Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Formatting a Manuscript

Last time I mentioned that repeated formatting mistakes can quickly cause an editor to lose interest in a manuscript. But what exactly does a properly formatted manuscript look like?

The basics

     One-inch margins
     Times New Roman or Courier New font
     Twelve-point font size
     Double-spaced lines
     Left-aligned text
     Running header in the top right corner of the page: Your Last Name / Story Title / Page Number
     Indent first line of each paragraph (either with tab or page formatting)
     No line breaks between paragraphs

Formatting the beginning of your story

How you format the beginning of your story will depend on the type of story. For short stories, your first page should have your name, address, and email address in the top left corner (unlike the rest of the document, these lines should be single-spaced. Place an approximate word count (round to the nearest hundred words) in the top right corner.  The title of the story should be centered on a line somewhere between a third of the way and half way down the page. Do not bold, underline, italicize, or increase the font size of the title. Put a byline (by your name) one double-spaced line below the title. Begin the story one double-spaced line below that. Omit the running header (last name / story title / page number) from this page. The end result should look something like this:

For longer stories such as novels and novellas, you’ll want to begin your manuscript with a title page. A title page will have the title of the story centered on a line somewhere between a third of the way and half way down the page. (Again, do not bold, underline, italicize, or increase the font size of the title.) Place the byline one double-spaced line below the title. At the bottom of the page, insert your name, address, and e-mail address in the left corner and the approximate word count (rounded to the nearest five hundred words this time).  Omit the running header from the title page.

The first page of the story should have the number of the chapter (Prologue or Chapter 1 along with any actual title you might have given the chapter) centered on a line somewhere between a third of the way and half way down the page. Again, do not bold these, etcetera. Begin the story itself about four to six double-spaced lines below the title. Include the running header on this page, beginning with page one. The end result will look like this:

Other formatting elements

Limit the amount of all-caps words that you use—there might be situations where you need them (say, if you’re Terry Pratchett and someone is having a conversation with Death) but most of the time they distract from the story. The same goes for bold letters. Unless you’re writing non-fiction essays or articles with sub-headers (as I am right now), you probably don’t need it.

Never use bold or all-capital letters for emphasis. Use italics instead, as I just did. (Note: if you’re using the Courier New font, italics can be difficult to pick out. In that case, you might want to consider underlining text that would have been italicized. Never use underline for anything else. Never.)

To indicate a section break, use a single asterisk (*), three asterisks (*** or * * *), or a number sign (#) centered on its own line. Don’t put any extra line breaks above or below the symbol.

At the end of the story, you may center “The End” or “###” on its own line if you so wish. This can be especially helpful if your ending is more open-ended (i.e. vague, unresolved, or sudden) so that the editor can be sure that this was, in fact, the end of the story and they didn’t just lose or accidentally delete any pages.

A final note

Editors do tend to be a little forgiving when it comes to formatting, especially in electronic submissions. There’s just so many ways to format a manuscript, and no one quite agrees on what is best. Just try to make sure that your formatting is close to what I’ve described here, and you should be fine.

Howeveralways check the submission guidelines of the publication, editor, or agent to whom you are submitting. Sometimes they’ll have specific requirements listed. Always follow these requirements. If it was important enough for them to mention, they won’t be happy to see that you ignored their directions.

This is especially important when it comes to the type of document they require. Microsoft Word saves files as a .docx file these days, but many publishers prefer that submissions be saved as some other type of document, such as .doc, .txt, or .rtf. Make sure that you’ve submitted the proper document type.

For a great run-down on formatting a short story (most of which applies to longer manuscripts as well), check out William Shunn's guidelines here.

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