Anyone submitted a Scrivener outline in query?

I’ve been working on a book in AppleWorks, and finally couldn’t handle its problems anymore. I’ve fallen in love with Scrivener. But it bothers me that Scrivener (and every other application I’ve looked at) can’t produce output in a hierarchical outline form.

When publishers ask for an outline and sample chapters, will they be satisfied with the outline Scrivener produces? It seems so impoverished without the indentation and number/letter labels; so much harder to grasp the logic of the idea flow.

I don’t have Word on my Mac, and I sure don’t want it after what I’ve heard about it … but does it put out a hierarchical outline? Is that what publishers are going to expect?

This will be my first attempt at publishing a book. I’d sure like to hear from anyone with experience with this requirement.

In my experience, the “outline” is just a list of chapter titles, each followed by a paragraph that briefly summarizes chapter contents. You could write these in Scrivener, export them, and clean them up in any word processor. The only numbers would be those you assign to the chapters and their sub-sections.

The O’Reilly company publishes technical books, but they have an excellent overview of the book-writing process available at See especially Ch 2: The Proposal and “The Outline.”

In my field – trade non-fiction – publishers would look askance at an actual outline with Roman numerals, etc. They are looking for a list of chapters with a synopsis of each one. A great resource if you’re in this market is Susan Rabino & Alfred Fortunato’s Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction – and Get It Published.

And Scrivener is perfect for this: you can have an “index card” for each chapter, and the synopsis is, well, your synopsis. Then when you start writing you’ve got all that information right there in the inspector. Lovely.


Hi Catherine,

You’ve come to the right place. After the art of self-discipline, Scrivener is a writer’s best friend.

If you’re writing non-fiction, your publisher or agent will want the following in order to consider your work:

  1. Brief book overview explaining what it’s about and why it’s worth publishing.

  2. Who the audience is and why they’ll want to read it.

  3. Why you’re the person who should be writing it.

  4. How you will help market your book (this is a very important part of the proposal and should include things like speaking appearances, other people you might get to write blurbs for you and so on).

  5. Any additional information you might be able to supply that will make you or your book more attractive from a business point of view.

  6. One or more sample chapters.

  7. List of chapters with a brief synopsis of each one.

(Note that the list of chapters is last in the above – though you can change the sequence of these components, as appropriate.)

Scrivener is the perfect tool to produce all of this material in a format your agent or publisher will appreciate. You don’t have to worry about hierarchical outlines.

If you are a first-time writer and you are proposing a work of fiction, it’s unlikely publisher will make a decision based on the above. The publisher will almost certainly want to see more, possibly even a fairly final draft of the full work, prior to making any commitment to you.

For fiction, your best bet will likely be to work with an agent. A good one will help you produce a proposal based on the practices of the individual publisher and your agent’s relationship with the publisher.

Again, Scriv will serve you better than anything else I’ve ever encountered.

Hope this helps,


All that said, remember that Scrivener does have auto-numbering abilities. Just type <$n> wherever you want the next number (or use edit -> insert -> autonumber) and no matter how much you rearrange things, when you export your draft they will be converted to numbers in order.

The help file and the FAQ both talk about this feature. I think it’s a neat one even though I don’t need it, being an MMD/LaTeX kind of person :slight_smile:


Dead on, Maria. Even if one does choose to do substantial formatting for a book proposal (which may not be particularly useful anyway; publishers and agents have seen it all; and at the proposal stage they’re more interested in concept / content than in design), I’d do my formatting in an app written for that purpose, such as Mellel or Nisus. Better yet, why not go all the way and use Quark Xpress? If you really want to make your proposal look good, then pull out the big guns. My experience is that when you want to write, write; when you want to format, format.

I heartily agree. Formattiing is a separate and frankly much less critical job better handled by a specialized app.


Having spent 20 years as an acquiring editor, I can safely list formatting as the least important part of a successful proposal. I just want to know, on one page, who you are, what you’re writing, and why you’re writing it. Then I want to see what you propose to write–a chapter list with short descriptions–and two or three finished, polished sample chapters.

