Fiction Fundamentals

Formatting Your Manuscript By Linda Adams

You’ve just finished your novel and are ready to submit it. But before you do, take advantage of an overlooked marketing tool: manuscript format. Manuscript format is one of the most neglected technical parts of writing. Most people wouldn’t even consider sending a poor-looking resume to a potential employer. Yet, writers do submit poorly formatted manuscripts, not realizing that publishers use that as a screening method. You could have a fantastic novel and get it rejected because it looks unprofessional.

So what should a professional manuscript look like?

Paper: The manuscript will be printed from a computer or typed on standard, white 20 lb paper. No colored paper. No tractor feed paper.

General Format: The manuscript will be typewritten or printed from a computer. No handwriting–no matter how neat your writing is. If you have a dot matrix printer, upgrade to one of the bubble or ink jet printers. Most publishers won’t take dot matrix manuscripts any more.

Spacing: The manuscript will be double-spaced.

Type Size: The guidance here is different, depending on whether you use a computer or a typewriter. If you’re using a typewriter, set your size to 10 pitch. For a computer, change it to 12 points.

Ink Color: Black ink only.

Type Style: This is a much debated issue, and you’ll hear a lot of different things. Some say it’s all right to use Times New Roman, while others insist on Courier New. Your first guidance on this is to see what the publisher’s requirements are. If they don’t tell you what they prefer, use Courier New. Yes, it does look like typewriter text, but if you compare Courier and Times, Courier is easier to read. Especially to someone who might be receiving a hundred manuscripts a day. Give yourself the extra advantage of being more readable.

Margins: The margins are one inch all around. You can make the top margin 1 1/2 inch, and your header margin, where you page number and title information are, one inch.

Header: At the top of each page, you should have your novel title and last name on the left side, and the page number on the right. This makes it easy to reassemble your manuscript if the pages are separated.

Two spaces or one: This, of course, refers to how many spaces after a period. It’s also another ambiguous guideline, much disputed in writing circles. Again, start by referring to the publisher’s writing guidelines. If the guidelines don’t specify, use two spaces. It makes the manuscript easier to read; the sentences won’t run together.

Italics: Unless the guidelines say that it is all right to use italics, don’t. Use underscore instead. Italics are harder to read and easier for a typesetter to miss.

Copyright: Don’t put copyright information on the manuscript. The only people who are going to steal your work are friends and acquaintances that you give it to. A publisher isn’t going to take it. Why should he? He receives thousands of manuscripts every month. Putting a copyright tag on the manuscript may have a negative effect on how the publisher views you–it will give him the impression that you are an amateur!

Proofread: You’d be surprised how many people think that it is the editor’s job to check for typos, spelling errors, and grammatical mistakes. It’s your novel–it’s your job. If a publisher has to choose between two manuscripts, one full of mistakes and the other without any, which one is he going to pick?

Copying the Manuscript: If you take your manuscript down to the local copy store, make sure that the copies are clean and professional looking. A writer making the rounds in Hollywood had apparently lost his original script, so he used a copy. It was a multi- generation copy, covered with spots, and some of the pages had been copied crooked so that the words ran off the page. Something like that isn’t even going to earn more than a cursory look.

A publisher receives thousands of manuscripts. Many of them are formatted incorrectly and riddled with typos. You can give yourself an extra edge by making your manuscript look as professional as possible. Take the time when you first start writing it to format it properly, and submit it with pride.

Copyright Linda Adams 2002



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