Writing 101--Formatting

In the old days (pre-computers)--and no, I wasn't a writer back then, but I did have a typewriter--formatting a manuscript used to be so, so simple.

Courier, 12-pt font, indent 5 spaces first sentence of a paragraph, unjustified right side, 1-inch margins all around.

Personally, I hate Courier font. I never liked the look of it and it's difficult to read. The reason publishers like it is because each letter takes up the same amount of space. An i takes up as much space as a C or M, making it easy to typeset a manuscript.

Computers, especially PC's (personal computers), opened up a whole new can of worms. Anyone and everyone who ever wanted to write would have the ability to write, spellcheck, and edit without even wasting one piece of paper. Which means more and more people were trying their hand at writing the Great American Novel.

--on a side note: just because you can write the next GAN, it doesn't mean it's ready right out of the gate. *Pay attention NaNo fans* Find a crit group AFTER you've gone through the story and edited it a few times.

So, I'll go over the basics for you when you type a story that you would like to publish, traditionally (through the NY publishing houses) or independently (known as self-publishing). There are differences between the two, AND the formatting for electronically self-publishing is constantly evolving, so check the guidelines for the site you wish to upload your product onto.

FONT: The font that automatically comes up on Blogger is Times New Roman, 12-pt, which happens to be my favorite font. Many other fonts are acceptable as long as they are legible.
Arial, Courier, TNR, Helvetica, etc. are fine, just don't use Comic sans, Chiller, or Old English, just because you think it looks cool.

--a short word about serif vs. non-serif fonts. Leave it to the French to complicate things. Actually, I love the French, I have a French sis-in-law and she's wonderful. Anyhoo, serif fonts are the ones that have the little 'dookies' or tails hanging off the letters. Okay, dookie isn't the technical term, neither is tail, but it helps explain serif.  
I'll use my initials as an example:

M A G See the little tails?  Here's a non-serif font: M A G No tails.
FONT SIZE: 12-pt font is the norm, but 14-pt font is also acceptable for some fonts. Just because you can write your novel in itty-bitty 8-pt font, it doesn't mean someone can READ it that small.

MARGINS: 1-inch margins all around, left justified, right unjustified. This basically gives it a clean edge on the left side, but the right side is ragged. Justifying left and right sides tends to make the text in the middle of the line look wonky. So don't even bother with it at this point.

PARAGRAPH: Indents: This is different depending on where you want to publish your work. Traditionally, you would have a 5-point indent at the start of your paragraphs and that is still acceptable. But if you intend to electronically self-publish, you should change the indent to 3-point. When 5-pt is used on ebooks, it looks wrong as the spacing is too large. Line spacing: Traditionally, at least 25 lines per page, which isn't necessarily double. Electronically, they prefer single space, but no more than 1.5 spaces between lines. Tabs: is the button that you push to automatically move your cursor to the next set tab. DO NOT USE THIS FUNCTION. USE YOUR ENTER KEY. Do not tab down to the next line. Do not tab over, except to place a page number in the header. This causes too much work to fix, either way you decide to publish.  Widows and orphans:  Remove them. Under Paragraphs, Line and Page breaks. Uncheck the box. When this is active and you print out your manuscript, it will keep a paragraph together, which results in a large blank footer on some pages. Headers and Footers: Neither one of these are needed when you write fiction for self-publishing electronically. Headers are required when you enter contests, submit to editors/agents, and to keep track of your pages if you decide to print them.  To add a header, click at the top of your word document. This will make the header design available. Move the insert tab (top one) over to the left on top of the margin tab. Type in the name of your manuscript and your name. For example: To Gnome Me is to Love Me/MAGOLLA.  And then you tab over to the right where you want your page number (on the right margin). Go to Page Number on the top of your document and click the location that you want (current location). Then choose they style you would like. When you're finished close Header/Footer. Footers aren't used in fiction writing.

And that's it for Formatting your manuscript.


Jody Werner said...

Generally speaking, a serif font (Times) is much easier to read than a san serif font (arial) for large blocks of text. I'd always format with serif.

magolla said...

I usually use Times, too.

Jody--I knew either you or Marilyn would pop up and talk about the serif vs. non-serif fonts.

Jody Werner said...

I love my fonts!

Marilyn said...

Well, since Jody said it so well . . . :)

Rebecca Kiel said...

Great technical tips. Thanks for taking the time!

magolla said...

So glad you're enjoying the Writing 101 blogs, Rebecca! I'll be posting them as blogs and linking them to the page when they go up. Eventually, I'll have all of them written and posted. I'm shooting for Tuesdays and Thursdays as post days.