finished your prized manuscript and you're ready to send
it out into the big, wide world. You've remembered the
fancy letterhead, displaying the title and your name in
pretty font, outlined the entire text in a brightly
colored border and bound the whole manuscript beautifully
to look almost like a completed book. No editor can
resist the total package.
All you need to do now is press the print button, wait
for the 400 pages to print out and post it off. Right?
There is no universal standard of formatting but there is
a basic formula that most editors and publishers seem to
Before electronic publishing hit the scene, the print
publishing world established this basic formula for a
variety of reasons.
1) - If they bought
the manuscript, the type-setter would have an easier time
re-formatting the entire novel
2) Editorial notes
and changes could be easily made and seen when scanning
3) Silly fonts or
illegible hand-writing make an editors eyes-strain
problems even worse than they already are.
If you are planning to submit your completed manuscript
to a traditional publisher, here are some basic
formatting guidelines for you to use.
Take the effort to purchase quality 20lb bond paper.
Don't give in to the temptation to use regular typing
paper or any other type of erasable paper.
Be sure you leave plenty of room on every side of your
text for margins - an inch is usually acceptable (or, for
those on metric, about 2 1/2 cms). Remember, editors like
to scribble notes in the margins. Wide margins also help
to stop your work from looking cluttered.
Your manuscript should be double-spaced. Not 1 1/2 spaces.
Double-spaced. This means that every line will have a
blank line between it. It doesn't not necessarily mean
you need to put two spaces between sentences - we're only
looking at the lines on the page. Again, editors like to
scribble notes - in margins AND in between lines.
Do not hit 'enter' again at the end of a paragraph. All
your spacing should be consistently double-spaced. New
paragraphs should be indicated by indents. Use your 'tab'
key for this. You can set the indent to where ever you
choose, as long as the paragraph is clearly indented from
the left margin.
There is a reason for the 'font' debate. Yes, it is true
that some editors express a preference for the 'arial'
typeface. But the logic behind the 'serif' fonts is this:
most type-setters preferred to work with serif fonts like
Courier or Times New Roman. A 'serif' font is one where
all letters are allocated the same amount of space on a
page. Take a look back through this article - you'll note
that this is a sans-serif font - 'arial' - and the letter
'm' definitely takes up more space than the letter 'i'.
This allowed them an educated guess when working out how
many words to fit into a line and how many words in a
page. The reality is, as long as your manuscript is
legible, it should be okay.
Always use black ink. Try to stick to a 12 point font.
Another reason for the preference in plain, boring fonts
is that there really are authors out there who try to
entice an editor using fancy font and bright colors. Of
course, an editor would probably not reject a manuscript
submitted this way, but they certainly won't thank you
for the added strain on their eyes.
An editor reading a complete manuscript will not usually
read the whole thing in one sitting. In fact, they may
shove a handful of pages into a bag so they can read more
on the trip home. So how will the editor know who's novel
those loose pages came from?
Include a header on every page (excepting the cover page).
The header can be either centred or right-justified (although
many "how-to" books agree that the right-justification
is more predominant).
Your header should include:
- Your last name (or your pseudonym's last
- The title of your book
- Page number
If your title is a long one, it is fine to use a keyword
in place of the entire title. As an example, let's use
the title of a new book one of my characters is reading
at this moment - "I Was a Teenaged Axe-wielding
Homicidal Space-Pirate", written by the infamous
Mustafa A'lik. Let's also assume the editor has taken
home page 234. The header on the top right hand side of
the page should look something like this:
Pagination begins on the first page of your story. Do not
include your cover page or your query letter or your
synopsis. Page one is where it all starts. Page numbering
ends on the page where you've written "The End".
Every page in between should be consecutively numbered
and IN ORDER.
Always include a cover page in your submission package.
This information is what the editor will need if he
decides to buy your book, so make it easier on him. The
information you include should be centered on the page.
Include the following information in your cover page:
~ Title of your book
~ Name (and pseudonym, if applicable *)
~ Postal Address (if different to above)
~ Phone Number
~ Fax Number
~ Email Address
~ Approximate word count **
A word about pseudonyms - do not try to fool
an editor into thinking that your pen-name is your real
name. You need the publishing house to send the cheque to
YOU, not to your pseudonym. How will you cash a cheque
made out to someone else?
A word about word counts. An editor will not
want to see "Approximately 132,567 words". When
estimating your word count, round down to the nearest
hundred. When dealing with large numbers (as above) round
down to the nearest thousand. In this instance, I would
probably use "Approximately 132,000 words".
Never use staples, glue or any form of
binding on your manuscript. Paper clips are okay, but it
is best if your manuscript is submitted loose. Send your
manuscript out the door in a padded envelope or cardboard
manuscript box. Don't be tempted to wrap your manuscript
in protective covering, or to cover your manuscript box
with pretty paper or bows.
Many editors are now admitting a preference for material
submitted on disk or even burned onto CD. The only way to
know for sure is to check your intended publisher's
guidelines. If the information presented in the
guidelines does not mention disk/CD submission, best to
play it safe and stick with the old paper print-out
Never send out the only copy of your manuscript. Always
send a good quality copy of the original. Remember to
keep a copy aside, either on a disk or printed out in a
file for your own records. .
If you would like your manuscript back, remember to
include sufficient return postage. If you decide you
would prefer the editor to dispose of your manuscript,
then remember to include a SASE #10 envelope for the
If you have just finished reading all of the above
guidelines, please disregard them all now. The only rule
when submitting electronically to an electronic publisher
is "Read the guidelines carefully, then follow them
to the letter."
An e-publisher is online anyway, so they are more likely
to display their preferences on a 'guidelines' page.
Select your intended publisher and search their
guidelines. Then format your manuscript according to the
preferences the publisher has detailed.
No editor is likely to reject a manuscript because your
margins were only 3/4 inch, or because you used arial
instead of Times New Roman. These guidelines are just
that - guidelines. Every writer has personal preferences,
and nowhere is is written that you must actually write
your manuscript using these formatting guides.
I personally like to create my manuscripts on a pale blue
or pale green background, using a large 14 point arial
font, all single spaced. I only do this for the ease on
my eyes. Once the manuscript is complete, I choose the
"Select All" option from the Edit menu and re-format
the entire manuscript to something resembling the
Copyright 2002-2004 Lee Masterson. All rights reserved.