Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Manuscript Formatting

Lots of new writers ask what the proper manuscript format is for submissions. There's no one right way to do it, and print publishers will have different formatting rules than e-publishers. Sometimes a house or a contest will have its own standard rule. Always defer to the agency/publisher or contest rules when submitting a manuscript. If there are no rules posted, a generally accepted standard is as follows:

* 12-point font in Times New Roman or Courier (for easy readability). Don't use a fancy font as it is harder to read.
* Print from a laser or inkjet printer. Agents and editors will no longer accept dot matrix manuscripts. Likewise, manuscripts on dot matrix paper (the continuous sheets with the holes at each side) will be refused.
* In the U.S., 8-1/2" x 11" High-Brightness paper at 20-lb weight (for durability and readability. Editors and agents find the high-contrast brightness easier on their eyes.)
* Text should always be left-justified, with a ragged right margin, except for chapter titles and scene break indicators - which are centered.
* 1" margins all around
* A header, with "MANUSCRIPT TITLE / Your Name" on the left, and the page number on the right. Some contests will not allow your name to appear anywhere on the manuscript itself - which allows for impartial judging - so you can easily edit the header to remove your name. They will sometimes ask that you insert the manuscript category in the place where your name would go. Your contest entry sheet would include your name and contact information, identifying the manuscript as yours.
* Space the text body at 25 lines per page (you can do this in Word by formatting your paragraphs to "Exactly 25-pt." This gives you an average of 250 words per page for easy word-count estimates. In this way, a 400-page manuscript works out to 100,000 words.)
* Make sure your ink cartridge is new! The darker, the better. Editors and agents read all day long, and reading faded ink is a terrible eye strain.
* Most agents/editors prefer that anything you intend to be italicized in final print be underlined in your manuscript - not italicized.
* Scene breaks should ideally be separated with some type of character(s) to clarify that you haven't accidentally skipped a line, i.e. placing "* * *" or "- # -" on its own line, and then starting a new line to begin your new scene.
* I generally space down five times from the top of the page, center my CHAPTER TITLE, space down four more, and begin my text body for that chapter. This gives you a clean visual break from that last chapter.
* End with "The End" centered below the last line of your manuscript. After revising, you'll be ready to send off a polished-looking manuscript!

Keep in mind that you do not need to copyright your manuscript, nor do you need to state that it is copyrighted (that's a sign of an amateur writer). Under U.S. law, your work is already copyrighted as soon as it hits the page, for your lifetime plus 70 years. You do not need to worry about reputable agents, editors, and contests "stealing" your work (notice I said reputable - always research thoroughly to weed out the fishy-sounding prospects!). The good guys are much too busy to snatch your opus and pass it off as someone else's. They want you to be the writer.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Nicki,

    Thanks for these great posts. They're very informative and helpful. I especially appreciated the showing vs. telling, which is something I struggle with.