Sunday, August 5, 2018

Writer, Don't Forget the Basics (Part 1)

By Andrea Merrell

We all know writing is a process, a life-long learning experience. The industry is always changing with new guidelines, new opportunities, new reference material, new conferences, new experts, new social media outlets … and the list goes on.

But even as we grow, learn, and evolve, there are basics, the ABCs of writing that remain the same. These are the elements we can easily forget or overlook if we’re not careful.

Let’s look at a few of these basics. For most of you, these will seem simple (and not worthy of a blog post LOL), but it’s always good to be reminded of what might make or break a manuscript when submitting to an agent, editor, or publisher.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised how many manuscripts I receive that still have two spaces after a sentence. The industry standard is now only one space. This makes a big difference, not only with print books, but especially with online posts and e-books.

Formatting is generally the same across the board, but always check the guidelines before you submit your manuscript, even to a contest. Standard formatting is:
  • 12 pt. Times New Roman
  • Double-spacing
  • 1” margins all around
  • No bold or underlined words
  • No words in all caps
  • No graphics, fancy fonts, sidebars, or pull quotes

Scripture passages are to be italicized or enclosed in quotation marks, not both. Do not italicize the reference.
  • Example: If used as a stand-alone verse or header: Jesus wept. John 11:35 NIV
  • Example: If used within a sentence/paragraph: Jesus wept (John 11:35 NIV).
When a Scripture passage (i.e. Romans 8:1–15) is cited in any given paragraph, succeeding references should be documented with only the verse (v. 12). If the chapter is changed but not the book, document with the chapter and verse (9:6).

When using a long passage of Scripture, it's best to use it as a block quote. No quotation marks or italics are needed, but some venues will prefer the passage to be italicized.

When quoting Scripture, be sure to use an online source such as Copy and paste the verse or verses. Don't try to go by memory.

Always proof and double-check your work. Use a good online dictionary. The industry standard is If you're not sure of a word, look it up (especially those tricky, hyphenated words). Don't depend on spellcheck.

In future posts, we'll look at some other basics such as tricky and confusing words, punctuation, sentence structure, the difference between speaker tags and speaker beats, point of view (POV), crafting dialogue, creating memorable characters, writing tight, and showing, not telling.

If you have a question about a certain topic or something specific you would like us to address in one of our posts, please share in the comment section. We would love to hear from you.

(Photos courtesy of, Stuart Miles, and drpnncpptak.)



  1. Thanks so much for the reminder. I remember reading Murder of a Manuscript and learning about spacing. The information about scripture reference today is something that I did not know. It may have been in your book, but don't recall. In any case, it resonated with me today and will start putting to use immediately.

    1. That's great, Sheryl. Thanks for sharing with us. Blessings! :)


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