FORMAT WARS

 

Here’s my conundrum of the day. What’s the best way to format a manuscript?  Traditionally (and currently), books are formatted with the first line of each paragraph indented, and no extra space between paragraphs.  Like this:

 

            In 1805, U.S. explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Snake River in Idaho.  They followed the Snake and then the Columbia to its mouth, where they built Fort Clatsop near to where the port of Astoria, Oregon is today.

            In the years following this famous journey, settlers began to arrive in the Oregon Territory.  In 1834, the first pioneers arrived in the area.  They had taken the Oregon Trail—a long overland route west from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean—a route similar to the one taken by Lewis and Clark.  In 1843, another nine hundred settlers arrived.  From then on, hundreds of Americans traveled the Oregon Trail every year.

 

(Note: This is not an excerpt from my book, but from The Columbia River, by Tom Jackson.)

 

Well, that’s ok, but when you submit your work to a publisher, you are supposed to double space it.  So it would look like this:

 

In 1805, U.S. explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Snake River in Idaho.  They followed the Snake and then the Columbia to its mouth, where they built Fort Clatsop near to where the port of Astoria, Oregon is today.

            In the years following this famous journey, settlers began to arrive in the Oregon Territory.  In 1834, the first pioneers arrived in the area.  They had taken the Oregon Trail—a long overland route west from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean—a route similar to the one taken by Lewis and Clark.  In 1843, another nine hundred settlers arrived.  From then on, hundreds of Americans traveled the Oregon Trail every year.

 

Harder to read that way, I think.  Personally, I favor no indents and an extra space between paragraphs, like this:

 

In 1805, U.S. explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Snake River in Idaho.  They followed the Snake and then the Columbia to its mouth, where they built Fort Clatsop near to where the port of Astoria, Oregon is today.

 

In the years following this famous journey, settlers began to arrive in the Oregon Territory.  In 1834, the first pioneers arrived in the area.  They had taken the Oregon Trail—a long overland route west from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean—a route similar to the one taken by Lewis and Clark.  In 1843, another nine hundred settlers arrived.  From then on, hundreds of Americans traveled the Oregon Trail every year.

 

That’s how nearly everyone writes nowadays, on paper and on the web.  But if you double space that, it looks like this:

 

In 1805, U.S. explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Snake River in Idaho.  They followed the Snake and then the Columbia to its mouth, where they built Fort Clatsop near to where the port of Astoria, Oregon is today.

 

In the years following this famous journey, settlers began to arrive in the Oregon Territory.  In 1834, the first pioneers arrived in the area.  They had taken the Oregon Trail—a long overland route west from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean—a route similar to the one taken by Lewis and Clark.  In 1843, another nine hundred settlers arrived.  From then on, hundreds of Americans traveled the Oregon Trail every year.

 

What a waste of space.  And since I’ll be sending hard copies, what a waste of paper.  If you were an editor, what would you prefer to look at?  And more importantly, will you throw my manuscript in the trash if I do it the wrong way?


GOOD SENSE EDIT

Not to worry, friends, there’s not the slightest chance I would torpedo my chances with a publisher by wantonly ignoring their specs.  But I WROTE the book in my preferred format and took advantage of the good natures of my Xanga pals to whine about having to change it, mess up the look of the manuscript, rearrange the page numbers in the table of contents, and yes, kill twice as many trees.  Wah wah.  Thank you for not smacking me upside the head, even though I deserved it.

 

 

 

 

 

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26 thoughts on “FORMAT WARS

  1. When I was an editor, I preferred it double spaced, indented, no blank line in between.  It may look like it makes it harder for us to read, but it leaves us room to make comments about things we like, things we don’t, and gives us notes for later.  Most editors I know batch read and send responses afterwards. 

  2. I am not a professional editor, of course, but I am an editor for the high school newspaper. I agree that the double spacing is necessary for writing comments. Also, I would be displeased if the manuscrirpt came in the wrong format because there is a purpose to the standarized formats. It makes it easier if everything looks the same. 

