wish (Stonehill Romance Book 4)
There is nothing Jessica wants more than to be like everyone else, but between her Down syndrome and her colorful family, “average” isn’t part of her vocabulary. This year when she blows out eleven candles on her homemade vegan cake she makes the same wish she’s made for as many birthdays as she can remember: she wants a mother.
Jessica’s father Phil has worked his entire life to create a more stable childhood for his daughter than he had. But a supportive mother, a recently returned father, rainbow pancakes, and princesses can’t heal the dark void left in Phil’s heart which he won’t even admit is there.
When Mallory’s mother’s life unexpectedly turns upside down, Mallory realizes her dreams come second to her heart, and she leaves her dream job in a big city to return home set on helping her fiercely independent mother recover. After forming a unique bond with Jessica—and a friendship with Jessica’s hot father—Mallory finds that in coming back to Stonehill she might just have found a way to make all of her dreams come true.
But as their families start pushing Phil and Mallory together, old insecurities and Phil’s worst fears threaten to break up the happy trio and catch Jessica in the emotional crossfire.