Dear Indigo,

I get so confused about what format I’m supposed to put my manuscript in. I like to write in Calibri, single-spaced. But my friend said I shouldn’t. Why does it even matter?

Too Many Rules


As writers, we know we should consider our audience. We spend hours seeking the perfect balance of just enough convention to fit into our chosen genre—from zine to mystery to literary to how-to—and an ample dose of originality to stand out from the crowd. We want to really connect with our audience.

We may even go so far as to visualize our target readers. Maybe they’re middle-aged women buying from local bookstores, or retired men buying from corporate retailers, or young adults buying from book fairs. Some of us, I might venture, even name those target buyers the way we name our characters. Yes, as writers, we’re wise enough to know that our audience is real.

And yet, we often forget to include some very important people in our audience considerations. They don’t fit into our bookstore or fair scenario. They are our audience before our books get to the sales venues. These crucial readers are the acquisitions editors, agents, and contest judges who discover our writing and champion it through the production process. And they have some specific requests when it comes to format.

First, let’s visualize who these audience members are. They read hundreds of pages per day, often by dozens of writers. They take pages on the train with them. They eat lunch over manuscript samples, dabbing up soup splatters, hoping—if you’ve requested your manuscript to be returned—that you’ll understand that they’re not rude, just busy. They may even read on the treadmill. And still, their slush pile likely grows instead of shrinks.

Eye fatigue is a great job hazard for these marathon readers. They want to turn their full attention to your manuscript, but if it’s submitted in a sans serif font, single-spaced, and double-sided, their tired eyes will likely gloss over. And then they’ll probably turn to the next submission that doesn’t make them feel like they need to borrow their grandfather’s coke-bottle lenses.

So how can you make it easier for this portion of your audience? Easy. Follow these industry-wide formatting standards:

• All materials: Times New Roman, 12 point, black text

• Query letters: Single-spaced, one page

• Synopses: Double-spaced, character names in all caps

• Proposals: Single-spaced with skipped lines between paragraphs; use bulleted or numbered lists wherever possible for easy scanning

• Manuscripts and writing samples: Double-spaced

• Hard copies: Print on one side only

• Digital copies: Email attachments as docs unless instructed otherwise

I don’t mean to cramp your style, Too Many Rules. I understand fully how important it is to like looking at the manuscript you’re creating. So feel free to type it in whatever format you want. Some authors even color code certain scenes or lines so they can easily watch their balance of humor vs. tragedy or foreshadowing vs. red herrings. There are endless possibilities!

Just be sure to select all and reformat before you pass your tome off to the people who love reading so much, they do it for a living.


Do you have a question about editing or publishing? Ask Indigo! Email with your question, and we will answer it in a future newsletter.

Ali McCart, executive editor, has been known to be so engrossed in reading submissions that she’s missed her train stop and had to backtrack. She judges for the Pacific Northwest Writers Association annual writing contest and is the director of Sledgehammer 36-Hour Writing Contest. She’s also considered hundreds of submissions for literary journals she’s volunteered with over the past decade. She wishes she could buy a doughnut for every author who submits a manuscript in standard format.