Formatting is not Writing

Much is made on various writing Web Sites about how to format a manuscript for submission to agents and editors. The ms. should be double spaced, in 12 point courier font and, if in hard copy, on 8″ by 11″ white paper. An agent told us once that this is because the book industry has not gotten over the typewriter, and the goal is to make the ms. look as much like it is typewritten as possible.
If true, typewritten is not a bad goal. As editors, we dislike nothing more than having to fight the format of our clients, particularly that extra space between paragraphs. We have, in fact, given up on it and while we will edit for punctuation, grammar, and content, we will not edit formatting. In some cases, it would take an entire IT team anyway. If the anger and frustration we feel is anything to go by, fledging authors do not want to go there with agents and editors.
Yet, book after book comes to us with creative formatting as if additional spaces or italics or changing fonts tell a story. They don’t. They are not words. If the writing is good, creative formatting gets in the way. And it does nothing to compensate for bad writing.
If you are a creative formatter, it is probably a useful exercise to eliminate it and trying to say in words what you are trying to indicate with spaces and fonts. Then, once you have written your book in double-spaced, 12-point courier and are planning to skip all the publishing business hassles by self-publishing, then you may get creative with the fonts because it is your creation and it can look anyway you want. But it will be a better book to have been written in words rather than formatting.