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.
A writer can start with The Chicago Manual of Style and move from it to any number of academic works on what a manuscript layout should look like. But adhering to the following eight suggestions will assure an acceptable format for almost all commercial fiction.
Your Name, Page Number and Book Title in the Top Left Corner of Each Page
In the top, left corner of the page, many editors prefer your last name followed by a hyphen and the page number, and one single space below this, the title of your book. Then three single spaces below this (if you’re not beginning a new chapter, which I’ll cover later) begin your narrative. We kind of snarl at people who omit this basic information and often wonder if you cannot do this, why should we read your manuscript. Some people type it manually on each page. Please don’t do that, use the HEADER/FOOTER command to make it happen
Use 12 Point Times New Roman or Courier Font
Many in the publishing industry seem to recommend these fonts. Also, if a writer sticks with either Times New Roman or Courier, this could save having to manually go through an entire manuscript to clean it up should it have to be changed to either of these font styles. Because, even today, with all of the word processing genius that’s out there, different fonts don’t often wrap properly when the entire text is converted from one font style to another.
No one I know will accept a single-line spaced manuscript, and there is good reason. In the days of the covered wagon, when everything was edited with a pencil, the suggested corrections were made between the lines. Most editors still prefer to work this way, and this format is paramount when line-editing material. Plus, most people find double-line spaced copy on an 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper much easier to read and therefore more comfortable to work with.
Okay there is one exception: Please do not double-space poetry. It’s hideous to look at, hard to follow and there is no benefit to reading it in that format.
Indent Paragraphs at 0.5
Word processing programs let you format paragraphs. Please do not space or tab indents, it’s easier to edit your BODY TEXT style in Word seem to use a 1/2″ indention as standard, but I often receive manuscripts with erratic or inconsistent paragraph indentions. If you always indent 1/2″, then your text’s appearance will be consistent and this will also enable you to “fudge” when you want your text to look its best from an aesthetic standpoint.
Never Justify Text
Under no circumstances should a manuscript be submitted with justified text. This makes line editing a nightmare (sic, impossible), since extra spaces between words are something a line-editor flags.
Locate the Chapter and its Number in the Center of the Page
As with unusual or inconsistent indentation, I receive a wide variety of chapter set ups. My suggestion is to type out the word Chapter with a capital C and follow this with the number 1, 2, 3, etc., one space after the word; i.e., Chapter 1. This isn’t as Mickey Mouse as it seems, because this differentiates a Chapter 1 from Part 1, for example. The Chapter designation is a location in which centered text is not only acceptable but desirable.
Space the chapter identification down however far you desire with an equal number of lines below it before your begin the narrative. Five single spaces from the book title in the top, left corner to the centered chapter identification, then five single spaces to the beginning of the narrative is a good template.
Plus, this again provides room to “fudge,” if need be, during later revisions and not require a writer to have to repaginate an entire chapter–or even the entire book.
It’s always worth checking the exact requirements of any market you submit to, but if they don’t specify any formatting requirements, or just say “standard manuscript format”, follow these guidelines. This will make a good impression and help mark you out as a serious, professional writer.
By following these eight suggestions as outlined above, you’ll make the editors happy, because your manuscript will be easy to read and help save some trees; if your manuscript is accepted, the typesetter will be pleased as punch because it will be easy to layout your book.