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Manuscript: How to Format

Manuscript Formatting Guidelines

1) Go the the publisher’s or literary agent’s website and follow their guidelines for submission to the letter. They aren’t fooling. If you can’t follow directions, you will be too hard to work with, and they don’t need an author who will crash their schedule or hog resources. This is a very competitive industry. Don’t get rejected before they’ve even read your manuscript.

Where the target’s guidelines do not specifically address formatting:

2) Use 12 pt. Courier or New Times Roman, double spaced, one-inch left and right margins. Do not under any circumstances pretty it up. Just don’t.

3) Provide a title page as a cover to the manuscript: This is not a display page, as it will be in the published book. It is more like a cover sheet with essential information about you and your book. At the top left, put your name (your real one—the one you want on the contract, the one you want the checks made out to), your address, phone number, email address, and the word count. Move down to the middle of the page and center: Title of book (in all caps), subtitle (if there is one, cap each word except the, a, and an and and, but, or and to), and your name as you want it to appear in print.

4) On the first page of the first chapter, set the header to include the page number (do not begin numbering with the title page), your last name (real name, not pen name), and the book’s (not the chapter’s) title. The header should be aligned right.

To create a header in Word, go to Insert, then Page Number, choose Top of Page/ Plain No. 3. This inserts a header that contains only a page number. Move the cursor to the right of the new page number and add the rest of the header. For example, 1 / James / Daisy Miller. If your title page is part of the file, Go to Edit Header and check the Different First Page box. Now the first page header is a blank slate. Go to Page Numbering and choose Format Page Numbers, then set the numbering to begin on 0. Close the header and check to make sure everything is how you want it.

5) Start each chapter on a brand new page, with the chapter number and title (if the chapters are titled) centered and at about a third of the way down the page. Enter an extra line break between the chapter title and the first paragraph.

6) Include The End at the end of the last chapter.

Manuscript Formatting Mistakes

And now, a list of Don’ts:

Don’t double space between periods. If you can’t help it, it’s okay, but most likely the editor will just have to take out the extra space anyway, which is work you do not need to generate for someone who gets paid for going behind you. True, some publishers do include extra space in their page design, but that is done with the layout program, so the extra space is unnecessary in any case.

Don’t add line spaces between paragraphs unless you intend there to be a section break there.

Don’t use the space bar to indent your paragraphs. As an old production editor, believe me, it’s a mess. Use the tab indent, or don’t use an indent at all if you are using Word. Word will put a visual line space (not a carriage return) between paragraphs, which is fine. If you use Word, you also have the option of changing the Quick Style to No Spacing between paragraphs, but you may have to modify the style to add a visual indent. Any of these three options is fine, just never, never use the space bar to align your text.

Don’t underline to indicate italics unless you are using a typewriter. Just italicize the text.

Don’t use boldface. The page designer will decide what gets to be bold. As long as titles, heads, and subheads are clearly what they are in the manuscript, there is no need to use boldface.

You do not need to include the copyright, as that can come off as a dark and sinister hint that you don’t trust the person who is about to see if they want to publish your book. It isn’t a bad idea to copyright your manuscript, but you don’t need to present proof that you have done so.

The Nonfiction Manuscript

If your work includes subheads, illustrations, tables, appendices, or other elements, these must all be included with your submission unless otherwise arranged with the publisher. The publisher will advise you which style guide to follow or provide specific guidelines for you. Words into Type and the Chicago Manual of Style are good general references in preparing elements beyond the range of this post.

Editing the Manuscript

Formatting is not the only consideration in preparing a manuscript for submission. The book needs to be reasonably polished to get the attention of an agent or publisher. Even the best writers have their bloopers and deleted scenes, and an author’s editor can make a book more attractive to a publisher as well as more compelling to a reader—whether it’s making a tech manual more coherent or a knocking the kinks out of a thriller or simply making the publisher’s in-house copyeditor’s job a cake walk.

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