Formatting—and More—for Success

To win editors and influence publishers you need to write like a professional. Here are some essential formatting and style secrets that spell the difference.


  • Use 12-point Times New Roman.
  • Double-space unless a publisher states otherwise.
  • Write with verbs and nouns. Adverbs and adjectives should be rare.
  • Use an exclamation point only if the house is on fire.
  • People don’t speak in parentheses, so don’t use them in your fiction.
  • Write short paragraphs.
  • Use spell check, but also be careful of the wrong word spelled correctly, like their for there or to for too.
  • Names of books, publications, and titles of songs are italicized, not underlined.

More easy fixes
Omit needless words like:

  • Very. It was very large. How large? The size of a South Carolina palmetto bug? As big as a beluga whale? Be specific.
  • Just. Just is just not needed.
  • Really. It was really sweet. How sweet? Like southern tea? Like sugared breakfast cereal that makes your teeth hurt just looking at the box? Describe how sweet, or even better, show it through a character’s reaction.
  • Some. Some children went to the beach. How many? The grandmother’s seven grandchildren? A first grade class?
  • All. They all arrived at the battle. Remove all and the sentence reads better.
  • Literally. Anne’s hair was literally green. It was either green or it wasn’t. Literally is literally not needed.

Other suggestions:

  • Avoid excessive stage direction every time your character moves. He got up from his chair and made his way into the kitchen. From the refrigerator he pulled bread … Just say, He made a sandwich.
  • Vary the length and structure of your sentences.
  • Avoid repetition.
  • Read your manuscript aloud to catch overused words.
  • Be concise.

React: What self-editing tip do you employ?

PeggySue Wells is a speaker and the author of a dozen titles. She teaches a teen writing class and has taught at Write to Publish, Celebrate Creativity, Write On, and Evangelical Press Association conferences.


  1. Rachel Laird says

    I enjoyed your blog, but why should adjectives be used on ocassion? The blue Honda was out of place among the rusty brown and black trucks.

    How would you edit this sentence?

    • Lauren says

      In your sentence “The blue Honda was out of place among the rusty brown and black trucks” you are redundant. Rusty = brown and black. You don’t need to describe the colors of rust. “The blue Honda was out of place among the rusty trucks” says exactly the same thing…much more concise and still gives the picture.

      • Jennifer says

        Thank you for an article as useful as a newly opened soda is fizzy.

        I recognize that the sentence “The blue Honda was out of place among the rusty brown and black trucks” may have been invented purely as an example of adjective use, so a context may not exist.

        If I had read that sentence in a story I would not have thought that the color of rust was being described, rather that there was some significance to the color of the vehicles. The surrounding sentences would dictate whether I remembered that information or dismissed it.

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