Petty Man(uscript) Problems

In the last couple days I’ve been converting my latest version of a WIP to manuscript format. A simple task in theory. I mean, I already wrote the book– drafted and added to and cut and changed and edited and critiqued and revised and revised and revised (and did I say revised?) it– how hard could it be to make sure the thing was double-spaced and had one-inch margins?

How indeed.

As I read through assorted manuscript format guidelines, it quickly became clear that spacing and margins are about the only thing most (yes– not even all!) sources agree on.

Then other issues began to surface:

  • Scene breaks: hashtags or returned lines?
  • How many spaces down the page should chapter headings be (and how many returns after it)?
  • Can I call my chapters “ONE,” “TWO,” and “THREE,” or do they have to include the word “CHAPTER”?
  • Should I include a dedication in the manuscript when submitting it to agents?
  • Do I end the novel with “THE END,” “END,” a hashtag, or nothing?
  • #THEEND?

You get the idea.

And for every picky question of detail, there might be two to a dozen answers: that’s Eenie, Meenie vs. Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo, Bob, Tom, Curl, Larry, George, Sal, Wally, and Cousin Chip.

As a first-time author, formatting your manuscript is not something you want to play guesses at. You want to get things right– and all of the conflicting sources out there can make this endeavor both difficult and stressful.

BUT THERE IS GOOD NEWS. After an absurd amount of time and Googling, I realized a few things:

  1. Some agents specify manuscript format preferences right on their websites. BOOM. Guesswork gone.
  2. Agents that don’t specify how many enters before chapter titles or whether the Last Name/Title/Page Number header should be flushed left or right aren’t going to discount your manuscript for discrepancies in such petty details, and
  3. THEY ARE PETTY DETAILS.

Have you ever been stressed over a ludicrously small detail like this? If so, share below!

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29 thoughts on “Petty Man(uscript) Problems

  1. Having queried just last year, I totally get it. There are so many tiny details to worry about, but I don’t think they really matter. From what I read while researching formatting and from what I’ve seen agents say on Twitter, it seems like double spacing your ms is the most important thing, and then choosing an normal, readable font. Other than that, I don’t think there are a lot of deal-breakers.

    Good luck! I’m so excited that you’re about to query because I’ve been following your journey long enough that I’m going to be SO HAPPY FOR YOU when you get an agent!

    • Awww, Aubrey! This comment totally just made my day!!! πŸ™‚

      I am glad to hear from someone who has been through the same process– and to hear that you concluded pretty much the same things. (Also, RELIEVED!)

      Thank you for reading, thank you for sharing your experience, and thank you for that fabulous encouragement booster! πŸ˜€

  2. Oh yeah, I remember how stressed out I got over formatting! I procrastinated between writing big time once and decided to read up about how to format my ms. I add page breaks after each chapter so I start each chapter on a new page – some agents specified doing that in their guidelines. I also read to include a cover page with your title, name and contact details, and include your name and contact details at the end of chapter three too so it’s easier for an agent to get in touch if they want to ask for the full ms. Don’t get too stressed over formatting though as your publisher/editor will reformat your work according to their house style – which I’m sure will be soon! πŸ™‚

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Laura– great insight! It hadn’t occurred to me to put my contact information at the end of the first three chapters, or whatever length partial agencies might be interested in. I like the idea, though: makes things easier for the agent and shows how eager you are to speak with them πŸ™‚ Thanks for that, and for your encouragement!

      I’m sure you’ve been plenty busy what with the move, but might I ask how things are progressing with Thorns?

      • Oh, and I also discovered agents apparently hate bindings/folders. They mostly all want the pages loose with an elastic band round them.

        For Thorns I’ve finished all my editing (yay!) and now am just writing ‘free flow’ until the end – I’m following my plan and ticking off all the plot points as I go along. I didn’t get anywhere near as much writing done today as I’d planned (although we’ve taxed our car, have new lights in the living room and bedroom, no fan above our bed ready to fall on our heads, and new shiny oven knobs!). I’m hoping Thorns will be finished by next weekend πŸ™‚

        • Good to know about loose-leaf vs. binding the manuscript… That’s one less element to worry about when it comes to the hard copies!

          And YOW! Well done, Laura– both with your edits and home improvement! And you are SO close to finishing Thorns, all organized and checking off plot points and everything! Keep it up and I look forward to hearing about when you get to “The End”! …or “END” or #END” or what have you πŸ˜‰

  3. The more you know (and you know shedloads more than me) then I guess the more you have to worry about. Like Laura says ^^ I doubt anyone will turn you down because of margins, chapter headings etc. Leave it now, let it fly. Fingers crossed for you.

  4. The only time I deal with this is when submitting uni assignments, and that is a nightmare in itself! Every unit has a different referencing style which comes with different formatting, and you get marked down severely for stuffing it up! I have asked many many times why there is not one standard style across the board, only to be met with shrugs and blank stares. You have my complete sympathy!

