Monday, February 15, 2010

Formatting Guidelines

I recently received a partial request (first fifty pages) from a legitimate agency, but the submission guidelines and personal request never stated if the partial should be double or single spaced to include the exact fifty pages. I wanted to know if I should double space the pages just in case, since I am sending them off via mail per the agent’s request, or single space to include the actual fifty pages.

Manuscripts, partials, or any submissions to agents and editors should always, always be double-spaced. There is never, ever an exception to this rule unless the agent specifically says she wants it single-spaced.

I’m not sure what you mean by exact fifty pages, but the fifty pages the agent is asking for are double-spaced, so those would be the fifty pages she’s expecting. If you have a chapter break that’s more than fifty pages, then you choose the end of the chapter that’s closest to fifty pages.

Typically this is a question I might answer under my Random Questions posts, except I had a bigger concern when reading this, and that’s a concern about your knowledge of publishing submission guidelines. Before you send anything out to agents I suggest you spend some time on agent blogs, web sites, or, at the very least, reading a book or two on what agents expect from submissions. This is an incredibly basic detail and one I think most of my readers have known or understood for a long time. If you’re asking a question like this my concern is that you are making even bigger mistakes in your submission process and could benefit from a little knowledge before reaching out to agents.

I have a feeling my readers will be able to provide you with a great list of resources and information to help you understand this business better.



R.M.Gilbert said...

Well, first I think it is important that you read the guidelines for who you are querying.

Then you can check out this link.

She gives info on formatting an entire submissions doc.

Anonymous said...

Check out

Also, scroll through the topics here at BookEnds. Jessica has always been incredibly helpful and informative.


Fawn Neun said...

Just a note, for submissions that require pasting into the email-- it's almost impossible to do so double spaced.

clindsay said...

Actually, if you're pasting the first few pages into an email, it is best to eliminate formatting entirely, paste in as plain text and then go in and manually put a break between each paragraph to make it easier to read. Trying to read either a big block of text or double-spaced emails id tough on the eyes. Every email program handles formatting differently; anything I get from Hotmail, for example, my Gmail account turns into gibberish if it is at all formatted.

But on any attached partials or fulls, absolutely double-spaced.

John M. Baron said...

A very useful resource: Anne Mini is in the process of giving her excellent (twice-yearly) tutorial on manuscript formatting right now at

As for email submissions, don't even try to do them double-spaced (or use any other formatting from your manuscript, for that matter). Do as clindsay said; it's easy for the receiver to view it however they want if you haven't already tried to impose your own formatting on the email.

ryan field said...

I edited an anthology a year ago and I was surprised at how many submissions I received with different formatting.

And some were pdf files, and some were other files I couldn't even open. And I thought I'd made it clear in the submission guidelines that I only wanted word docs.

I didn't penalize anyone, and after a few e-mails back and forth the authors I was interested in re-sent me their work as word docs and I re-formatted them myself. But it's always best to keep it simple. Double spaced, word doc, 12pt Times Roman. No one can say anything is wrong when you keep it as simple as possible.

Anonymous said...

Helpful post, but the tone is very condescending to the writer.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jessica--sorry, but why waste a whole post on such a Mickey Mouse question? Look it up--don't bother a busy agent!

Anonymous said...

I didn't think the tone was condescending at all. It is a rather "kindergarten" type question -- but everyone learns somewhere. On my first query, I broke every rule in the book: compared my novel to Twilight, for god's sake, wrote a bunch of cliches, and said I had all kinds of ideas for new books. Of course I got rejected. *shrug*

But on my next time around, with my next book, I got a partial request for the first 50 pages, hard copy. I knew to send them double spaced. I was very careful to make sure I had nice paper, enough ink in the printer, and a great cover letter.

The day after I mailed everything, I discovered that my Word doc had only formatted the first 30 pages in double space, so the formatting went from double to single in the middle of the copy I'd sent to the agent.


But everyone makes mistakes. And sometimes they're forgiven. She's now my agent. :-)

Mira said...

Um, this is really embarrassing, but I didn't know the answer to this question. I've heard single space sometimes. Double-spaced is so much easier to read, that always sounded wrong to me.

So, I appreciate knowing it's double-spaced all the time. :)

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:13 -- Everyone starts somewhere, we all did -- sure it's a basic question, but at least the person bothered to ask. That alone shows a willingness to do things the correct way.

Jessica gave great advice -- to start reading agent blogs.

Jeff King said...

I thought everyone; who was at the query stage would know this answer. I would suggest reading up on all the proper ways to format a novel. It is vital to format it correctly; if is not it’s a rejection. I have read a few sites that give good advice, here is a good one.