In my experience, the more visually styled the proposal (assuming an unagented submission), and the longer the list of windy accomplishments in the often-interminable cover letter, the less potential the proposal will have.

In book and high-end magazine publishing, writers write. The production department formats.

Similarly. I ve never known a theatre to refuse a good play script because it didn’t follow a strict format. Legibility and consistency are important, but the rest is tertiary at best.

We’ve had two decades of apps optimized for formatting; it’s a relief to have one so well designed for actually writing. And besides, there’s no writing job I can think of – short of self publishing complex documents --that Scriv couldn’t format properly on its own or with a little help from its friends.

Yup. Been on both sides of the fence, in both areas, and I can sum it up even more brutally:

Amateurs format. Professionals write.

Mind you, there’s a fine old market in persuading people who want to be writers that unless they get this program and format in this way, they won’t stand a chance.

What percentage of Screenplay 2000/Final Draft users – $200 products – are doing it for a living?

Scrivener, Ulysses, Word, Mellel, Copywrite, Nisus, TextEdit, TextMate, Avenir, Your_Choice_Here… not relevant in the end. All that’s relevant in the end is a legible manuscript, being read by someone who can say “yes”.

Like people who spend a fortune on the terrible Endnote in the hope that it will help them pass as scholars. Software is a tool too often marketed as a gateway to fantasy. It took me a long time to realise that buying the latest PIM s/ware wouldn’t make me organised. Only I could make me organised. (So I gave up.)

So . . . er . . . just use Scrivener, and write the stuff.

(Oh, yes, the original question. Never been asked to indent/number an outline. Never been asked to show my degree certificates, come to that.)

If your script isn’t formatted in the right way, you don’t stand a chance. The simple truth is:

Content and format are inseparable in Professional Screenplays.

That’s because the format of Hollywood screenplays isn’t based on aesthetics, it’s based on production. The format hasn’t changed much in 70 years. It comes out to about a minute of screen time per script page.

The format varies a smidge, because the studios don’t have the writers on salary like they did in the old days. That being said, an Action paragraph is 61 characters wide, using a 12-point, 10-pitch font. There are 54 of those lines (including blank lines) on a single script page. The variation from that standard is very slight and quite infrequent.

When Final Draft came out about 20 years ago, What You See Is What You Get took Hollywood by storm. That’s because the format influences the development of the content. You change your script to fit within the constraints of the pages (or lines) you have available. WYSIWYG allowed writers the speed of a computer with the ease of seeing how their editing was changing their pages.

The way you can tell an amateur writer in Hollywood is that their script looks different. It doesn’t have the right formatting, it doesn’t use the right font (Courier Final Draft, 12 point), and there are three brads in the script instead of two.

No kidding. :wink:

P.S. – budding movie scribes can format their work for free using Celtx.

Popcornflix is correct. For film script submissions, format is an issue. Agents, (the first gate-keepers), readers (the second), various grades of assistants (the third) potential producers (the fourth), and finally production manager and guarantor types (the fifth) will all look at a script from the point of view of its producibility. And that, in turn, is contingent on a number of factors, not the least of which is estimated screen time. As a result, out-of-format scripts rarely make it through the first cut. Of course there are always the odd exceptions, but they’re very odd… for all it’s schtik, Hollywood is a VERY conservative place (one of the more common exceptions: when a bankable star reads a script he or she likes, it doesn’t really matter if the thing is written in blood on toilet paper).

Format is somewhat less of an issue for submissions to literary agents and publishing houses. I’ve seen a very wide range of submissions that have been accepted. There are several reasons: formula (note the etymological sisterhood) is somewhat less important in the literary world; literary submissions are more often book proposals or inquiries than drafts, and the financial risks in publishing are substantially lower than in film production.

Regardless of the submission forum, however, I’d encourage new writers to focus on content first and form second. For most types of writing, the best advice I ever received was “Get it down, then get it good.”



