It's September already -- can you believe it? We can't. The year is flying by. And, to top it all off, our Novel Prize is closing this month! In just three weeks, in fact.
In the run up to the deadline, we're going to be releasing some blogs, and keeping you up to date with all our top tips and advice from our experience of reading and judging, as well as passing along some great tips from agents and other talented writers.
Here's our first chunk of advice. And it's on formatting!
1. Formatting and the Meta
We get quite a lot of people emailing regarding formatting, and though we have the guidelines up on the competition page, let me just lay it out for you here. While these aren't 'rules' in that you won't be disqualified if you don't follow them, they're recommendations that really help us out with reading. Consistent font, spacing, and formatting helps us get into the swing of reading faster, and can be one less thing to bog a judge down.
I hear you ask -- is Times New Roman really necessary? In a word, no. You can use Arial, or any other 'readable' font, but please stay away from scripts and Comic Sans. No one needs to see that.
Use 1.5 or 2.0 line spacing. It's much easier to read. Let me stress that -- don't use 1.0 line spacing. It makes us squint and it's hard to read on-screen.
Another thing we get asked is do we want indented paragraphs without extra space, or extra space between paragraphs and no indents? Either is fine -- but be aware that if you need to have a paragraph break (extra carriage return to denote scene change or time jump), that if you've got spaced paragraphs anyway, this may be hard to discern from a normal new paragraph. Just make sure it's either-or and easily distinguishable!
Otherwise, the only other thing I'd say is don't start off with a long stretch of italic text! It's tougher to read than normal text and it puts the reader under strain. Now, this is where the Meta comes in.
Firstly, let me say that Grindstone dedicates an equal amount of time and energy to every single piece we read. You can rely on that much. We go into every piece with an open mind, but emotionally, we what we can't account for is knee-jerk reaction. And this is where formatting comes into play in a big way. Our readers are reading a lot of openings, and it can get fatiguing at times. To continually keep an open mind and read with enthusiasm is tiring. And, what we want to avoid is them going into a piece that they would have otherwise responded positively to, but because the formatting makes it arduous to read, they don't quite feel the sort of positivity they would if it was formatted in a more readable way.
This is something that's fairly well known in publishing -- it's why there's an 'industry standard' of sorts.
Giving a reader the most easily digestible format gives your work every opportunity to shine in all the ways it needs to. If the formatting is right, we don't even think about it. But, if it's poorly spaced or in a strange font, we register that and carry forward (whether we mean to or not) the connotations it brings.
So take some time before the deadline and make sure that your work is formatted and laid out correctly. For reiteration, a good general setup is:
Times New Roman, Size 12, 2.0/1.5 Line Spacing
No extra paragraph space
Indent the first line of each paragraph
***Except the first line of a new SECTION -- ie. the first paragraph of the entire piece, or the first paragraph after a section/chapter break***
This should serve you well, not just in our competitions, but everywhere else, too.
In terms of how we want the submission laid out in a single document, it's:
Title, Genre, Target Audience
Synopsis (300 words max)
Piece (3000 words max)
Remember to page break between items here and OMIT all identifying data. This is an anonymous competition, and if you include your name on the work, it may be disqualified from placing in the longlist or higher. We can get your information from your user account -- don't put it on your submission! This is how it should look:
The Hunger Games
Genre: Dystopian Fiction
Target Audience: Young Adult
The Hunger Games is a far-future set dystopian story about a young girl who volunteers to participate in 'The Hunger Games'... (up to 300 words)
The Hunger Games
Once upon a time... (up to 3000 words)
If your opening chapter is only 2200 words long, then submit the following 800 words of chapter 2 as well, to a natural break. If the first two chapters come to 3150 words in length, then submit them in their entirety. If they come to 3500, then curtail the submission as close to 3000 as you can. This much comes down to common sense. If you submit 5000 words, we won't read past 3000, so be sensible!
Okay, this seems like a lot of information, so I'm going to just leave it here for now.
If you have any other questions or you want to query anything, you can reach us on Twitter, Facebook, or by email: email@example.com
As always, keep on writing. We can't wait to read your submission!
All the best,