Public Service # 245 – Formatting your manuscript

I’ve actually talked about this before, but it always bears updating and repeating. Formatting is the lifeblood to our tired eyes. When you send a manuscript out, it should be:

Times New Roman – 12 pt.
Double spaced
1 inch margins
Page numbers – Some say not to include page numbers, some say to include them. Personally I like them because I can remember where I left off if I’m reading on my computer. But to be sure, always look at the submission guidelines of those you query.

What Not to Add

Design: I know some authors like to design their manuscripts so they’re all pretty and artsy fartsy. They add cute little graphics at the beginning of their chapters or sprinkle them around the text. This is window dressing, and we don’t need it. If we sign you, we have to remove all those little cutsies, which is enough to make me mainline engine grease.

Chapter Headings/Formatting:  Chapter headings are a particularly fun playground for authors. I’ve seen cases where the chapter headings are formatted with some enormous line spacing, placed halfway down the page, then added about fifteen carriage returns so only a couple paragraphs make it on the first page of each new chapter. Gah.

For us, your manuscript isn’t about pretty pretty and bling, it’s about reading or editing the manuscript. There’s no need to get fancy. In fact, we’d love it if you wouldn’t get fancy. We have interior designers who take care of that business.

Photos:  It’s fine to you mention that you have photos, but please don’t include them because it blows up the size of the file. It’s not about the photos – it’s about the story. If your editor decides to use the photos, she’ll correspond with you on how she wants them sent to her.

**A quick sideline about photos – lots of authors (nonfiction) want to use photos in their stories. It’s helpful if you undestand that your editor may feel differently about them. They take up space and add pages, which every penny-pinching, hawk-nosed editor tries to keep to a minimum. If it makes sense to include them, she’ll tell you. But don’t assume they’ll be included.

Acknowledgments/Dedication:  I normally ask for an these after we’ve completed the final edits and it’s time to insert all the other stuff, like a TOC and a bibliography (if there is one), and we’re getting ready to do the layout. For query purposes, it’s simply extra fluff we don’t need.

In closing, I have to admit to losing count of the many times I’ve had to reformat submissions just so I could read them. And it always makes the beagle grumble because it’s her job to reformat.

So for the love of the beagle – or some other agent’s or editor’s beagle – keep it simple and straightforward.

8 Responses to Public Service # 245 – Formatting your manuscript

  1. Becky Mushko says:

    Good formatting isn’t just for submissions to agents and editors. I’ve judged three writing contests this year and have been appalled at the look of some of the manuscripts.

    Some suggestions (based upon actual contest entries I’ve read):
    1. Even if your work is light-hearted, Comic Sans is not a good font choice.
    2. Even if the text looks too light our your computer screen, do not make everything bold.
    3. Even if the text looks too small on your computer screen, do not make everything 14 point (or larger!).
    4. I don’t care what your typing teacher told you in 1980, do not EVER put two spaces after any mark of punctuation.
    5. Use a ragged right margin. Don’t full justify the text because it looks neater. Those two spaces you incorrectly put after periods leave big holes. And, whatever you do, don’t center the text.
    6. Just because Helvetica is your default font doesn’t mean you should use it for manuscripts.
    7. Put your page numbers in a header (or footer). When you individually add them at the top of each page of text, and then maybe add a few words or sentences without checking your placement of page numbers, and then don’t proof-read your manuscript before sending it in—well, I can’t go on.

    I’m having contest-judging flashbacks. Tell the beagle to mix up a Margarita for me.

  2. Thanks for your feedback, Becky. The beagle is sending you a double for your trouble.

  3. NinjaFingers says:

    Do read the submissions guidelines, though. Some editors prefer Courier New and I used to work with one who liked, for some reason, Arial.

    And don’t submit on paper of any color but white!

  4. PJC says:

    Thanks for the assistance as I head into novella territory…Mama always said to have a map;-)

  5. Laura W. says:

    Do you have any preferences for what version of Word writers should use?

  6. Hi Laura – Most of us have the latest version, so we can read all files.

  7. catwoods says:

    I’m thoroughly impressed that you would take the time to reformat to read. There is no shortage of info out there–both in print and on the web.

    Thanks for the recap for newbies.

  8. Don’t be too impressed, Cat. I do a real a “quick, down, and dirty” reformat to make it easier on my eyes. And yes, there is no shortage of formatting info – even on agents’ and publishers’ submission guidelines – so my efforts on my own behalf don’t go unnoticed when measuring my heart rate.

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