Shoot, I did my nonfiction book proposal in TextEdit and no editor ever commented about the formatting. I guess I’m just not understanding what you’re asking for. What kind of formatting do you need that’s not available via the (admittedly rudimentary) Lists function in Scrivener’s cocoa text editor (Text => Show ruler => Lists), combined with liberal use of the Tab key?
Or maybe OmniOutliner would help? It came bundled with my PowerBook and was a mainstay for me in that kind of organizing until Scrivener came along. I do seem to remember the appleworks outlining function being elegantly simple, though.

Popcornflix is dead right when it comes to Hollywood and Hollywood-esque submissions. They are incredibly anal about it all. I’ve seen long arguments range about whether you should use two ‘brads’ (paper fasteners) or three, and whether you should use two but have a third hole punched through the script.

But my experience is that Europe is different.

Some places still like scripts in two columns, one for audio, one for video. The BBC has different formats for feature, soaps, series, comedy, studio, but they only actually matter when you’re commissioned. For spec submissions, which will inevitably end up with the Writer’s Room, they don’t actually care, as long as it looks like a script. That’s pretty much a verbatim quote from a BBC development person - so the generic feature format is probably best. The essence of Micheal’s point is right: any fool can format. All we have to do is stare at a screen till our foreheads bleed.

Three holes, two Accos.

You can have two holes in the cover, but nobody uses two-hole paper. We buy 3-hole drilled drilled paper by the ream.

Fair enough, but Hollywood is a pretty big market for screenwriting, and I’d like to use Scrivener on my Hollywood jobs.

Just to be clear, I think good writing is very important.

I just want Scrivener to support Hollywood scriptwriting conventions. I love the program, and I want to use it on every project I write from now on.
I think Keith could easily double his 1,000 customers just from aspiring Hollywood screenwriters, if Scrivener had basic yet complete screenplay processing built in.


You reminded me of a debate I once observed between two people who were arguing (eventually quite vehemently) about the type of brad to use — the standard butterfly acco or the screw bolt style.

You’re right, of course, popcornflix. Whether it’s insane or not, the conventions do make a difference (not withstanding the occasional brilliant treatment written on toilet paper) in how — or whether — a Hollywood script submission is received. And the closer Kieth can come to providing the functionality that will make a Scriv script look like every other script ( :unamused: ), the more Scriv’s he’ll probably sell.

By the way, what’s your take on the great butterfly vs screw bolt debate?


True. But in the UK, the BBC’s a better bet for actually making a living from.

I agree with you completely. Scriv fills the gap Montage is flailing around trying to fill and Final Draft doesn’t seem remotely aware even exists.

The BBC puts one big paper fastener thing in the top lefthand corner but I think that’s just being efficient with the licence fee.

First of all: popcornflix gives not just good advice, but essential advice to aspiring screenwriters on this forum. There’s not a lot of wiggle room when it comes to formatting your screenplay for submission to Hollywood. I’d even go so far as to say there is no credible “debate” over the details. Things like screw fasteners and two-hole paper (and special script covers made from heavier stock, and pretty much whatever else the Writer’s Store wants to sell you) scream “amateur” to a potential reader as readily as a script printed out in Helvetica. These days, it’s as much about efficiency as production considerations. When culling through thousands and thousands of submissions, format becomes an easy way for readers to spot (and ignore) the overeager newb.

One little ray of light, though, for the office-supply-obsessed among us: those little washers they sell that go over the brads? Those are fine, and in fact, they’re a big help in keeping the whole affair from falling apart. The washer slides over the butterfly part of the brad (on the back of the script), effectively locking everything in place when the brad is spread out. Further, a whack with a nice rubber mallet goes a long way toward making sure brad, washer and script stay where you want them to. I’m serious.* Hit your finished work with a hammer. It’s kind of satisfying.

*(edit: After writing this, I took a look at The Writer’s Store’s site and noticed they are actually selling rubber mallets now. Heh.)