This site has tons of other information… hope it helps.

Here’s another one…

Also read this blog and listen to Jessica, can’t go wrong with her.

Maggie Dana said...

If you're pasting into email, I suggest that you copy and paste your 50 pages (or whatever's asked for) into a vanilla text editor first, then copy and paste this into email. Doing so will strip out Word's formatting which can cause havoc with some email clients.

And, as suggested by others, it's always a good idea to have an extra line space between paragraphs when pasting into email.

Marsha Sigman said...

I agree with Jessica, this is a very basic formatting question. It reflects a need for quite a bit more research.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate all the info and the help received, but the reason I asked the question is because from reading so many agent/client/publisher blogs and doing more research over the last year and a half, I know that not all agents are one and the same.

In all honesty, I’ve had requests in the pasts where agents ask for entire manuscripts and want them single spaced to print off for themselves, some want copy and paste partials in emails w/out space, some don’t care (and yes, I’ve had one of those say that to me, just as long as they get the work, supposedly legitimate as well), no attachments, no cover page because it takes up too much room in the manuscript, request cover page to remember who you are, a partial as thirty pages instead of fifty, etc.

I was sure that the agent in question wanted my material double spaced which is why I sent it off in that manner months ago, days after receiving the request, but I wanted to be sure before I ruined my chances when I asked the question. I know the general consensus is double spaced for the most part, but some agents have their own policies (even if they aren't standard) that are not always specified and I know that not all queries and manuscripts are written the same. Thus, what may work for one agent may not work for another. Double and single space included.

Anyway, thanks for the helpful comments. Well all make mistakes, thus we learn from them. And the other anonymous was right, we all have to start somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Anon: I didn't think the question was Mickey Mouse at all. Some agents have different policies on how they want material presented to them, not all are the same, and not all are specified on blogs and websites. Why do you think there are so many questions on the matter, and so many various answers?

Easy, not all agents want material in the same way and not all have the same 'simple' policies of receiving work from new authors. Trust me, I've encountered many!

Anonymous said...

@Marsha Sigman

You can do plenty of research, I've done my fair share, but each agent will still have their own way of doing things, even if what they want and how they want it is not specified in the blogs or requested material email.

To be on the safe side, it's always good to ask just in case, even if the question is something as simple as manuscript formatting. I think it let's agents know you're serious and willing to work.

Ryan said...

I think the safest thing to do in this case is probably to ask. I liked that the question was asked, even though I understood the average run of submissions should be double spaced instead of single spaced. It doesn't mean its not impossible to mess it up though.

_*rachel*_ said...

It may be a big list, but here are writing sites I recommend: Check the sidebars on the sites for links to intros.

Ruth said...

If you're uncertain about what's being requested, wouldn't it make more sense to ask the agent who made the request?

Abigail said...

Some agents don't always respond to said request, if they respond at all. As I'm reading over some old #agentfail stories, it's possible. Maybe that's why the author asked on this site. Because it's a guaranteed answer? Hmm?

Felicia Day said...

Anon 1:13

I see why you are anonymous because your statement was just flat out rude and uncalled for. Like someone else said, everyone starts somewhere, and unless you are a published author yourself that has never made even the slightest mistake when querying agents, sending out partials/fulls or asking questions, I suggest you take the attitude down a notch, get off your high pedestal, and keep the crudeness to yourself unless what you have to say in some way helps the author.

Snarkiness not included.

I also agree with Anon 4:39 when they stated agents have different submission policies that ARE NOT specified when requesting partials and fulls. (Look at the extensive agentfail requests.) I have submitted fulls in the past and some agents have many different ways of accepting materials that are in no way specific or helpful. I too had an agent email me AFTER she received my full submission to inform me that in the future she wanted her pages SINGLE SPACED, not double as I had been told by other agents in the past. So I, like another poster, am glad the question was asked.

Good info may be posted everywhere about manuscript formatting and publishing in general, but so is conflicting information, and it's no matter if the agents you submit to can't even bother to tell you how they want your work upfront. Even when you DO ask.

And that's MY two cents on the matter.

Anonymous said...

She must know enough ... she got a request for the fifty pages. The question I have is why is she asking you if she already has made positive contact with the agent. Shouldn't she be asking the agent?

Anonymous said...

@Anon 6:50

Maybe the author tried to get in contact with the agent or someone at the agency, but never received a response to her question about proper manuscript formatting for that particular agent's taste. It has happened to me before many times, thus the reasons why blogs like this exist.

Jille said...

If an agent is particular enough for it to be a make-or-break-it detail, chances are they'll specify. If they don't, go with old trusty (double spaced).

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