You’re ready to submit your manuscript, and like a child on their first day of school, you want them to look their best. Get them in with the cool kids. Give them their best chance of success. With a child, you dress them up. With a manuscript, you dress it down. You want the writing to shine, and the surest way to look like a desperate amateur is to try and make the paper pretty or the font memorable or the envelope smell nice. Don’t. Just don’t.
What you must do is follow the publishing guidelines. Every publisher will have slightly different requirements for what to submit, but how your manuscript is formatted is fairly universal. In fact, it’s even called “standard manuscript format” or SMF. This is what SMF means:
1. Type your document, don’t write it.
2. Use a single, clear font, 12 point size. The best to use is Courier or Courier New. These fonts make it easier to edit your manuscript and show that you care more about what you’ve written than how it looks.
3. Use clear black text on a white background.
4. If you are printing out your submission (rather than submitting it electronically), use good quality plain white paper and print on only one side of each sheet.
5. Include your name and contact information at the top left of the first page. Put an accurate word count at the top right. Put the title half-way down the page, centered, with “by Your Name” underneath. Start the story beneath that.
6. If you write under a pseudonym, put that beneath the title but your real name in the top left of the first page. But unless you have an excellent reason, use your real name. Witness protection is an excellent reason. “Because it sounds cooler” is not.
7. Put your name, story title and the page number as a right-justified header on every subsequent page, in the format Name/Title/Page Number. Generally, you can also just use a key word from your title and not repeat the whole thing on each page.
8. Left-justify your paragraphs. Right margins should be “ragged” (meaning it doesn’t matter where the line ends on the right.
9. Use a tab indent to indicate the beginning of a new paragraph, not extra line space.
10. Ensure there is at least a 1 inch (2 centimeter) margin all the way around your text. This is to allow annotation to be written onto a printed copy.
11. Use double spacing for all your text.
12. Don’t insert extra lines between your paragraphs.
13. Indent the first line of each paragraph by about 1/2 inch (1 centimetre).
14. If you want to indicate a blank line, place a blank line, then a line with the # character in the middle of it, then another blank line.
15. Don’t use bold or italic fonts or any other unusual formatting. To emphasize a piece of text you should underline it.
16. Put the word “End” after your text, centered on its own line.
17. If you are submitting on paper, don’t staple your pages together. Package them up well so that they won’t get damaged and send them off. Put them in a nice padded envelope or clean blank box. Don’t reuse a box you got from Amazon.
These guidelines are for novel length manuscripts. Always make sure to check the specific
guidelines for any publishing house and the type of manuscript. If your publisher wants electronic submissions the guidelines are a little different. In e-mail you don't have to worry about paper quality, ink, margins, or running headers and page numbers. Here are some of the things you do have to worry about:
1. Don't attempt to double-space text. Most e-mail programs automatically convert a double-spaced document into single-spacing; don't try to change it back. This will only create format problems at the other end.
2. Double-space between paragraphs. You can still indent, but some e-mail programs "lose" the tabs, so a double-space may be the only way to indicate a new paragraph.
3. Use a readable e-mail font. I am always amazed to receive e-mail messages in microprint. Be sure to select "normal size". When in doubt, send yourself an e-mail; if the font looks tiny, increase the size or change fonts.
4. Avoid formatting, such as bold, underlining, or italics. Most e-mail programs still don't translate these well, resulting in odd symbols that make a transmission look garbled. Indicate underlining or italics by placing an underscore character next to the word being _underlined_. Indicate bold with asterisks on either side of the *word* you want to emphasize.
5. Turn off "smart" (curly) quotes in your word processing program, if you are going to transfer that document to e-mail. This includes curly apostrophes. These do not translate well in e-mail, resulting in a manuscript that is littered with weird symbols -- a manuscript your editor will not only find hard and frustrating to read, but will have to go to great lengths to "fix" for publication. Do not use a keyboard-generated "m-dash"; use " -- " to indicate a dash instead. Do not use symbols at all if you can help it; you never know what an accent mark will turn into at the receiving end.
6. Include your contact information (name, address, etc.) and wordcount at the very beginning of the e-mail, before the title.
7. Do not use HTML, or send material that has previously been formatted in HTML. Remove all HTML codes. Turn off any option in your program that is likely to convert your submission to HTML.
8. Do not send your submission as an attachment unless you have received permission to do so. (Do not send any unsolicited submission as an attachment.)
9. To be safe, convert your word-processed document to a text format before pasting it into your e-mail. This can eliminate many format problems. (Use plain text, not Rich Text Format.)
10. When in doubt, e-mail the piece to yourself first, to make sure nothing went wrong.
If you have any specific questions, feel free to email me. If I’m not sure, we’ll figure it out together. Remember, if you want to be a professional writer you have to go in looking like you already know what you’re doing. Send your manuscript off to its first day of publication consideration looking its very best.