  3. I’m not the editor of anything, but the manuscript does seem easier to read if it’s single spaced with a space between paragraphs.  Indentation is probably expected.   Is there really a Fort Clatsop?   I never heard such a name before! 

  4. I don’t suppose there’s a way to find previously submitted manuscripts for an example… That’s what I would do. Because I don’t know a thing about writing (or editing).

  5. Ask TimsHead or make a call to a Creative Writing Teacher at a local college. My opinion goes with your last example. Double space is imperative for reason which Daeshii stated.

  6. I would throw away anything that tightly printed. You’re going to have to waste the space, just don’t tell Al.
    Yes, they named a place Clatsop! Stayed all winter in leaky huts, eating fish in the rain, couldn’t get away from the west coast fast enough!

  7. I’m for the folks saying spaces are used for editorial notes and comments!Also, deviation from the “norm” COULD indicate you’d be hard to work with and perhaps non-compliant?Isn’t feedback fun?  Happy 2008 to you and yours.

  8. Yes.
    I would not give them any excuse to reject it, or even put it aside for any reason.  I always figured the spaces were there for comments and/or editing, not that I really know.
    Good luck!

  9. everything i’ve read says to find out their submission standards and do it exactly as they wish… if you want them to even read it. done wrong- they won’t bother! sucks… but they make the rules.

  10. doesn’t matter if you like it or not, or if it’s wasted paper, it HAS to be double-spaced with indented paragraphs…  Ditto what the experienced editors here already said about needing space to comment and, while the paragraph indentations may not be critical, I don’t think anyone will even look at as single-spaced manuscript.  Every manuscript I’ve ever submitted absolutely had to be double-spaced.  

  11. The formatting is also used to create word counts (they don’t use actual word counts but a formula based on the number of pages, with thier formatting) and so they need the formatting rules followed very strictly.
    While it may seem difficult to read to you they are used to the format.

  12. My grad school employed a dissertation editor whose sole responsibility was to ensure proper formatting.  It was not uncommon for a 200-page-plus dissertation to be returned for no other reason than to correct the margins.  My own dissertation was returned for failing to properly format the table of contents, research notwithstanding. 
    But I’ll put my vote with your other readers – ask what the publisher wants and do exactly as they say.  They only need one reason to pitch your stuff in the trash – don’t make it easy for them.

  13. Listen to the editors on here.  the pop over to JustMeAndy and ask him for the link to then “slushpile” piece.  It’s good advice.  Kudos to you for having one ready for submission.
    RYC:  *twilight zone music*  Everything can type.  Ahahahahaaaa!  Just kidding but the plants made for good humor.  Hope you and your family had a fantastic holiday season.  BTW…was nice to see your cute little nose again.
    HUGS!!!

  14. I suppose there’s no death sentence on anything, to be frank, any more–editors don’t read and many slush pile readers are MFA’s who give brag about being able to evaluate a manuscript in fifteen seconds (“there are just so manyyyy”).  Double space hasn’t changed, but I would still check over the sites criteria closely to see exactly what their submission guidelines are and do a little research on what’s contemporary (it’s been a while for me).  I would be surprised if they get stuff by text message.
    I’ve never liked the ten space indents–I was taught five, but again, maybe it’s changed.  Just don’t indent at the start of a chapter 🙂

  15. I understand the double space way back when editors had to write their notes in between the lines.  Now with word processing, they don’t.  Perhaps it’s eye strain? But then they’d ask for a bigger font(Please, yes.) instead of all that space.  Odd to me, too.  But I’m not an editor, and I have a tendency to buck the system.

  16. My sister is a journalist and I follow her style which is the one in the middle with single space and no indent.  But the people I work with hate it for some reason.  They want the first style.  

  17. I personally like the no-indent, ds between paragraphs…  but yeah, if you actually DID that, some anti-social burned-out editor on a power trip with delusions of grandeur would probably either a) send it back rejected or b) trash it with no communication whatsoever, reveling in his feeling of superiority and control…

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