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Manuscript Formatting – Keep It Simple

Freelance writer finds a literary agentLook up manuscript formatting and you’re likely to get some very specific directions. One will tell you to leave 1.5 inches all the way around, others may suggest that the right margin should be 1.75 inches while the left must be 1.25.

You’ll also get instructions on type face, where to put your contact information, how big your title should be and how you should number pages.

Those kinds of specifics are pretty much nonsense!

Think about it from an editor’s point of view. What the editor wants is a manuscript that’s easy to read, even to scan. That means double spacing. They want enough room in the margins to make notes. An inch-and-a half is good, but I can guarantee you they won’t take a ruler to your work to make sure. Using Word(tm) defualts is just fine.

An editor also wants complete contact information easily found in case she want to call or email you. Page numbers are a real help – even editors drop manuscripts.

Typeface should be easy to read and fairly standard. Sure TimesRoman is boring, but it’s also kind of like comfort food because it’s so familiar. A point size of 11 or 12 is also appreciated – by the end of the day (or often the evening) eyes that read all day love larger type. If you suspect it will be read online, Georgia was designed for reading on a computer screen.

Headlines or titles in bold and centered help. And if you need subheads, make them bold and just a bit larger than the body copy.

Do NOT under any circumstances put your manuscript on anything but white paper. Any standard white paper will do – don’t get caught up in brightness scales. If you must use colored paper, keep it pale and for cover letters only.

You see, what the editor or agent or publisher is really interested in is how well you write. And how well what you write fits their needs. When you find yourself worrying about margins or some other formatting exactness you’re probably avoiding writing.

Keep your manuscript formatting simple – let your writing shine.

How do you format manuscripts?


{ 6 comments… add one }
  • For books, I’ve been following author/editor Anne Mini at http://www.annemini.com/. She is a WEALTH of good info that has not only made my manuscript read better, but look better too. I’m querying my first book right now. Believe me, I want/need every advantage I can get. I don’t want my book to tick off Millicent (her name for the agent’s assistants who do all the prelim reading)! I want my submission to look as professional as can be. These people are not asking me to write for them; I’m trying to convince them that I can.
    Elizabeth West recently posted..Don’t Tell Me What to Do!My Profile

    • Anne

      If my post suggested an unprofessional look, that’s not what I meant. But fussing over a 1/4 inch one way or the other makes no sense to me and doesn’t seem professional.
      Anne Mini’s post http://www.annemini.com/?p=11154 describes some typical formatting mistakes… you’ve got to work your way down through some prose to get there. Thanks, Elizabeth, for the resource… is she an agent or what? I never did find her about page

  • I strongly advise against using anything smaller than 12 point.

    Pagination (duh) is also wise, but for scripts, which frequently get taken apart or handled page-by-page, I sometimes run a #1 pencil in a slanting line down the right hand edge of the stack. Any page that later gets out of order will stand out and can be quickly put back in proper sequence.
    jorgekafkazar recently posted..Watcher in the Night decipheredMy Profile

    • Anne

      Jorge, like your idea of pencil lines to help line up manuscript pages… although I’d probably like numbers and a slug line better.

  • I’ll let you know as soon as I do one, Anne. 😉

    I am thinking about expanding into ghostwriting of books (instead of just articles). Can you point me in the direction on your site for information about ghostwriting for books? I think I am going to start with some of my industry experience to pitch, but I am in the long-term planning stage, so there is absolutely no rush.

    I figured I’d start with the pro. Thanks, Anne.
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Add 3 Cups of Sharing and MixMy Profile

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