Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning (A Very Good Place to Start)

by PeggySue Wells @PeggySueWells

As you begin writing your story, here is how to set up or format your manuscript.
  • Use Microsoft Word. This program is industry standard and the program that writers, editors, agents, and publishers use. 
You can be prepared to convert your work into Microsoft Word prior to sharing, but in my experience there are formatting details that are lost in translation. You spend additional time finding and fixing them, or look unprofessional when you send a translated manuscript with errors.

Professionals do not have time to waste, and if your work is constantly an issue of translation into something the person on the receiving end can read, people will be too busy to work with you. Additionally, if you won’t work within common parameters, this is a sign that you will be out of step in other areas as well. This is a foreshadowing of frustration for all parties involved.
  • Write in 12 point Times Roman (Courier if writing a screenplay)
  • One inch margins all around
  • Title in header on left side
  • Author’s name in ten point in header on right side
  • Page numbers in ten point centered in footer
  • Double space text that will be edited
  • One space after periods
  • Punctuation goes inside quote marks 
Before you send your manuscript to a publisher, check their writer’s guidelines and give them what they outline. 
  • Does the publication prefer says to said?
  • Are numbers one through ten spelled out, while 11 and beyond written numerically?
  • Are all numbers, no matter how large, spelled out? 
  • Is one Bible translation preferred?
  • How are Scripture addresses formatted? Are books of the Bible abbreviated? Spelled out? Is Scripture in italics? Scripture separated from reference verse by comma or parenthesis?
  • Are states abbreviated or spelled out?
  • Are measurements abbreviated or spelled out?
  • Is he capitalized when referring to God or Jesus?
Resist the impulse to write your romance in flowery script, or your comedy in comic sans. If a different font helps you write the piece, then knock yourself out, but change it to Times Roman before submitting. Or risk being the example of what not to do when the editor teaches at a conference.


Tropical island votary and history buff, PeggySue Wells parasails, skydives, snorkels, scuba dives, and has taken (but not passed) pilot training. Writing from the 100-Acre wood in Indiana, Wells is the bestselling author of twenty-eight books including The Slave Across the Street, Slavery in the Land of the Free, Bonding With Your Child Through Boundaries, Homeless for the Holidays, and Chasing Sunrise. Optimistic dream-driver, PeggySue is named for the Buddy Holly song with the great drumbeat. At school author visits, she teaches students the secrets to writing, and speaks at events and conferences. Connect with her at www.PeggySueWells.com, on Facebook at PeggySue Wells, and Twitter @PeggySueWells.


  1. PeggySue,

    I love the details in this article about the basics. As an editor and former literary agent who has reviewed thousands of submissions over the years (no exaggeration) you would be surprised how often people miss these basics. To be honest, I've even changed a fair number of submission fonts from what the author submitted into New Times Roman so I'm more attracted to read it. Yes, it is that important in the submission process.

    author of 10 Publishing Myths, Insights Every Author Needs to Succeed

    1. Terry, we are conditioned to read Times New Roman! And for those not familiar with the industry, they have no idea about the basics which flags new writers immediately as – well – new. The fascinating aspect is when a new writer does not indent for dialog, or use quote marks properly for dialog even though they have read countless books and know what the structure looks like. That's proof that writers do such a good job with their craft that readers get lost in the story and never notice the format. Good writers make the process appear easy.

  2. Simple and useful advice. Thanks, Peggy Sue. I have been using Courier all this time. I will change it to Times New Roman from now on.

    1. Being teachable will bring fast growth to your skills, Ingmar! Learn from the best in the industry and you will grow quickly.

  3. Always great advice from you, PeggySue. Thanks!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Roberta. Like iron sharpening iron, we all become better when we help one another.

  4. Great advice--practical and useful! We need to get it right if we want publishers to be interested in our work. Thanks, PeggySue.

    1. Competition has become fierce, and publishers expect our best. You would know, Crystal, you've made a career as an excellent author.

  5. PeggySue, thanks for your useful advice and so helpful. So much we take for granted not knowing if we are using the correct basics. You laid it out nicely for us. Thanks again for sharing.

    1. Glad to be helpful, Diane. And writing has trends like clothing and hair styles, so it is vital we stay current.