On formatting for print and digital

I want to thank everyone who took the time to tell us what topics you’d like to see us cover over the next six months or so. It really does help us to have that sort of input. While we don’t guarantee that we’ll get to ever topic, or in the exact way it was suggested, we will do our best to cover as many of them as possible. I’m still pulling the list together and I’ll be sending it out to the other bloggers later today. In the meantime, Dave kicked us off with his post about prologues yesterday.

One topic several of you requested was formatting. There were variations on the topic and a request for exercises. I’ll figure out the best way to do exercises over the next few days. I might go back to a workshop I did on formatting several years ago and update it for the purpose. But, while I figure out the best way to do that, here are links to some recent posts I’ve done on formatting for both print and digital editions.

Formatting Revisited

Formatting for Print Revisited

Formatting for Print Revisited , Pt. 2

These posts are targeted for those who are planning on going indie with their work. For those of you who are wanting to go traditional, formatting is a bit easier. The first thing you need to do is check the agent’s website or the publisher’s website you are submitting your work to. If they have special formatting requirements, they’ll be listed.

For example, Baen lists the following as its requirements:

  • Attach the manuscript as a Rich Text Format (.rtf) file.
  • Send the manuscript as a single file (do not break it into separate chapter files).
  • Synopsis and contact info needs to be in the file with your manuscript.
  • Minimal formatting, please. Do not format text boxes or sidebars into the manuscript; use block quotes. Indent paragraphs; center chapter headers and scene break indicators (###, ***, etc.); use page breaks only at the end of chapters. For emphasis, choose either underline or italics and use it consistently throughout.
  • Do not use “smart quotes”/curly quotes or single character elipses, mdashes, etc. Use straight quotes and apostrophes, . . ., –, etc.
  • Avoid non-standard fonts, and unnecessary changes in font face, size, etc. Publisher likes CG Omega and Lucida Bright.

For hard copy submission, here are some of the requirements for Baen:

  • Standard manuscript format only: double-spaced, one side of the page only, 1 1/2″ margins on all four sides of the page. We will consider photocopies if they are dark and clear.
  • Font must be readable, or we won’t read it. This means seriphed or at least semi-seriphed, 12-point or greater. Publisher likes CG Omega and Lucida Bright. Typesetter likes any standard bookface, Times Roman or Courier.

You can find the submission guidelines for Tor/Forge here. Actual formatting requirements are as follows:

  • Standard manuscript format means margins of at least 1 inch all the way around;
  • indented paragraphs;
  • double-spaced text;
  • Times New Roman in 12 pitch.
  • Please use one side of the page only. Do not justify the text.
  • Do not bind the manuscript in any way.
  • Make sure the header of the ms. includes your name and/or the title of the book as well as the page number (on every page).

So you can see the two publishers have similar, if not identical, requirements. But that’s not always the same, which is why I say to check the sites for wherever you are submitting if you are going the traditional route and trying to find an agent or publisher. That is especially true if you are submitting to a small or mid-sized press because some of them want the author to submit their work in a format that will be easily converted into digital formats (in other words, they want the author to do that part of the work for them).

So, I guess here is where I give you the first “assignment”. Look at your current work-in-progress (or the work you just finished and are trying to figure out what to do with). Decide whether you want to go indie or trad with it. If going trad, decide if you are going to try for publishers where you need an agent or if you are going to a publisher that has open submissions. If the former, start looking at agent requirements. (For example, some agents have you send the first few pages as part of the body of your email while others don’t want to see anything but your query.) If the latter, find their submission guidelines and figure out, based on those, what you have to do to get your submission packet ready.

We’ll get more into the nitty gritty of it next week. Until then, if you have any questions or if you want input on your formatting decisions, post them in the comments below.

Edited to Add: Let me know in the comments which OS you use to write in and what programs you use for writing and for conversion (if any on the latter). That will help me as I put together the next couple of posts. 




  1. Right now I’m only using Windows 10, but have used Linux occasionally. For word processing I use LibreOffice. I save in .opt format. That said, one publisher requires .doc . While LibreOffice can save as .doc, I don’t trust it. Last night I saved a manuscript as .doc in LibreOffice, then opened it in Word on a laptop, just to make sure everything was fine. The first line indents didn’t look right, and I had to tweak those, but that’s par for the course.

