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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Standard manuscript format is a formatting style for manuscripts of short stories, novels, poems and other literary works. Even with the advent of desktop publishing, making it possible for anyone to prepare text that appears professionally typeset, many publishers still require authors to submit manuscripts within their respective guidelines. Although there is no single set of guidelines, the "standard" format describes formatting that is considered to be generally acceptable.
Although publishers guidelines for formatting are the most critical resource for authors,style guides are also key references for authors preparing manuscripts since "virtually all professional editors work closely with one of them in editing a manuscript for publication."
Manuscript formatting depends greatly on the type of work that is being written, as well as the individual publisher, editor or producer. Writers who intend to submit a manuscript should determine what the relevant writing standards are, and follow them. Individual publishers' standards will take precedence over style guides.
In general, a document with standard manuscript format will have the following features:
On the first page of the document, the author's name and contact information appears in the top left corner. In the top right corner of the first page, the wordcount appears.
Subsequent pages only have text in the top right corner. This text includes: the author's name, a slash, an abbreviated title, another slash, and the page number.
|Characters and spaces per line|
|Characters and spaces per page (24 lines)|
|Characters and spaces per page (25 lines)|
Writers can add the word count of the manuscript, although this may also be noted on a query letter. Most publishers pay writers based on a hypothetical number of words in the manuscript. However, this is not the physical count of actual words; this is a rough count of the number of characters divided to better estimate the space that the final text will consume in the published version. Normally, this involves counting every character in the manuscript, including spaces, and dividing by 6. If the correct font size is used, and if the margins are set so that lines contain an average of 60 characters, the editor can easily assume that there are 10 words per line. Furthermore, if the top and bottom margins are set so that there are, for example, 20 lines on each page, the editor can easily count 250 words per page.
The final reason involves how editors, copy editors, and typesetters handle manuscripts. They might work on an entire manuscript at one time or the editor might hand groups of pages to the typesetter at a time. Unstapled pages facilitate this.
Page numbers, author's name, and title on every page ensure that if an unstapled manuscript is shuffled on a table, shared among two or more people, or dropped, it can easily be reassembled, and if a stack of unstapled manuscripts is dropped, it can easily be sorted into the correct sets.
Other manuscript formats
There are formatting conventions for different kinds of written works, including:
- Plays and screenplays
- Novels and novellas
- Essays and longer nonfiction works
- Stories and collections of stories
- Poems and collections of poems
- Research or academic papers
- ^ abcShunn, William (December 1998). "Proper Manuscript Format". Writers Write: The Internet Writing Journal.
- ^Sambuchino, Chuck; The Editors of Writer's Digest Books (2009). Formatting and Submitting your Manuscript (3rd ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. pp. 5, 10. ISBN 978-1-58297-571-9.
- ^Stevenson, Jay (2005). The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Punctuation: A Handy Reference to Resolve All Your Grammatical Problems. Alpha Books. p. viii. ISBN 978-1-59257-393-6.
- ^Sambuchino, Chuck; The Editors of Writer's Digest Books (2009). Formatting and Submitting your Manuscript (3rd ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. pp. 10–11. ISBN 978-1-58297-571-9.
- ^McIntyre, Vonda (2008-11-07). "Manuscript Preparation".
- ^ abSplane, Lily (2002). The Book Book: A Complete Guide to Creating a Book on Your Computer (2nd ed.). p. 31.
- ^ abAddison-Wesley/Benjamin Cummings publishing team. "Chapter 6: Preparing the Text Manuscript"(PDF). Author guidelines. Addison-Wesley or Benjamin Cummings.
- ^"The Importance of Standard Manuscript Format". 2013-06-18.
- ^"Dissertation Writing Process".
- ^Torgersen, Brad (2010-03-27). "The Basics of Manuscript Format and Mailing". Brad R. Torgersen. Retrieved 2015-02-09.