So, you want to be a professional?

Many believe there are only seven basic plots. What amazes me are the variations on those plots writers come up with—the twists and leaps they make within those structures.

As a freelance editor, I see manuscripts in all shapes and sizes. One conclusion is unmistakable—those who work with me are all creative people.

But what is also clear is that some of those professing to pursue professional writing are shooting themselves in the foot with unprofessional presentation.

Marks of an amateur

What I often find are typos on the first page—sometimes within the first three paragraphs. Or, if not a typo, some kind of inappropriate formatting:

  • A nonstandard typeface—most places still prefer to see only Times New Roman or Courier fonts in 12 point
  • 1.5-line spacing rather than 2-line spacing
  • Full justification instead of ragged right
  • Too narrow or too wide margins (standard is still 1” to 1.25”)

All of these formatting errors are easily correctable. As a freelance editor I can catch these—and I’m glad to do so.

The competition is stiff

But editors and agents have mounds of submissions on their desks to plow through. Wise writers don’t give them reasons to set those manuscripts aside, instead they work to develop their skills to the level editors expect.

If you’re serious, you’ll want to ensure any freelance editor you hire (like me) can spend time polishing your prose rather than correcting obvious mistakes you could have caught.

Five steps to take

There are many things you can do to develop your skills, but these five ideas will provide a great return:

  1. Join (or form) a critique group. Several groups incorporate critique options, including American Christian Fiction Writers. Or, like Novel Rocket, can help you connect with others looking for critique partners.
  2. Purchase, read, and use resources. Excellent books are available on standard manuscript formatting.
  3. Proofread your work. Form a partnership with a writer friend and pass manuscripts back and forth. Then proof again—and again.
  4. Take classes. You can do this through conferences, online courses, or a local university.
  5. Join a professional organization. You have your choice from faith-based or secular (or both), including ACFW, the Christian Writers Guild, My Book Therapy, and Writer’s Digest Online.

If you do these things, your take on one of the seven basic plots could end up published—rather than tossed in File 13.


There are loads of excellent freelance editors. See my Editorial Services page or contact me at michael.ehret (at) inbox(dot)com. You can also use the Find An Editor service of the Christian PEN (Proofreaders and Editors Network).


Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

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2 thoughts on “So, you want to be a professional?

  1. Mike, as a judge in Novel Rocket’s Launch Pad contest, I often see these basic formatting errors. I immediately know this is a newbie. And to be gut honest, it tends to color my reading. If I were an acquisitions editor, I’d lay it aside and not bother to read it. And I just might miss a great story.

    This is industry-standard formatting. If a writer is serious, they need to research before submitting their work to an agent or editor … or hire you!

    • True enough, Ane. I’ve heard the same from judges in other contests I’ve been connected with. Formatting counts. A mistake in formatting makes it far too easy, as you say, for an editor or agent to simply set the manuscript aside and move on to the next one in the pile.

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