where the writers are
Formatting A Manuscript

Last week, I mentioned that I'd formatted a new document so I could start writing THE PRETENDER, and Sandy chimed in with a question: What program do you use to write with? I thought it might be fun to hear how everyone does their prep work, including the program you use and how you format your manuscripts.

Let me say, for the record, that there is no one right way to do this, though there are ways to make your editor and agent submissions easy to read.

To start, use a word processing program that is universally accepted. I'm on a PC, and most of New York is too. I can't tell you how many time I get emails with attachments formatted for Mac. I can't open them, and I always have to go back and ask the sender to reformat it into something that my computer can open. Right now, Word 97-2003 seems to be universal, and if the Mac people could chime in here on what they have, that would be fantastic.

I use Word 2007, but when I e-mail my manuscript to New York, I save it as a 97-2003 document. This system works just fine, allowing me the more sophisticated tools of the newer version of Word and easy conversion for submission.

So when I get started, there are a few things I do to make my life easier.

First, a header. A typical header looks like this:

Centered at the top, with the name and title on the left and the page number on the right:

J.T. Ellison, THE PRETENDER                                                    Page #

I used to do page X of Y, but found that New York preferred just the page number.

Then you set your margins: 1 inch, all the way around. Now, I cheat when I've got a work in progress, because I'm taking pages to critique group and I want to maximize what I bring, so my margins are 1 inch at the top and sides, and .8 at the bottom. That allows for approximately 25 lines per page.

Font is a big deal too, for several reasons. You want your editor and agent submissions to be readable, first and foremost. So choose Courier, Times New Roman, or Arial, in 12 point. In Word 2007, I use Calibri, which is a version of Arial. It's easy to read, easy on the eyes, and allows my editor a lot of white space to edit.

Double space your lines. Do not insert a break between paragraphs. The first line of a chapter should not be indented, the rest of the chapter's paragraph starts should have a .5 indent. Begin the first chapter of the book halfway down the page. Some authors start every chapter halfway down the page - it's personal preference.

You'll notice that moving your manuscript between the fonts will change the page count. TNR will be the smallest, Courier the largest. A manuscript that comes in at 320 pages in TNR will run about 413 pages in Courier. Arial comes in at 339. Now here's the thing: we all want to think our manuscript is a big, hefty behemoth of linguistic goodness. But if you're using page numbers to determine your worth, it's easy to lie to yourself and make your manuscript bigger than it really is.

I use word count to determine the length of my manuscripts, not page numbers. Word has an automatic word counter, and that's what I use. It's simple, straightforward, and no amount of fooling with styles will change the essence of it.

A personal suggestion: whatever font you choose to write in, when you're done and doing a final revision to turn it in, change the font throughout before you print it out. The mind is an amazing creature, able to independently insert what you KNOW should be on the page instead of what actually IS on the page. Reading it through in a different font allows you to catch some of the errors you might miss otherwise.

I also format the style sheet for the page, so my chapter heading, paragraph body, etc., are uniform and I don't need to format each time I change something. In Word 2007, there are styles that you can open and adapt to your preferences. Very handy and simple, you just type your heading, click the style sheet for heading, and Bob's your uncle.

Chapter headings seem to differ from house to house. Chapter One, One, 1, are all used. It depends on the style guide of your house, so ask. My house spells out the chapter, so my headings look like this: One. Twenty-One.

Another personal suggestion. As I write, I change my chapters around, add chapters, combine them, break them apart. It's a very fluid event. And all those changes mean I end up having to renumber my chapters, which is a pain in the tuckus. For THE IMMORTALS, I tried something different. I didn't use Chapter numbers, simply started each new one with the word Chapter. When I was done, I went through and numbered them. So I had Chapter One, Chapter Two, etc. But since my house doesn't like the word Chapter, I needed to delete them. I waited until the last possible moment, because, as always, I ended up breaking a big chapter into two smaller ones, and that messed up the numbering. But... I used the find/replace function, and was able to go through and renumber them effortlessly, and delete the word chapter from each heading. Voila. I saved myself oodles of time that I usually waste trying to get it all renumbered.

Speaking of Find/Replace. It's a brilliant tool, but it has limitations. Don't ever do a global find/replace and think you've managed a neat trick. You always have to look through the document. Name changes are especially tricky - we've all heard horror stories about writers who change a character name at the last minute, do a global find/replace, and end up messing up other words and names.

Saving and backing up your document is vital as well. I am notorious for multiple backups, simply because the idea of losing my work paralyzes me with fright. To start, my Norton system has a global backup. There's one. Second, I use a program called Mozy, which you can set to any specifications. Mine automatically backs up my files when I've been dormant for more than 15 minutes. Third, my document has both auto save and automatic backup, so every ten minutes Word does a global save on the open document, and when I save and close for the day, there is a backup copy made. That way, no matter what, you'll never lose more than ten minutes worth of work. Fifth, I email the manuscript to myself, so a copy resides on the server. Sixth, once a week I move a copy to a thumb drive. Also, every time I do a revision, before I type a single word, I save the document as a new file and do all the work in it. My file names read like this: THE IMMORTALS WORKING MANUSCRIPT, THE IMMORTALS V1, THE IMMORTALS V2, V3, V4, V5, etc. I do it like that because I work with the entire story in a single document. I know some authors take it a step further and save each individual chapter as they go - I think this falls under personal preference.

Sound like a bit much? NEVER. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MUCH REDUNDANCY. With that in mind, I've started using Dropbox, which allows you to move files between computers.

I also think it's a very, very smart idea to print as you go. That way, in case everything else fails, you have a hard copy and you can input it directly.

Anal? Yes. But it's how I work, and like NASA, I have failsafes in place so I'm never stuck out in space without my oxygen.

Like I said, there is no one right way to do this, this is just my way. I would love to hear how other authors do it.

Wine of the Week: Homemade Sangria

2 Liters Riunite Lambrusco
3/4 cup Brandy
1/4 cup Cointreau
1/2 cup fine white sugar
2 cups Orange Juice
2 Lemons, thinly sliced
2 Oranges, thinly sliced
2 Limes, thinly sliced
1/2 Liter Club Soda

Combine all the ingredients but the club soda and allow to ferment overnight. Add club soda, serve over lots of ice. Really Yummy!