Posts Tagged ‘format’

If you’re planning to give a pitch to an agent or editor at a conference, you may want to take a one sheet, or pitch sheet, with you. Some resources use these terms interchangeably, but some say a one sheet covers all of your work while a pitch sheet is designed to help you present just one book or series. Regardless of the term, a one page summary comes in handy when you get a chance to present your work.

In addition to your full contact information, this page should include a professional-quality photo of yourself, and an author bio. Also write a short blurb about the book or series you’re pitching. Make it enticing, like the short summaries you see on the back cover of books in a store.

These sheets should showcase you and your work. Although you should use white paper and black text, it’s acceptable to use photos and some simple graphic design elements, including colored ink, but don’t let those features overpower the story. A template for a flyer or newsletter may help you get the look you want.

If you’re more comfortable with a simple document, go with that rather than trying to create something fancy. Their purpose is to give you one more tool to use in your effort to entice an agent or editor to ask to see more of your work, and an amateurish one sheet will probably not do that.

Author Kaye Dacus goes into more detail than I have, and also give examples:


Another helpful reference is by Tracy Ruckman:


Amy Wallace has an example that includes different books:


Although I’ve seen one sheets recommended on several agents’ blogs, they seem to be optional. 

EDIT AUGUST 9, 2011: Agent Rachelle Gardner discusses one sheets on her blog today, and has links to several excellent examples her clients submitted. 


Have you ever prepared a one sheet/pitch sheet? What’s the first thing you’d say to an agent if you were going to pitch something to them? What would you talk about with a conference faculty member who wasn’t an agent or editor if you were given the opportunity of a one-on-one meeting?

Read Full Post »

According to the Encarta dictionary:

Chapter: one of the main sections of a text, usually having a title or number as a heading

 Scene: a short section of a play, movie, opera, or work of literature that presents a single event

Chapter breaks are generally used at crucial points in a story in order to build tension. Scenes show what happens during a specific time period, or in a specific location. A long scene might make up a whole chapter, but sometimes chapters include several short scenes.

Scene breaks are indicated by leaving an extra line, usually with a special symbol—such as #–centered on that line to clearly signal the reader that something is about to change. It may be a switch in the point of view character, a move to a different location, a flashback, or the return from one.

Short chapters and scenes can build suspense and increase the pace of a story. However, quickly switching back and forth between point of views or settings can also be confusing. Rather than “head hopping” or using lots of short scenes, you might consider using a narrative summary of certain events, or an explanation within dialog, to make the story flow more smoothly.

Approximately how long do you think a chapter should be?  Does it depend on the genre of the story? Do you prefer point of view changes to be done with new chapters, or does it matter to you?

Read Full Post »

Many agents accept queries by email. While the basics are the same as if you were mailing the query, there are a few differences you’ll need to take into consideration. As always, you should check the agent’s guidelines before submitting as they may have specific instructions for what they want to see and how they want it sent.

Keep in mind that this is still a business letter even though it’s sent electronically instead of through the mail. If possible, use an email address that sounds professional, with your own name listed rather than your spouse’s or some cutesy user name.

Use a simple, readable black font, like Courier or Times New Roman, 12 point. Send the email as plain text to avoid problems with email clients that might be different from yours. Often emails contain odd symbols or gibberish when special formatting codes are included. (That frequently happens when cutting and pasting from a word processor into the email program.)

The Header:

To: Try to use the exact email address of the person you are contacting rather than the agency email.

Subject: Never leave the subject line blank or your email will probably end up in the Spam folder. Put Query: Title of Your Book

Body of the Email:

There is no need to put the agent’s contact information in the email. Simply start with the formal salutation, with the name of the agent you are contacting, such as Dear Ms. Benedict:

The letter can be single-spaced. Use block paragraphs (no indenting), and leave an extra space between each of them. Include 3 or 4 paragraphs introducing your book, giving your pitch, telling a little about the story, and summarizing your credentials. Don’t forget to thank the agent, and tell them you look forward to hearing from them.

In closing simply use Sincerely, followed by a comma, double space, then type your name and put your address and phone number under it.

Do not include the URL for a blog or website unless it deals specifically with your writing. For instance, if you have writing clips posted on your site you might want to include that information so the agent can look at them.

Do not include attachments unless the guidelines state that they are acceptable. Some agents delete unsolicited email with attachments in order to cut down on potential viruses.

 Edit March 18, 2010: 

Agent Nathan Bransford posted an example of email query format today on his blog. The only thing I noticed different from what I have said is that he didn’t double space between his closing and signature.


 Edit August 1, 2011:  Agent Rachelle Gardner has a helpful post on her blog today about emailing queries.


Do you prefer querying by email, or snail mail? How do you keep track of your email submissions?


