Q: Before sending my fiction manuscript off to agents, I want to be sure I have it formatted correctly. Can you offer up any specific guidelines on the specific manuscript format that agents and publishers want? —Anonymous
As an editor, I can tell you that queries and manuscript submissions (unfortunately) come in all shapes, sizes, fonts and (I’m not making this up) colors, making it a pain to sift through them. Sometimes the manuscript formatting has been so jarring that I’ve had to reject them without even looking at the overall idea—mainly because I couldn’t find the pitch through the clutter. Editors generally prefer submissions of any kind to be neat and uniform, like an online contacts folder, so they can find exactly what they want as easily as possible.
According to Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript, here are the specific rules to formatting a manuscript you should adhere to before shipping your work off to potential agents and publishers.
→ Use a 1″ margin on all sides
→ Use a title page, set up the same as the title page in your package (see page 159).
→ Don’t number the title page. Begin numbering with the first page of the text of the book, usually the introduction, prologue, or chapter one.
→ Use a header on each page, including your name, the title of your novel in all caps, and the page number.
→ Start each new chapter on its own page, one-third of the way down the page.
→ The chapter number and chapter title should be in all caps, separated by two hyphens: CHAPTER 1—THE BODY.
→ Begin the body of the chapter four to six lines below the chapter title.
→ Indent fives spaces for each new paragraph.
→ Double-space the entire text.
→ Use a standard font, 12-point type. Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier is fine.
→ Use 20-lb. bond paper.
It’s important to note that guidelines may vary a little based on who you talk to or what you read, but by following the ones stated above you will make sure that your manuscript looks clean, is easy to read and won’t get rejected because of sloppy formatting.
Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.
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Written by Chuck Rothman
Over the years, publishers have developed certain standards to make their jobs easier. Manuscript format is one of them, and something that often creates some heated discussion in various newsgroups. There are several points that you need to remember:
- The standards are there for a reason. They are not arbitrary and are generally set up to make certain jobs easier.
- It’s not your job to design the manuscript. You supply the words; the publisher supplies the format.
- You don’t have to stick to the format except in the final version. If you prefer something else in your drafts, fine. It’s simple to change the font once you’re printing out the final version.
- The wrong format or font won’t destroy your chances; it may not even hurt. It a question of whether you’re willing to take the chance that you’re writing is good enough to overcome the difficulties you’ll cause by not doing things properly.
- As a personal aside, I’ve noticed the people who fight hardest against the standard format usually end up using Times Roman instead — which, on most computers, is the default font that comes up automatically. Hard to believe they’ve put much thought into their choice.
That stated, here are the rules for standard format:
- Manuscripts must be typed, double-spaced, on one side of the paper, with wide enough margins (min. 1-in.) for the editor to make notations.
- Fonts (and here’s where the fights occur): The preference is for monospaced fonts — fonts where all letters are the same width. The most commonly used monospaced font is Courier; the most commonly preferred size is 12 points (also called 10 pitch — 10 characters to the inch). This is a hangover from the days before computers, when most typewriters used what was known as “Pica” type — essentially 12 point Courier. It is also acceptable to use a 10-point monospaced font like Prestige Elite — again, a hangover from typewriter days, when you could buy “Elite” typewriters that used 10-point (12 pitch– I know, it’s confusing) Prestige. The actual font is less important (as long as it’s large and dark enough) as the fact that it must be monospaced; proportional fonts screw up word counts.
- No fancy formatting within the manuscript. Indent each paragraph five spaces (1/2 in.). Indicate italics by underlining (do not use italics; they are easily missed). Indicate boldface by drawing a wavy line beneath the text and writing “bf” in a circle in the margin. Do not hyphenate words (the typesetter will include the hyphen so the word might read “Schenec-tady”). Do not right justify the text (you may like it, but it’s harder to read — especially on long paragraphs — and it messes up word counts).
- Indicate a blank line by placing a # in the center of the line. The # indicates space to a typesetter.
- At the top of the first page, type your name (the one you want them to write the checks out to) and address at the upper left corner. Type the word count at the upper right corner Skip down to the middle of the page. Type the title of the story, centered (optionally: ALL CAPS). Go down a line. Type “by Your Name” (if you want to use a pen name, type it here; the check will be sent to the name at the upper left). Go down another line and begin the story.
- Don’t put on a Copyright notice. It’s unnecessary. You also don’t have to indicate the rights offered. Most magazines tell you what they’re buying; if you don’t like it, don’t submit to them. Don’t write “Approximately” by the word count. Editors know the word count is approximate.
- On each additional page, put your last name and the page number in the upper right corner: Name/2
You can also include a keyword from the title of the story: Name/Keyword/2, but this is optional — it’s rare that you have two manuscripts in a position when they can be mixed up, and if at the last minute you decide to retitle your novel, you only have to change the title page instead of printing out the entire thing with the correct keyword.
- At the end of the story, center the word “end”.