    • Oh dear, THAT makes for a stressful jaunt down memory lane. The MLA! The APA! The Chicago! WHERE DO THE PERIODS GO??? Actually, I don’t even remember if that was an issue. But there certainly were issues, and I remember it was a time and a half trying to keep the citation styles separate from one another.

      Wouldn’t it be great if there WAS just one universal style? But it’s like different units of measurement or temperature, or different spellings of the same English words. Each has its place, and users of one will forever be convinced that those who use others are wrong πŸ˜‰

  5. When I wrote my book, Red Clay and Roses, I planned to traditionally publish. I had so very many agents wanting so very many DIFFERENT things, some wanted only the first page and a synopsis, others wanted tons of material in this format or that, contracts with agents required a an attorney to sift through….finally, I just said, “I give up,” and hired an independent publisher for a pittance on the price for my time. I have no regrets. He has been wonderful, most available to me, and very kind to follow up with me anytime I need any changes for free. I applaud you for going the route that your are. I had not the patience for it ):

    • Ah ha, funny– I JUST wrote “I admire people who self-publish to no end” in the last comment! (But hang on: is it considered self-publishing if you go to an independent publisher? I’m still mapping this territory!) In any case, there are always tradeoffs, aren’t there? Each route comes with its own challenges. Glad you found the one that worked for you and Red Clay and Roses, though πŸ™‚

      Thank you for your applause. Though as to my patience…we’ll see what the future brings πŸ˜‰

      • Indie author, Indie publisher…to me, same difference, I do the writing, the creative stuff and he does the formatting and prevention of transcription errors, the technical stuff…he sends his file to smashwords which goes out to all platforms, then sends me a file that I upload to the Amazon platform via KDP. No traditional publisher involved and no brick and mortar. There is eversion and will be Print on Demand paperback. I believe it is the way of the future.

  6. Formatting is only a really MAJOR concern if you are self publishing. Then it takes forever. As long as you are submitting your manuscript to various places, you should be tailoring it to any requirements that place wants, otherwise just send them your ‘generic’ formatted manuscript since they didn’t specify.

    I literally have like 12 different formatted versions of The Real Folktale Blues including 1 for print, 1 for generic web, and a whole slew of ones for different publishers.

    If you’d like some help on just generically formatting your book (especially for digital submissions) then look into a book that Amazon offers for free, that they recommend to anyone who uses their services to sell ebooks through their site. It gives you ALL the information you could want to know about how you should format your book. I followed it specifically, and my book actually looks really professional, and can be read on an e-reader really easily, compared to many digital books I come across that have no page breaks and one chapter just bleeds into another on the same page and lack a functioning table of contents, and so on.

    This is it: http://www.amazon.com/Building-Your-Book-Kindle-ebook/dp/B007URVZJ6/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1372787516&sr=8-2&keywords=kindle+publishing

    • Thanks for pointing me to that, Jordan. What a resource– and FREE! What I’ve got now is a generic version, and just like you said I’ll be tailoring the manuscript for each submission. Er– if agencies request it. One can hope, right?

      Anyway, yes, will definitely bookmark the Building Your Book for Kindle. Even if I don’t use it for Shifters, I imagine it will be helpful in the future! And power to you for figuring all that stuff out for The Real Folktale Blues. People who self-publish impress me to no end.

      • Yeah, if Harper Voyager ends up deciding not to pick up my series (The jury is still out for over 9 months now) I will likely actually be going all self-published with running a kickstarter for the entire series for the Real Folktale Blues. I’m actually almost tempted going that avenue completely, but I don’t want to limit my options, so while I wait to hear from Harper, I’m working on my outreaching and interaction skills.

        • I hope it all works out the way you want it to– though my sense is that you will make the best of any situation, Jordan! Kudos for using your time well in the interim. Might I ask what kind of outreach you’re doing? I.e., social networking, physical networking (like at conferences and whatnot), etc.? One of my goals is to start looking at conferences and meeting more writers in person!

          • My outreach outlet is exclusively online. As that would be my main source of interaction with readers as well as how my book would be distributed if I take the full on self publishing avenue. Social Networking has been my focus, with things like interacting with writers and readers on goodreads, twitter, blogs, etc. I’ve developed a collection of people I can go to to help spread the word. And I’ve started doing some guest posts. Just the other day I had someone find my blog by ‘Jordan, Lesbian Author’. It made me giggle, cause all I did was use some Hashtag lists to promote my book and TONS of people picked it up. But my book has the advantage of being an extreme odd ball. No one has written anything like this series AS a series. Oh, and I’m reading back over my first book now, and picking out all the ‘Gnidorisms’ within it to do a post on to include them all. Also found some new ones with some short stories I wrote, like “Oh My Godmother…”

          • Haha, aren’t those analytics greats? (Seeing how people find you and whatnot). What do you mean by hashtag lists? Is that just adding certain hashtags to Tweets promoting your book?

            I love that you’re going back through The Real Folktale Blues and collecting Gnidorisms. That must be fun. And it’s great that they emerged naturally (therefore, you are only taking inventory of them now)! Looking forward to a list πŸ™‚

            On Wed, Jul 3, 2013 at 11:24 AM, The Read Room

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