Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lens On: Manuscript Formatting Part One

Lens On: Manuscript Formatting
Part One – Formatting a Manuscript for Submission or Contests  
By Brad R. Cook

Agents, editors, and publishers have so many submissions to go through don’t give them any reason to drop it in the T-file! Producing a quality, professional product is the best way to get noticed.  

Even if you are not going the traditional publishing route, and have a damn-the-man attitude, you’ll still need to hire editors, e-book formatters, and other freelance professionals. Having a properly formatted manuscript will save money. As a freelancer for several years, I can tell you not having a properly formatted manuscript could double the price, because it will take twice as long to work on.

The writing is what should stand out, not the font, the indents, or anything else.

Proper Manuscript Formatting

Use a standard font, 12 point type in black only, Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier
            Do not use all bold, no crazy colors, and no cute fonts, in fact don’t use Courier, they say you can, but use Garamond instead.   

Double-space the entire text
            Single space is great in a 6x9 trade paperback, but on a 8.5x11 sheet of paper it is a literal wall of text. Double space so a reader, or more importantly, an editor can get through the page without a headache.

Begin the next sentence one space after the period  
            History lesson: back when we used typewriters, due to the spacing issues of letters (look at courier and it will give you an idea) they had to put two spaces at the end of a sentence so the readers eye would notice the break. Welcome to the future, fonts are spaced more appropriately and adding those spaces, not only looks awkward, but also adds pages to your novel.

One inch margin on all sides of your document
            One inch is standard, don’t make it .5 so you can turn 12 pages into 10 pages. Not to mention they stick out (not in a good way) especially in a stack of manuscripts.

Indent five spaces for the first line of each paragraph  
            This is best done by formatting the paragraph in the document’s toolbar or by using the tab button; do not hit the spacebar five times.
            Every paragraph needs to be indented in a manuscript, most people know this and get it right, but I’m mentioning this because of how most people indent or even center for that fact. Please do not use the spacebar! Someone, your publisher, your e-book formatter, your editor will have to go through the entire manuscript fixing these mistakes. Please save them from wanting to rip every hair off their body, and set your paragraph indent in the toolbar. Then all you have to do is write and the document does all the formatting for you. Thank you.

Do not add a space between paragraphs
            Remove the default line spacing (Why Word, why couldn’t the default have been standard manuscript format!)
            History lesson: In the early days of the internet to break up the text heavy screen (back when blogs had text that scrolled for days, now we just use gifs) a space was put between paragraphs.
            As the age of the long blog fades into six second videos, let this practice of adding a space between paragraphs fade into history. It not only adds half an inch to a stack of manuscript pages, but it breaks up a readers flow, and that’s the last thing a writer wants to do.
            Set this for the document, usually under Page Layout, and let the program do the work for you.

Begin the first paragraph four to six lines below the chapter heading
            If the document is double-spaced, just hit Enter twice and – if you’ve formatted the document in the program, then it’s already indented too – and start the first sentence.

Start each new chapter one third of the way down on a new page
            For short stories this is about where to start the story on a page. Leaving space around the title is not only appealing to the eye, but also clearly denotes a new section of the story.

Use a title page
            Contact information should be included unless otherwise specified by the guidelines. Do not number the title page, begin numbering on the first page, usually chapter one.

Place page numbers in the bottom right hand corner
            Just like a book.

Use a header on the upper right hand corner of each page
            Include your name and the title of your manuscript. Name – Title or I always use Name | Title

Use 20lb bond paper, white, with a high brightness
            If you have to print the submission for a contest or conference please use only white paper. For some reason, especially in contests, people think crazy paper is going to help out their entry, but yet again you want the writing to stand out not the paper.

Acceptable file formats
            Try to submit everything in a .doc file. Other file formats are accepted, .docx, .rtf, or pdf, but to be honest it’s about where you’re submitting it. If handing it off to an editor they will want .doc file, same as with an e-book formatter, but a printer might want a pdf. Always follow the guidelines.

Do not embed pictures into the manuscript
            This will happen when the book gets to layout. Send them when the publisher asks for them; maybe send a couple with the submission packet. Ask what the agent or publisher would like to see.

Tips when formatting

Be consistent! How anything is displayed is up to you, if you want to use year/place instead of place/year that’s fine but keep it the same throughout the whole manuscript.

When entering a contest, do not put your name on the manuscript, only the title page.

Always follow the submission guidelines!

Coming soon - Part Two: Formatting Tips for Ebooks and Print

Brad R. Cook, author, publisher at Blank Slate Press, and President of St. Louis Writers Guild. Please visit or for more information. Follow me on Twitter @bradrcook, @blankslatepress, @stlwritersguild, or my tumblr page Thoughts from Midnight

The Lens On: Series is a reoccurring series of articles on The Writers’ Lens highlighting various aspects on writing; they are meant to start a discussion on the stated topic. For more information on this topic please consult Google or other literary sources.

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