Ask an Editor: Formatting Your Manuscript


Annie C. Clark asked:

“My question is about formatting a manuscript. In third POV, should a main character’s inner dialogue be underlined or italicized? In finished books, I know it’s italicized but I’ve read conflicting information regarding how it should be written in manuscripts on submission.”


Good news! You can format the inner dialogue any way you’d like for submission. There isn’t a right or wrong way. What format looks better, feels better to you? You’re right that most of the time, inner thoughts are set in italics. It’s cleaner in printed books than underlined text. But your editor will understand what you’re doing if you submit a manuscript with underlined text.

STICK coverFormatting gets really interesting when you have a character who speaks (or thinks) in unusual ways. When I worked with Andrew Smith on his brilliant novel, Stick, we had to come up with a “format” to show how the main character hears – he has a disability that affects his hearing. Andrew wanted some unusual spacing within sentences, and believe me when I tell you that this wasn’t random – it was brilliantly mapped out and deliberate. It wasn’t easy to indicate for the typesetting, but it worked, and it’s still one of my favorite breaks of traditional format yet.

Your novel may also have text that is meant to be handwritten notes or signs. Your editor, and the designer, will format these accordingly. You should go ahead and set these blocks of text apart with boldface or different fonts when you submit.

But – and I can’t emphasize this enough – no amount of cute, flowery, colorful, glittery, sticker-adorned, handlettered (please don’t!), and/or large/small/bold/gothic formatting on your part will get more attention paid to your manuscript – by editors, agents, or readers online. I promise you that simpler is better.


Have a question for our editors? Let us know in the comments below.

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Liz S.

Hi, I'm the Editor-in-Chief at Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. I've worked in the book biz for over 30 years (let's just …

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