3 Format Gaffes that Can Cost You a Publishing Deal

Of all the things that can go wrong in the publishing process, poor formatting is one of the easiest mistakes for literary agents and publishers to spot that can end with your manuscript tossed into the rejection pile.

Your job as the novelist or screenwriter is to ensure that nothing distracts from focus on the story.

Not format, packaging or font type. Nada.

The good and bad news is that format gaffes are easy to make and easy to fix.

Here are a few common format gaffes to look out for in your own writing.

Standard Manuscript Formatting

There are standard guidelines in the industry for formatting manuscripts for submission.

My best advice is to research this before you submit each manuscript to ensure proper formatting, since this can change. 

Here are a few websites to check it out as part of your research:

Writer’s Digest Format Tips

Scribophile Format Tips

Format Tips with Examples

Not Following the Rules

While most literary agents and publishers follow the same basic guidelines, sometimes agents or publishers have specific requests for formatting.

This might be a way to format chapters, mid-chapter scene changes, dialogue or character thoughts.

Usually, the best advice here is to study the website for the literary agent or publisher. Most agencies and publishing companies helpfully include formatting guidelines on their websites.

For example, check out these examples:

Irene Goodman Agency

Nelson Agency

Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Transporting (aka Scene Salad)

Transporting occurs when an author fails to transition from one scene to another either with words or blank white space on the page to indicate a change in character, time or setting.

Such acts of transporting (I also like the term “scene salad” since everything seems mixed up in the scene) can be quite jarring to readers.

To avoid transporting, either use words as a transition – Two hours later… – or press “enter” a few times on the page to create a few rows of blank white space to divide one scene from another.

Another option is to center a # symbol at the end of one scene and before another scene. 

Like this…

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah 

blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah 


Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah 

blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah

The bottom line is to know the basics, follow the basics and give each literary agent or publisher exactly what they want.

Yes, that might mean a slightly different format for different agents are publishers.

The good news is that most agents and publishers follow the same general guidelines and rules – however, it’s always good to doublecheck both their requests and your execution of those requests before hitting “send”. 


Christopher Kokoski is a speaker, trainer and author of Wicker Hollow and the Past Lives novel series.

Posted in Writing
2 comments on “3 Format Gaffes that Can Cost You a Publishing Deal
  1. Icy Sedgwick says:

    Excellent round-up of stuff that often gets overlooked 🙂

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