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Writers Tip #49: Yes, You Must Format

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Today’s tip: Submittals must be done right.

Take it from one who’s been there, when agents and editors see a manuscript with formatting and grammar errors, they know right away the author hasn’t done the basic groundwork needed to submit an Inquiry. To them, that means the mss will not be polished–and thus, not worth the agent’s time.

Don’t blare that message to the person you desperately need to take you seriously. Follow your mom’s advice: Put your best foot forward every time you’re in public. In this case, ‘public’ is the eyes of the person who holds your future in your hands.

Here are a few simple rules:

  • Double-space the mss. The Query letter can be single-spaced, but not your submittal
  • Address the agent by name, not ‘Dear Sir/Madame’. Take the time to get the name of the agent who handles your genre from the website.
  • Keep the Query to one page. If they want more, they’ll ask.
  • 12-point font is standard and Courier or Times New Roman. Don’t try to be fancy or slip by with font size 11. They’ll notice.
  • ‘SASE’ means ‘self-addressed stamped envelope’. Send one if they request one.
  • Have one-inch margins.

That’s it. That’s formatting. Now be as creative as you can about selling your story.

What other formatting tips would you recommend?

–Click to have Writer’s Tips delivered to your email.


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blog, Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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7 thoughts on “Writers Tip #49: Yes, You Must Format

    • Kate, I wear the same kind of shoe as yours and every time I get rightly kicked on my back side by the editors and critics. There are so many grammar books [especially, American ones] available in the market that can solve most of the common grammatical errors in our writing. It’s the mental laziness on my part that encourages me to ignore the grammatical errors – unforgivable. Let’s hear what Jackie advises. Arun Debnath

    • Yes, that too. Sad. I have many friends who figure their story will be so enticing, readers will see past the errors. In truth, readers stumble over grammar problems and finally give up. Yes, before your writers group sees it, fix the grammar!

  1. Pingback: Writer’s Tip #57: You are not Superwoman | WordDreams...

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