    This gets into another issue: Since I roll my own, I go from .opt to HTML and clean that up in Notepad++, which is the hard way. But if I did a lot of submissions in .doc or .docx, I’d spring for the latest version of Word. I still might, if nothing else tears up, rather than use another computer to make sure a conversion has no glitches.

    This particularly publisher didn’t care about smart quotes, so that part was easy. But if I did this often for a publisher who didn’t want them, I’d try to roll a macro to so the necessary search and replacements. It’s easier for me to search and replacing smart quotes, apostrophes, ellipsis, and dashes in Word and LibreOffice, so there’s that.

    BTW, beware the italics. I go through and convert them to underlines by hand when submission guidelines require that. It should be possible to make macro for that, too.

  2. I’m looking at a couple of shorts for submission to a couple of traditional venues, mostly as a kick in my own butt, so we’ll see how that part of the assignment goes. The novels are going Indie so we’ll see how the formatting goes there a bit more slowly.

    On the edited query: I use windows with Liquid Story Binder and Scrivener for drafting (though I think I may have finally figured out the issue with the former so I can go back to just using it.) Scrivener is currently my primary formatting software. I have word, though I mostly use it for jotting things down. I can do a fair amount with it and LSB puts out a .rtf file which makes transitions to just about anything easy.

    I have Publisher (about 10 year old version) and In Design, (mostly) current. Though it’s slow on my laptop.

  3. For the statistics: OS is Windows 7, writing is done in MS Word 2003. Yes, I am a dinosaur…

    My conversion is almost certainly an “outlier,” as what I do is run a Word macro that changes the formatting to HTML tags, save that as a .html file, check it over in Visual Studio 2010, and then Kindlegen it (the other pieces like the manifest and TOC are templates that I manually fill in for Kindlegen).

    Oh, that is NOT “save as html” – that is “save as straight text, to a file with a .html extension.” I have never seen clean HTML come out of any word processor.

  4. Mac OS whatever is just behind bleeding-edge, Word ’16 [blargh], Vellum for conversions.

    For other conversions I’ve used Word to .HTML and then through Calibre. That usually required three or four passes through Word to fix what went wrong in the HTML, but was pretty painless after that. Note that this was only for e-book, not for print formatting.

  5. My authors all seem to use Windows PCs with MS Word for manuscripts.
    I beta read and copy edit on a Mac in MS Word with track changes turned on so they can see any markups I make.
    I also do e-book conversions of finished manuscripts using the Calibre software app. Starting with an MS Word document and a full cover graphic I first embed the cover in the metadata then generate both .mobi and .epub files for submission to Amazon and B&N. I check the .mobi with the Kindle for Mac app, and the .epub with the iBooks Mac app.

  6. Windows 10, Open Office (no idea what version), and Calibre.

    I’ve generated a couple of Kindle short stories, just to see if I could. One issue: If you’re not using the ‘Zon, but just copying them around, you need to create the thumbnail of the cover manually (Amazon does it dynamically on upload or download, I forget which).

    1. Calibre will do the cover as part of the file metadata if you tell it to. Amazon does it when they convert your upload to their proprietary .azw file format.

  7. I’ve moved to WordPad from Notepad for serious composition. At times I use LibreOffice, LyX or Word.

    1. I’ve found Notepad++ to be my all purpose tool for editing text. Alas, if I want formatting (bold, italics, etc.) I have to edit it as HTML or use some sort of notation I can batch-convert into a format that supports it.

  8. Windows 7, Libre Office 5.4, Convert from .docx to .epub with Kinstant Formatter. Review with Kindle Previewer 3 which builds the TOC for me.
    Covers using stock photos with text added.

  9. Windows 10 + Sigil with lots of plug-ins + Git for revision control. I’m looking for a work-flow that will generate clean EPUB and LaTeX from a common source.

      1. yWriter and maybe yEditer have revision control, because the programmer who does them wanted that for his creative writing projects. (I’ve used those before, and may be adding them to the new machine over the weekend.)

        (Quite busy right now, can not afford to put writing time in my schedule.)

      2. I know several authors do that. Peter saves each file with the date at the end. So today would be Maxwell 6 041017 (day/month/year), or Maxwell 6 041017-2 if worked on twice today. That’s not the exact string he does, but the files all have date and revision tracking.

  10. Windows 7 – Word 2007 – I’m only doing Kindle right now. My stuff seems to process by Amazon just fine as long as I do the proper paragraph formats and styles correctly.

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