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Manuscript Format

October 28, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (0)

A number of the manuscripts that have been submitted for critique have not been formatted correctly. This isn't complicated, but it's evident that a number of you don't know what standard format is. So, we'll review it here.

Although it might seem rather strange, the intent of manuscript formatting is to make the mss look like it was typed. So, once upon a time, before we all had word processors, writers formatted their mss correctly, even by accident, because there wasn't a lot of choice. Now we can play with fonts and size but, although it's tempting to do so, you need to stick to the standard.

What's the standard? Here we go:

• mss should be presented on 8.5" by 11" white paper

• the text should appear on only one side of the paper

• the margins should be 1.5" at top and bottom of the page, and 1" on left and right edges

• the font should be 12 point Courier (If you can choose fixed width over variable width, do so.) It should be plain text - sometimes called Roman - not bold or italic. (One of the squishy zones is the indication of text that should print in italics in the ms. Traditionally, this copy was underlined, because typewriters didn't have italic fonts. Now, of course, we can put our italics in italics easily. Although ferocious debates rage in writerly circles about this, you can do either. The Production department will understand what you mean.)

• the work should be double spaced (That means 12 point on 24 point, if you can specify)

N.B. This format will give you roughly 25 lines per page and approximately 10 words per line. 250 words per page helps publishers calculate how many printed pages the book will require, according to the print format chosen.

• the first line of each paragraph should be indented .25" from the left margin

• the type should be set to run "flush left". This means that the right margin will be ragged. Setting type "justified" means that the characters will be spaced out to fill the line fully, making a crisp right margin. Although this is how books are typeset, the varying size of wordspaces makes it harder to read this in mss form.

• it is a good idea to number your pages, because stacks of loose paper tend to fall. It is also a good idea to include your name and/or the name of the mss in the header, in case your mss falls at the same time as another mss. There is no absolute rule for how this should be formatted. I insert a header, set it in 8 point type, set it in italics and flush right. My headers include my surname, the book title and the page number.

• your contact information  should be on the first page of the mss. Because of this information, the first page looks slightly different from the subsequent pages.

    • If you have an agent, list the agent's name and contact information in the top left corner of the first page of the mss. If you do not have an agent, place your contact information in that place. In the top right corner, include the copyright information for the work on the top line, and the word count of the finished mss on the second line.

    • Place the title of the mss in caps about halfway down the page. It should be centred. Place your name below it, in uppers and lowers.

    • The beginning of the book will appear in the bottom third of the first page. Typically only half a dozen lines will appear on this page.

    • Because the contact information is already included on this page, you can suppress your header on the first page of the mss. If you can't figure out how to do that, don't worry about it.

• finally, the paper should be white and it should be clean. The type should be black, and your toner cartridge should be fully charged.

• bind your mss with two elastic bands, one vertically and one horizontally. No binders or clips or rings. The pages will be loose, which is exactly how editors like them.

• if you are invited to submit digitally, set up your ms exactly as specified above and submit it in the current (or a comparatively recent) version of Microsoft Word. Some houses prefer mss in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format, although this is more common in other markets than New York.

It is not uncommon for editors and agents to decline to accept digital submissions from unpublished authors. If the house does not offer the option of your submitting digitally, but requests a hard copy of any submission, and you choose to submit electronically despite this, your submission will go straight to the "trash". Spam filters are tough guys. Similarly, I declined to accept digital submissions for the mss critiquing done through the residency. If you submitted electronically, despite the directions, I haven't even seen your submission. Librarians are tough guys too.

• if the house publishes guidelines - often available on the publisher website - check them before submission to ensure that your ms is compliant with their expectations.

Good luck!

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Toronto Public Library's Romance Writer-In-Residence Deborah Cooke discusses writing and getting published in the romance genre.

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