It occurred to me that I have at least some information that would be useful to both new and burgeoning authors alike when it comes to getting published. I’m not authority, by any means. As of this date, I still don’t have a major book deal. However, I’ve chewed a fair amount of dirt in this business, and I have the rare advantage of being a writer, author (yes, they’re different), editor, book designer, cover designer, publisher, marketer, and even book hawker. I’ve done it all, or damn near it.
What that means, ultimately, is that I’m not an expert, but I have had the shit kicked out of me more than once at every step in the book business. I’ve made a ton of mistakes, have learned a growing list of valuable lessons, and I figure I’m as qualified as anyone on quite a few subjects when it comes to the publishing business.
So, I figured I would start posting some of the bits and bytes that I’ve worked through over the years behind me and those ahead. Call it my little way of trying to pay something forward.
So, I have an easy one to start out with: MANUSCRIPT FORMATTING.
You can google (yes, that’s now a non-proper verb) the word Standard Manuscript Format and you’ll get this answer with only a few deviations across different sites.
For starters, if you’re submitting a manuscript to a specific agent, editor, or publisher, make damn sure you check their site for what the standards are and make double-damn sure you follow them. What I say here is irrelevant when compared to your actual gate-keeper, and this isn’t about your opinion or what you learned in college. Dissuade yourself of that idiocy right now. You’re a writer, and if you’re looking to place your next writing project with someone, then you are the subcontractor, and they are the customer. They are always right… at least that’s mostly true. Treat it as if it’s the word of God.
Basically, a standard manuscript format should be as follows (and most of this is taken from SFWA, but I deviate from their recommendations because I think theirs are a bit outdated in a couple of places with regards to some formatting concerns):
- Typed (and assume digitally unless otherwise specified)
- Single-sided (this is an archaic standard since damn near everything is digital now)
- 12 point font
- Courier or Times Roman (NOTE: If they’re asking for Courier, they may be a little old-school, but maybe not, and this heightens the need to check their submission standards, because some editors–like me–can’t stand to look at Courier and will specify in the submission requirements that we won’t even look at it). And if you wish to talk about why I think it’s old-school to use Courier, I’ll be happy to debate it with you.
- Indicate blank lines (scene breaks) with a “#” or a “*” (NOTE: “#” is more commonly accepted.
- 1″ margins all around in all cases and on all pages
- Use italics where applicable rather than underlined, unless the agent, editor, or publisher specifically asks for the opposite. I say this because I live in the digital world, deal with digital/document files, and it’s a pain in the ass to go back and make that change, even if it’s done globally. Why fix something that could have been done right to begin with.
- DO NOT USE THE TAB KEY UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES if you’re working digitally. Create / define the style you need, whether it’s a chapter head or the body text or a sub-heading or whatever, and set your indents and other formatting specifications so that they are consistent throughout the document. For starters, you will have just shown your agent, editor, or publisher that you know how to use the tools of this trade, but you will make it easy for your typesetter to quickly, effectively, and accurately migrate your layout to the printed page when it’s time to go to production.
- Put your name (legal name for contracts and checks), address, email address, and phone number in the upper left corner of the first page.
- Put the title of the work a third to half-way down the middle of the first page (again, use STYLES not the Enter/Return key to move it down) and follow it with your pen-name on the next line or “by line.”
- NEVER EVER EVER TYPE IN ALL CAPS (see what I did there?) when submitting a manuscript unless it’s in the prose and only with damn good reason. Instead, use your font and style settings to achieve this… don’t make work for other people, but also make sure your intentions are translated to the typesetter.
- You don’t need to include a copyright page or reference in any way. This isn’t the right place for it, and it’s irrelevant.
- Specify in your document parameters that you want different first and subsequent pages so that you can set a different header on those subsequent pages. Then put your pen-name and the page number variable (i.e. “Quincy J. Allen / 2”) and right-align it.
- Avoid special fonts, formatting, and general weirdness like it’s the plague… like your writing career depended upon it… because it actually does. And agent, editor, and publisher don’t want headaches, they want ease of use… and you’re not the typesetter. If you think you need Courier for this character and Arial for that character and Times Roman for the robot thinking it its special machine way… then write it so that the reader understands it. Don‘t use the ease of desktop publishing as an excuse for a lack of clarity. Julian May managed to work wonders, and she used one font in her books. Be like her.
Ultimately, the one thing I want to emphasize is that the first thing a potential agent, editor, or publisher sees is the formatting of the document. Don’t give them a reason to pass you by. Follow their rules no matter what, but have rules that will work for you and will make both your life and the life of everyone downstream of you easier. And if you are going the indie route, then you’ll definitely want to learn more about styles. They will SAVE YOUR ASS.