Writing Tips & Tools

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

CHECKLIST: For Formatting A Manuscript

Hi all!

I've garnered what I consider to be very helpful information about formatting your manuscript. This info comes from my friend and agent Terry Burns. He is a multi-published novelist, and an agent at Hartline Literary ...LOL...so the man KNOWS what he is talking about!

One large hurdle to publication is submitting a good, professional-looking proposal or manuscript to an agent or editor. The object here is not to stand out but to look like an established pro. A submission that appears the submitter does not know what he or she is doing, or that looks like it will take too much work to get ready may receive little or no attention.

These rules cover the primary items for the formatting of the manuscript, but the submission guidelines posted by the editor or agent you are submitting to should be the guide. While it is true a manuscript might not be rejected for breaking only one of these rules (unless it's a glaring one), a combination is sure to catch attention. We have to prepare a manuscript in some manner anyway, we might as well prepare it right.

Some of the key provisions are:


  • 1" margins, double spaced in New Courier12 or Times New Roman 12 font – only on one side of the page. To insure a consistent number of lines per page the widow and orphans feature should be turned off.

  • Paragraphs should be indented .5 inch with NO space between paragraphs. They should NEVER be indented by spacing in (these have to be removed by the editor) a tab is acceptable although preferred is to go into paragraph formatting and just select first line indent.

  • One space between sentences – do NOT justify the right margin. If tracking changes has been used during the preparation process, these should be completely removed and not just "hidden."

  • Chapters should begin near the center of the page (16 blank lines) and a page break (not section break) should be inserted at the end so chapter heads stay put if changes are made. Chapters do not require titles.

  • There should be a header slug with author's last name, a word or two from the title and the page number in the upper left or right of the page. This should be in the header and NOT in the text so it does not move when text is changed. (click on view – then header and footer) Make sure under layout that first page different is checked so the header appears only on subsequent pages.

  • The cover page on the front should use the title in normal size type centered halfway down the page and doublespace below it your name or byline. Your name, address and contact information in the upper left or lower right. Contact information should include phone number and email address, but SHOULD NOT include social security number.

  • The word count (rounded off) should be in the upper right hand corner. Word count for many years was determined by multiplying the industry standard 250 words per page times the number of pages. Most houses now use computer word count.

  • A forced scene break (intentional white space) should be indicated by placing # centered on a line of its own.

  • Do not include drawings, colored type, fancy fonts, giant size type on the cover, or anything else to make your manuscript stand out – remember the goal is to look professional not different.

  • Italics may be indicated by underlining, although most now will just take them inserted as italics where they go.

  • Remember that regardless of what is being submitted the first paragraph or two MUST capture the interest of the reader, editor or agent by raising a question, capturing interest or arousing curiosity to cause them to commit to reading further down into the manuscript.

  • When ready to submit the proposal itself will be single spaced, but the sample chapters should be placed in the proposal retaining their formatting so the editor or agent can insure the manuscript formatting is ready to go.

  • Finally, individual places where you wish to submit may have requirements particular to how they wish to receive a submission. Always check submission guidelines usually available on their website and adhere to them religiously.

  • by Bonnie Calhoun


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