It’s been a while since our last post, but now that we’re back from our winter hiatus, I thought it a good idea to devote our first post of the year to a look at fundamentals. And what could be more fundamental than a look at the most fundamental part of your agent search: the manuscript itself?
When it comes to formatting your manuscript, there are a few simple rules to follow, but the first and most important rule is this: If the agent you’re submitting to has specific, stated requirements that contradict any of the standard rules, always follow the agent’s guidelines instead. But in the absence of such guidelines, the following will get you where you need to be.
- Always use white, standard-size paper (8.5”x11” in the U.S., A4 almost everywhere else).
- Print on one side of the page only; don’t try to conserve space by printing double-sided, even if it means a little extra printing cost.
- Use one-inch margins on all sides of the page, with a ragged right margin (a justified margin can impair readability).
- Use Courier, or another, serif, fixed width font. 12-point size. You want your manuscript to appear typed, not typeset as it might be in a finished, printed book.
- Always double-space your lines. If you’re familiar enough with your word processing program, turn off widow/orphan control as well (you can find this under Format, Paragraph in Microsoft Word).
- Indent each new paragraph about one half inch. Don’t skip lines extra lines to denote the next paragraph.
- When you need to emphasize text in your manuscript, underline instead of using italics.
The Title Page:
- List your full contact information in the upper left corner of the page. This includes your name, mailing address, phone number and email, each on its own line.
- List your manuscript’s word count in the upper right corner. This doesn’t have to be the exact word count; rounding to the nearest hundred words is fine.
- Type your manuscript’s title in all caps, halfway down the page. On the next double-spaced line, write the word “by”, followed by your name in mixed case. In the case of a novel, you can alternately write “a novel by” along with your name.
- Refrain from posting statements of copyright on the cover or any inside pages. This is often considered the sign of an amateur. (Note that it is still a good idea to register your manuscript with your government’s copyright office, but there’s no need to indicate that you have done so.)
All Other Pages:
- Start new chapters halfway down a new page, with the name and number of the chapter centered. If your chapter has a name, include it on the next, double-spaced line in mixed case. Then skip one double-spaced line and begin your first paragraph.
- If you have a dedication or quote that begins your book, it should appear centered on its own page, just after the title page.
- At the top of each page, type your last name, manuscript title, and page number, separated by forward slashes (for example: “Hawkins / The Format / 12”).
And that’s all there is to it. Now, will an agent automatically reject your manuscript if you don’t follow these rules? Some might, but most will not. However, if you’re thinking of deviating from these guidelines, you should take a moment to consider one of the most important reasons for having formatting rules in the first place: to make your work as accessible and easy to read as possible. By making sure an agent doesn’t need to focus on the way your manuscript is laid out, you let your writing take center stage, and that, after all, is what writing is all about.
I promise not to make you wait another month for our next post. In the meantime, stay warm, be well, and above all, get back to writing!