A Technically Pretty Page

Guest Post by Debra Erfert


While growing up, going to libraries felt like an adventure filled with mystery and wonder to Debra. The hushed tones invoked secrets, and the dusty, sometimes moldy, smell of paper was the same in each city she lived. Leaving the library with just a single book never happened. Years later, her love of reading turned to a passion for writing stories others might enjoy.

In 2003, when I started writing my first novella, I didn’t know the first thing about the technical side of producing a good manuscript. I didn’t have access to online writers groups, like the Authors’ Think Tank, or know where to turn for help. I read constantly, but the silent pages in a book weren’t formatted the same way as a professional document being readied to submit to publishers, literary agents, or (now) uploading for self-publishing. This information comes in handy for when you’re ready to give your chapters to beta readers, and editors, too. It took years before I figured it out, and I want to pass this little bit of basic knowledge on to authors just beginning their journey along the road to publication.

1. MARGINS: Always, always keep it at 1-inch margins when you write, that way when you want to submit to contest/literary agents/publishers you won’t have to reformat. They always, and I mean ALWAYS want that 1-inch margin. Have I repeated myself too much? I thought not.

2. FONT/FONT SIZE: Use either Times New Roman @ 12-point, or Calibri @ 12-point size, always, always, ALWAYS. (As you can see I can’t express the important of this enough.) I’ve submitted to many contests, lit agents, and publishers and the consistent things they request are a choice of those two fonts and the 12-point size of those fonts. Believe it or not, the seasoned eyes of the agents/publishers can immediately see the different in even one size smaller or larger. It’s the same way if you try to fudge with the margins to get more words on a single page.

3. FORMAT: Now go to your toolbox. Mine is that line at the very top of my Mac. Yours might be at the side of your writing area. It has “file” “edit” “view” “insert” and “format”, among others. Find your “format” and click on it to drop down the list. Go to PARAGRAPH. See ALIGHNMENT? To get the groovy clean edges on both sides of the page, use (don’t use left centered right) but use JUSTIFIED. It does funky things when you insert words or delete, but it’s worth it to get that pretty page.

4. INDENTION: Where it shows (none) click on the up/down arrow and select first line. When you do that, the .05-inch will automatically come up in the next space box. Or it should.  Don’t touch that box on the left. I think that changes tabs.

5. SPACING: Use before 0 pt, and after 0 pt. (In most cases, a new manuscript will automatically default to 10 pt for the after each paragraph and make the spaces look unbalanced.)

6. LINE SPACING: Double space. Every submission I’ve ever seen requires the author to have double spacing, with the exception of a query letter and synopsis. Those mostly are done in single space, and that depends on the agent/publisher’s requirements. Always read their requirements or you could be deleted without a second thought. Fun, huh?

Follow these basic guidelines and you’ll have a pretty page, which will give the generous beta reader, hard-to-wrangle literary agent, or time-pressed editor confidence in your writing ability when they open your file.

About Bonnie Gwyn Johnson

Bonnie Gwyn handles all guest bloggers on this website. Contact her if you would like to volunteer your time to share writing advice for The Authors' Think Tank.