Read Full Post »

Don’t you get frustrated when you finish something you think is really good, submit it, and then find out you did something wrong? For example, maybe you formatted it incorrectly or forgot something that was supposed to be included? I entered a short story contest a couple of weeks ago, and I formatted it like I do the articles I send via email. Tonight I ran across an article that explains that short stories aren’t formatted like nonfiction. Who knew?

Now I’m obsessing over that story, wondering if it will be tossed in the recycle/trash can without being read because I didn’t indent the first line of each paragraph and I double spaced between paragraphs. Or maybe I did it right, but I don’t remember. It was submitted via a form on the contest site, and all I have to go by is the original, un-indented story on my hard drive.

I wish I knew how important the finer points of submitting really are. There is so much conflicting information that it’s clear there isn’t a standard rule—just standard guidelines. In the absence of stated guidelines, you’d think anything would be acceptable as long as it was readable. Right?

On the bright side, if my entry doesn’t win, I can always tell myself it’s because it got rejected without being read. That might be better for my self-esteem than thinking it’s because the story wasn’t any good.

I’ve added a couple of helpful sites to my original post on formatting manuscripts, which seems to be the most popular post on my blog. Since I’m obviously not an expert on this, I recommend that you take a look at some or all of the sites I’ve mentioned before you submit anything. Maybe it will save you some frustration.

Do you think editors and agents are looking for excuses to eliminate manuscripts so they have less work, or do you think something like formatting is too minor to affect their decision? How do you deal with frustration: by eating comfort foods, working harder, whining, or some other method?

Read Full Post »

Now that the rough draft of my novel is complete, I decided to get it ready, technically, so that when I finish my revisions it will be polished and professional looking. I’ve read the general guidelines for the proper format of a novel several times before, but somehow I didn’t let it sink in. As a result, my first draft is a mess.

My entire manuscript is currently in block paragraphs, single spaced, with no headers. (Do not do that!) I had no idea how to keep the chapters starting on a new page, so I just let them go where they wanted. This came about because when I put each chapter in a separate file, and then made revisions which changed the chapter numbers, and then put the revised chapters into separate files, I ended up confused.

While I may sound lazy, it’s actually a matter of preference—I preferred to do it my way and figure out the right way later. Silly me. Good thing I’m revising the whole thing anyway. But today I’m attempting to fix things. (It’s much easier to do it the right way in the first draft than to change it later.)

The following sites explain the nitty-gritty details of formatting a novel. They do it so well that I’m not even going to attempt to summarize. If you’re interested in this, check these out.

Edit 2/29/12: If I had realized when I wrote this post that it would consistently be the most visited post on my blog, I would have spent more time explaining what to do instead of talking about how I messed up my first draft! If you don’t see what you need to know about formatting in the links I’ve listed, let me know and I’ll try to answer your question.

Basic Manuscript Formatting, by Kaye Dacus:


Formatting a Novel in Word 2007, by Catherine Chant:


Format Tips for Queries, the Synopsis, and Manuscript, by Agent Query staff


Preparing Your Manuscript, by Charlotte Dillon


Sample Manuscript (includes title page and prologue), by William Shunn


EDIT 9-23-09: Today I found another excellent site that explains formatting for novels and short works very clearly. Holly Lisle’s advice includes how to handle a title page, and when it is needed. Take a look:


EDIT 10-6-09:  I found another good site. Besides covering the format for paper submissions for novels, short stories, articles, and contest submissions, Moira Allen also goes over how to format a manuscript for submission via email.


How do you keep track of your story? Do you have everything in one large file, or do you have a different, easier method? If it’s all in one file, how do you find what you are looking for? Do you keep all your revisions until the book is done, or delete the earlier ones once you’ve made several major revisions? Would you like to fix my novel?

Read Full Post »

A lot of blog posts talk about query letters, but I’ve not seen many on cover letters. A cover letter should be submitted with a short story, contest entry, poem, or requested material. It briefly gives your contact information, an overview of what is attached, and a paragraph about your credentials or relevant personal data.

Although some sites say it isn’t necessary, I’ve always added a cover letter, even when submitting electronically, because it gives my submissions a more professional appearance. It’s a business letter, and serves as an introduction to the piece I’m submitting. Although the article or story needs to sell itself, it shouldn’t have to explain itself.  

Once when I sent an article as an attachment, which was the requested method but wrong format (they couldn’t open my Word 2007 docx attachment), the cover letter enticed the editor to ask me to resubmit the article within the body of an email. It would have been easy for her to delete my original email on the assumption that I didn’t know what I was doing. However, since I mentioned my topic, the edition of the magazine I was targeting, and my writing credits in the cover letter, the editor gave me a second chance. She ended up buying the article.

Write a cover letter like you would a normal business letter: single spaced, block format, with double spacing between paragraphs. Include a polite closing sentence, and state what is enclosed—short story name, SASE, etc.

Here are a couple of helpful sites that go into a bit more detail on when to use a cover letter, and what to include:








Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: