One of the things I’m often asked is how to format a manuscript. Can you write on a legal pad? Does it have to be typed up a certain way? Below is a guest blog by my friend Jeff Gerke. He’s an author/editor/and all around smart guy! These tips will help you impress the pros!
You can read more tips from Jeff here.
Proper Manuscript Formatting
Technically, there is no “right” or “wrong” formatting for your proposals or manuscripts. No acquisitions editor I know would reject a proposal simply because it’s in the “wrong” font.
However, there is an identifiable set of formatting choices that, if used, will align with industry expectations and will make your proposal or manuscript fit into what acquisitions editors think of as a professional look.
This I can help you with.
Formatting for the Entire Proposal or Manuscript
Some formatting options, such as fonts, margins, and page size and orientation, should be used for the whole package.
For instance, always write in 12-point Times New Roman. (Titles and subheads can be bigger.) I know that older formatting books or books about screenwriting say to use Courier 10 pt., but don’t. Times New Roman, or a serif font like it, look most professional in the Christian publishing industry. Courier looks old-fashioned and a little out of touch with modernity.
Always include a 1.25″ margin on left and right and a 1″margin on top and bottom.
Always use 8.5″x11″ paper size, and always use it in portrait (not landscape) orientation.
Always submit your entire proposal and/or manuscript in a single Word document. Making an editor cobble together your disparate pieces (especially when the file names are inconsistent) aggravates the person you’re wanting to get on the good side of. You can keep them in separate files on your computer, if you wish, but put them all together before sending.
Always include your name, the book title, and page number in the header. If the editor prints out your proposal or manuscript and puts it with other printouts, then somehow the whole stack falls on the floor, if you don’t have your name and page number on every page it could be trouble.
Always use italics for emphasis. Don’t use underline or all caps or bold. (Again, titles or subheads can be the exception.) This is true for your synopsis and cover letter and the like, but it’s especially true for the manuscript or sample chapters. I know the older books say to underline where you would like italics, but that’s just because typewriters could do underlines but couldn’t do italics. If you want emphasis, useitalics.
Don’t hit the space bar twice after the end of a sentence. I know, that’s how we all learned it, but modern style is to leave just one space after sentences. While you’re training yourself to hit the space bar only once, before sending your proposal or manuscript off, do a global search and replace function in which you replace every instance of “space-space” with “space.” That’ll take care of most of them.
Always communicate your manuscript length in wordcount, not pagecount or number of chapters. The latter can vary widely due to spacing, margins, font sizes, etc., but wordcount tells no lies. Never say, “My manuscript is 335 pages long.” Say, “My manuscript is 84,930 words.”
By “Front Matter” I mean anything you turn in with a proposal or manuscript that is in front of (i.e., comes before) the actual manuscript or sample chapters. This might include a cover letter, synopsis, bio, hook, etc.
All front matter should be single-spaced. Separate your paragraphs with a blank line and use no indent. The paragraph spacing on this Web page is what yours should look like in your front matter section.
The Manuscript or Sample Chapters
When you get to the pages of the story itself, the formatting rules change a bit. Everything in the general section remains the same, however: paper size, font, etc.
While all front matter was single-spaced, all manuscript pages should be double-spaced.
While paragraphs in the front matter were not indented and were separated by a blank line, in the manuscript pages you should separate paragraphs by using a .5″ indent when a new paragraph begins.
Note, use the indent feature in your word processor, not the tab key, to make these indents.
Here’s a Jeff preference, not a requirement: I like to remove the indent in the first paragraph only of a chapter or new scene. I like the flush left look of that first line. But this is just my stylistic preference.
As far as chapter length, look for ways to keep your chapters in the 12-17 page range (double spaced). Shorter is fine, but longer is frowned upon. When we start getting into 50-page chapters we start wondering if you really understand the concept of chapters.
Okay, that’s it. If you turn in a proposal or manuscript formatted in this way, you won’t stand out as looking unprofessional. You’ll blend right in with the best-looking submissions the agent or acquisitions editor will have received. That means this person is not tripped up by your formatting, thinking, “This person’s obviously an amateur but I guess I’ll try to keep an open mind.” You don’t want that strike against you, trust me.
Now…go make it look beautiful! Let your story and your writing, not poor formatting, be what make your project stand out.
Jeff Gerke has spent fifteen years in the Christian publishing industry — years that included writing six published novels and two co-written nonfiction books, stints on staff with three publishing companies, and years as an acquisitions editor.