How to Format Your Manuscript

Posted: February 7, 2015 in graffiti living
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I used to work for a publisher and assess the suitability of unpublished manuscripts for publication.

People tried all sorts of tricks to make their manuscript stand out — coloured paper, glitter, balloons, wacky fonts — you name it.

Some tried to save money (and trees) by printing it out double-sided. One numbered the pages backwards, in reverse chronological order, ‘to make it more postmodern.’

Others got creative with their interpretation of our submission guidelines or ignored them completely.

For example, instead of sending the standard ‘three chapters and a synopsis, or 30 pages and a synopsis, whichever is less’ one person sent the entire manuscript shrunk down to fit on 30 pages.

Whilst I sympathise with the desire to make your manuscript stand out, or even just to reduce the cost of sending out dead-tree submissions, all they managed to do was annoy me.

The only way these submissions stood out was in the bizarre lengths that the authors had gone to make their manuscripts look unprofessional, difficult to read and maybe not worth the effort.

Publishers have submission guidelines for a reason. Use them. Give the publisher EXACTLY what they ask for.

If they don’t have guidelines, then submit in the Standard Manuscript Format for your country of submission. US and UK formats are slightly different, but very broadly-speaking:

  • Font: A 12-point monospace serif font (Courier is your safest bet)
  • Line spacing: Double-spaced
  • Justification: Unjustified. Flush left, ragged right.
  • Margins: 1.5 inches all the way round.
  • Paper: On single-sided A4 paper if submitted by post.
  • Page Numbers: Unless you want me to kick your ass.

You want your manuscript format to be as standard as possible so that it looks ‘proper’, ‘correct’ — professional.

This gives the impression that you know what you’re doing and also makes your manuscript much easier to read.

Then your work WILL stand out if the quality of the prose is high enough.

  1. E. M. Wynter says:

    Helpful post! I usually write with 1.5 spacing and when I submit in double-space, I always wonder: do they really need to see all that extra space on the page? Is it because they want to read less? Because any editing or serious note-taking seems unlikely. What do you think?

    • Double-spaced is much easier to read and much easier to spot errors. It’s also, broadly-speaking, the industry standard format so ‘just looks right.’ Whereas 1.5 line spacing is still a little tight.

      I agree with you that editing and detailed feedback or note-taking are unlikely. But, in my personal experience, when I’d hundreds of manuscripts to get through the correctly-formatted ones were a godsend. They stood out because they looked correct and were easy to read. It’s much easier to concentrate on the quality of the writing when you don’t have to squint 🙂

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