M is for … Manuscript Format
I’m a day late updating the blog this week. An idea for a story caught hold of me and wouldn’t leave me alone all weekend until I had completed the first draft. It’s rare that they come to me like that, so I had to comply. It’s quite a long story, and has themes of motherhood and empowerment, along with strong mythological influences. It still needs a lot of work before Ican start sending it out on submission, but I’m pleased with the shape it has taken.
Which brings me to this week’s subject: how to prepare your writing for submission to publications, agents or publishers. While most have their own submission guidelines, they will nearly always ask for submissions to be in standard manuscript format.
So, what is that?
If you google the subject, you’ll find lots of answers to that question, including William Shunn’s excellent advice, which hasn’t much changed. But you won’t go far wrong if you use at least the following:
- Standard font: Arial, Times New Roman, Courier, etc, set at 12 pt.
- A4 size paper (letter in the US)
- Double line spacing.
- 2.5 cm (1 inch) margins all round.
If you’re in the UK, you’ll need a cover page, with your name, address and contact details in the top left corner and the word count in the top right. In the middle of the page, you’ll want the title of your story, and underneath, your name, or nom de plume.
If you’re in the US, you’ll need all that on the top half of the page, and start your story half way down.
At the top of every page after the first or cover page, you’ll need to have your last name, the title and the page number:
This is so that if any pages come loose, they can be matched up to the right manuscript. On a UK manuscript, this would start on page 1 because the cover page is not counted. On a US manuscript, this would be page 2 as the story starts halfway down the first page.
If a publication calls for blind submissions, it means they don’t want any information that reveals your identity. Some do this because then they are not biased by the writer and can judge the story on its merits. When submitting blind, you still use standard manuscript format, but your submission will only have the word count, title and page numbers from the above examples, and none of the identifying information.
It used to be the case that two spaces were required after a full stop (period), but most places these days will ask for one. As someone who learned to type when two spaces were the norm, I find it difficult to train my thumb to hit the spacebar only once so I don’t try. Instead, when I’m editing, I use ‘find and replace’ to change all the double spaces to single ones.
There was also a rule that italics must be underlined, but these days most places will accept manuscripts wth italics. It’s always best to check their submission guidelines to make sure, though.
Paragraphs should always be set so that the first line is a half inch, or 1.27 centimeters indented. In Word, you can set the formatting to do this automatically every time you hit the enter key.
I can’t stress enough that you should always read the submission guidelines. It will save your story from being rejected without being read. It might still get rejected (I’ve had far more rejections than acceptances), but at least you’ve given it every chance to succeed.
If you haven’t submitted before, I hope this helps. Now get those stories out there!