First Impressions

Easy ways to sabotage your submission.

Want a quick way to make a poor first impression with an agent or editor? Send a manuscript that’s not professionally formatted.

Consider the sample pages for a YA novel an author sent this morning. A quick glance suggested he wasn’t yet ready for prime time. Before I read a single word, these problems jumped out:

1) Wrong font. Whatever he used, it wasn’t 12-point Times New Roman. Save your creativity for your writing, not your choice of fonts.

2) Wrong spacing. The manuscript was single spaced, not double spaced.

3) More wrong spacing. After each paragraph, he’d inserted a blank line. (Use a line space only to indicate a scene break.)

4) Yet more wrong spacing. As people were once taught in typing class, he’d hit the space bar twice after each sentence. Once is enough.

These are all marks of someone not yet serious about writing professionally. So I approached the manuscript with low expectations.

Is that unfair? Over the years I’ve found it’s usually not. The writing in this morning’s manuscript fared no better than the format. Rather than immediately engage readers with a story conveyed through action, dialogue, and vivid characters, the author opted to fade into the novel with three paragraphs of dry observations by an omniscient narrator.

Want to raise an editor or agent’s expectations? Surprise them with a piece formatted professionally.

For further information about manuscript format, content standards, and permission for using copyrighted material, visit the “About Your Manuscript” section at

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About Andy Scheer

With more than 30 years in publishing, Andy Scheer has provided freelance editorial services since 2010. He has edited fiction and nonfiction for publishers including Moody, WinePress, and BelieversPress, as well as for clients including Dirk Cussler, McNair Wilson, DiAnn Mills, Heather Day Gilbert, and Sammy Tippit.

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