Eight Hints to Properly Format a Manuscript for an Agent, Editor or Publisher

manuscript-formatA 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.

Hint Number One – 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.

Hint Number Two – Double-Line Space the Narrative

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.

Hint Number Three – Double Space After a Period

Double spacing after a period enables room to annotate punctuation changes and draw lines to move sentences around.  I am aware that some people are saying this is “old school,” and therefore the double space after the period is no longer necessary, but every editor I know prefers or demands it, as do I.

Hint Number Four – Indent Paragraphs 1/2″

Most word processing programs 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.

Hint Number Five – Never Justify Text (Except for Chapter Delineations)

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.

Hint Number Six – 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.

Hint Number Seven – 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.

Hint Number Eight – Leave an Extra Double-Spaced Line at the End of Each Page

If you choose to ignore everything I’ve written, please don’t disregard this idea:  Leave an extra line or even two at the end of each page, especially during the early drafts of your work.  Meaning, instead of typing to the last line, which will generally be line 24 of double-spaced copy, type only to line 23.  This has nothing to do with editing, but will enable you to revise and often not have to repaginate work, thus saving a huge amount of labor.

If you follow the eight suggestions outlined in this article, I think you will have a very happy agent, editor or publisher–and I hope all three.

Robert L. Bacon is the founder of The Perfect Write™

The Perfect Write™ offers manuscript review and revision, including comprehensive developmental editing and line editing services.
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