According to Carolyn's 8th Rule of writing, you must correctly format your manuscript before you send it off to an agent, editor or contest. Lucky me, if you don't get why this is so, you're not reading this page. OK, OK, here's why. Incorrect format says you're an amateur and no one wants to read amateurish work. Or pay for it, either. The other potential problem is that you might send an MS that is going to make the editor or agent go blind. The goal: easy on the eyes.
Ancillary goal: To make it easy for the production department to port your electronic file into their publishing programs. A standard format really helps.
So, a manuscript, which, fyi, you will often see abbreviated as MS (singular) or MSS (plural) should be formatted thus:
- 1 inch margins
- Left Justified
- Double spaced
- 25 lines per page
- Begin each paragraph with a tab equal to 5 spaces
- For purists, a font of Courier New (12), for all others,something easy to read.
- Special formatting
- Header and page numbering
- First page
- Example of a Page 1. This is the web, it's not a sheet of paper, but you'll get the drift, I think.
- Example of an interior page with enough text to see the formatting, also with some special text.
Set margins of 1 inch on all sides, top, bottom, left and right.
All text should be left justified. This means if you're using a word processor, do NOT select full justification. Why? Because it makes the page hard to read.
Double space your story, but see below, just in case. Don't double space the header or the contact information (see infra).
25 Lines Per Page
You should shoot for 25 lines of text per page (excluding the headers). If you use a proportional font like Times New Roman (ick!) you may have to adjust the spacing to something other than 2 in order to achieve this count. Why? Because word processors don't properly account for the different line height needs of proportional fonts. Some such fonts will be more readable at something less than double spacing anyway so try 1.9 first and move closer until you hit 25 lines of text per page. Let kindness be your guide. You want the agent or editor to be your friend. That won't happen if your text is too close together.
Begin each paragraph with a tab equal (more or less) to 5 spaces. Do not put an extra line between paragraphs. Just set your line spacing to 2 and forget about it. Oh, and turn off that pesky widows and orphans stuff, too. If you have a chapter that ends with just one word on one page, surely there's some word somewhere you can cut to fix it...
Courier or Courier New is safe but boring. Use a font size of 12. For the last several years I've been using Bookman Old Style. When I switched to Mac, I started using Palatino. No editor has ever told me not to.
You will not go wrong with Courier. If you have a computer you almost certainly have a Courier font. If you don't, select another monospaced serif font. If you're daring, try a pretty proportional font such as Bookman Old Style. It's quite readable. I've heard Times New Roman is OK, but personally, I think it's not readable. Even at a font size of 12, TNR is smaller and harder to read. But read above about line spacing with a proportional font.
Font: Italics and Underlining
Go ahead and italics if you want to. If you're old fashioned, you can underline what would otherwise be italicized in your MS. Back in the days when I was doing this, I preferred not to underline spaces and tabs, it looked neater (and part of the point is readability!) But now I just use italics.
If your MS includes, say, a letter one character writes to another, or a character's journal entry, double indent the entire passage (left and right, equal to two tabs or about 10 spaces) and double space.
The header should appear on every page of your MS (except Page 1, see below) and should look as below with the page number (this means the number only) at far right top of the page. If your title is long, use a short(er) title
|Your Last Name/Your Title - Chapter [#]||[Page #]|
On the first page of each chapter only, omit "Chapter [#]" thus:
|Your Last Name/Your Title||[Page #]|
The first page of each chapter (except chapter 1) should begin with a centered CHAPTER [#] beginning at about 3.5 inches from the top of the page. Follow that with an extra line (total of 4 lines)
|start 1 inch from top
Your Last Name/Title
Pretend this space equals about 3.5 inches from the top
For submissions to agents and editors
In the upper right corner (starting at 1 inch from top) single spaced:
Your Full Name
Your Phone Number(s)
Approximate word count (eg., 100,000 words)
At about 4.5 inches from top, double space and center the following:
At about 6.5 inches from top, center the following:
CHAPTER 1 (or PROLOGUE)
then double space and begin your text. Do not number this page and do not start the header on this page. If you're going to use a cover sheet, then include only up to the title and name stuff, start a new page for Chapter 1 (or your prologue) and format as for the first page of any other chapter.
|v About 1 inch
Your Last Name
Your Phone Number(s)
Approximate Word Count
Start Title about 4.5 inches from top
Chapter about 6.5 inches from top
Your story starts here. And keeps getting better and better and better and better and better and better and better and better and better and better and better and better
For submissions to contests
Read the rules, of course, but generally you omit all personally identifying information from the header and the first page.