Get Published: 5 Ways to Format Like a Pro

Get Published: 5 Ways to Format Like a Pro

Decrease Your Yowling: Increase Your Chances to Get Published.

The publishing process can be a labyrinth. Whether you’re looking to digitally publish, self-publish, or go the traditional route of agency representation to reach the bestseller list, one thing that can make or break your Yowling Creator’s brainchild is format.

Proper format is the mark of a pro. It separates experts from amateurs. Even if you have a few publishing credits in your bio, a shoddy manuscript will send your submission to the “slush pile,” the purgatory of all unwanted work and other labors of love.

Chuck Sambuchino, an editor for Writer’s Digest Books and author of Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript, says good formatting “all adds up to giving writers the best shot of getting their work read and published.” This is because proper format shows you’ve done your industry homework and presents your document with excellence and proficiency. Inappropriate format screams “newbie,” someone editors and agents tend to shun.

Here are five keys to remember when formatting your manuscript:

1. CREATE IN A COMMON PROGRAM: I use Microsoft Word and encourage the students in my workshops and courses on creative and academic writing to do the same. As a freelance editor, I require this format from my clients as well. The reason is simple. Microsoft Word manuscripts are accessible by both PC and Mac, they are the most preferred by the industry, and can be converted into digital formats at little or no cost. I recommend using the most up-to-date version to avoid electronic glitches such as duplication of page numbers, altered line spacing, adjusted paragraphs, and other sudden formatting nightmares that can happen due to any differences in the program of the publishing recipient.

2. AVOID FANCY FONTS: While aesthetic on the page, in digital publishing they don’t always translate well. In traditional publishing, editors and agents tend to roll their eyes and laugh at them as their latest joke around the lunch table. Stick with industry standards:

  • 8 ½” x 11” page layout
  • 1” margins
  • Times New Roman 12
  • Double-spaced lines
  • Periodic chapter and subtitle divisions

3. AVOID MARGIN MANIPULATION: This is particularly important for digital and self-publishing venues where your work must be sent in “finished” and will be reproduced “as is.” This means that no one will review your manuscript to make sure everything appears professional before it is published in its final format. Manipulating margins to make that last letter fit on a line can cause your text to run into oblivion. Not properly sizing photos can cut off your image or worse—throw off the format of your entire manuscript. Some digital publishers will “preflight,” or check document data to make sure it’s valid, but there are no guarantees for content or appearance. This is why most publishers faithfully provide exact guidelines for authors to follow.

4. CHECK THE PUBLISHER’S WEBSITE: It’s crucial to compare what a publisher requires with what you have. Both digital and traditional formatting specifics can be found by clicking on “Submissions,” “Author Guidelines,” or sometimes on the “Contact” page. A literary agent’s website tends to contain more detailed information. While most everyone adheres to industry basics, each person has a personal preference for the particulars. For this reason, I never send a submission without checking the website first.

5. PROOF IT, THEN PROOF IT AGAIN: Proper formatting includes correct punctuation and a command of whatever language you use. Although you may be detail-oriented, consistent, and organized, I suggest slipping your masterpiece before another pair of eyes, educated and loving enough to tell you the truth. Doing this helped me secure a literary agent with 30 years in the business who is now hard at work for me.

Follow these five tips, parade your project like a peacock, and achieve your publishing dream. Come back next week to find out more about avoiding pitfalls in publishing and how to steer clear of the slush pile.

One Response to “Get Published: 5 Ways to Format Like a Pro”

  1. Alexxis Schorr says:

    So I know this blog entry really doesn’t have much to do with our course, but I found it very informative. I love to write creatively, and have played around with the idea of getting published. It has just always seemed like such a far off dream. I didn’t ever think about the different ways to become published either. In my mind it has always just been the classic things you see in films or most often read on a cold winter afternoon. And then there is always the question of who would take my stuff. None of it is completed at this point except a couple of short stories, and poems, but maybe someday I can use the information from this blog to get me started!

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