I got this email today:
Dear Mr. Goldberg,
I am about to start writing my novel. What novel writing software do you use? Is there an industry standard? What’s the proper format?
I use Microsoft Word but any word processing software is probably just fine. The format question is trickier. My publisher on the DIAGNOSIS MURDER and MONK novels didn’t give me any set format, so I write my novels double spaced in 12pt Courier New, with margins that would be the typewriter equivalent of 10 and 60. I think I do that because I learned to write on a typewriter… and I wrote so much on an IBM Selectric that a manuscript doesn’t look right to me if it isn’t in Courier New.
On the other hand, I recall that Five Star, the folks who published THE WALK and are bringing out THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE in November, had very strict formatting guidelines. Although I wrote the book using my usual format, when I was done I had to reformat it to meet their requirements which included, if I recall, that the manuscript be in 11pt Times New Roman, double-spaced, with author’s last name and the book title centered in italics at the top of each page.
But at this point, I would just concern yourself with writing the book. You can always change the format later to conform to the requirements of whatever publisher you submit it to.
How about you other published authors out there — what’s your advice?
7 thoughts on “My Software”
I’m with you: the guy should write the book first.
The formatting is the easy part, he can do that later.
I formatted my manuscript according to recommendations on writing sites before submitting it to agents–margins, font, header, using underline instead of italics, etc.
Today I spent hours reformatting it to the publisher’s house style. Two hyphens instead of m-dashes, “Chapter” in upper and lower case with only one line above and below, don’t capitalize the names of decades if written out, 1.5″ margins on all four sides, and on and on. Thank God for Find and Replace.
Of course, the one thing they DON’T care about is whether you underline or use italics–after I went through the whole damn thing by hand a year or so ago making sure not a single occasion of ital remained.
Over the years I’ve written things to AP Style, Chicago Style, Wired Style… Everybody’s got their own schtick. No matter what you’re told to do for generic “professional” formatting, the publisher (whether book, newspaper, or magazine) will tell you something different for the final submission.
Doesn’t mean you can blow off grammar and punctuation and spelling–just that you can never predict attitudes about the serial comma and stuff like that.
Worry about the writing.
Coincidence: I started recently the final rewrite on the book and went hunting up this exact same information using Google and my Writer’s Handbook.
I ended up with a choice: 10 point Courier or 12 point Courier (NEVER use Times Roman), or 12 point Times Roman.
One inch margins and 1.5 inch margins. Triple-space would be wonderful, but double is fine.
Underline for italics. At least they were consistent with that.
I don’t know which situation was better. In pre-computer days, formatting was simple. Use the font on your typewriter, double space and decent margins. Now, six publishers could have six different formats, and you get the pleasure of reformatting a 90,000-word manuscript and printing it out again.
I write everything in Microsoft Word, usually single-spaced and in Palatino with Helvetica chapter headers. It’s easiest on my eyes when I’m working, and the publishers I’ve worked with don’t care how it’s formatted, as long as it’s not a total mess. As an editor, I’ve seen all sorts of formats used. As you and the others point out, though, it’s the writing that matters, not whether or not you used one of a score of different standards.
I’ve never submitted anything to a publisher, but I would hazard a guess that if the writing sucks, the formatting won’t matter. On the other hand, if they like the book, they’ll ask you to reformat.
Therefore, don’t worry about the formatting until the writing is complete.
Given how it easy it is to Select All and change fonts and spacing at any time, I write in the font I like, and the size I like, until it’s ready to submit. If my eyes are tired, I change it to 14 pt. If I’m printing a chapter to edit, I double space. If I’m saving bucks on the whole MS, I single space.
I never worry about the final until it goes to my agent. Then it’s three strokes and out.
It doesn’t matter what word processor you use or how you format it while you’re writing. Once you’re finished and you want to send it someplace, find out what their requirements are.
If no requirements are specified, use 12-point Courier or Times, one-inch margins, start page one halfway down, etc., etc. It’s more important that it look generally professional and be a good book than that it obey niggling format rules.