Formatting a manuscript-one way to do it

So you’ve got your manuscript finished, polished, looked at by someone else, rewritten, and polished again–ready for Harper Voyager’s submission palooza October 1-14th.  (Link for that is down below) That submission button goes live on the first, and they may give more information on the format they would like to see it in then, but if they don’t, and you want to give your manuscript a look that they’re familiar with, I can tell you what mine looks like.  Keeping in mind that things have changed with the advent of track changes and electronic submissions, this still might give you a place to start.

The basics: Times New Roman font, double spaced, one-inch margins at the right, left, and bottom.  I use “orphan” control to prevent a paragraph from being started at the bottom line of the page and leaving a line floating, in a manner of speaking.  It makes your bottom margin float between one and one and a half inches, but set it for an inch and let the programing work it out.  The top margin I set at an inch and a half as well so I can put what they call a “slug” in the header. The slug is set about half an inch down in the header space.  This is where you put your name / title on the left, and the page number on the right.  If you have an agreed upon pen name, it goes here, but to avoid confusion, use your real name even if it hurts.  It will make you look less like a newbie if you go forth thusly.  You can talk about pen names after it’s been accepted.  To do so before is useless.

Harrison / Pet Shop Boys                                                                                                   1

It looks like this on my manuscript, and again, it’s in the header, about half an inch down.

First page has the chapter number centered, down about 7 lines, skip another  line, then start your text.  Be bold.  Give yourself a lot of room on that front page.  It is restful, and the reader will appreciate it.

Title page:  I sort of forgot this page.  I’m going to try to drop a picture of one because it might be easier to see that way.  I left the formatting in, it shows up in blue, but you’ll want that hidden when you submit. Again, use your real name on the upper left side.  This is who they will make the contract out to and write the checks to.  USE YOUR REAL NAME.  I single space here.

Also, a few things have changed since I started submitting.  It used to be that you underlined what you wanted to be italicized, but now you just italicize.  And where I was taught to put two spaces between sentences, the accepted format is a single space.  I’m still working on breaking that habit. I’m sure there’s more, but no one tells me these things.  -grin-

And a few hints from me to help your manuscript look like you’ve been doing this a while. Make 90 percent of the names recognizable and with conventional spelling.  You can go wild when you’re drawing attention to a character, but Bob will make you look professional, and Beobb with a silent e will  give you a newbie shine.  Unless Beobb is a gargoyle and that’s how they do things.  Also, try to avoid using the same first letter more than once to avoid confusion.  Jenks’s kids all have the same first letter as a way to tell the reader that they are not going to be important and to not bother to remember the names.  And when they are important, I give them a physical tag to make them stand out. (youngest daughter, only dark-haired son)

Pleeeeese don’t start your chapter/book with waking up. 85% of that slush pile is going to start with the phone ringing, a knock at the door, or waking up.  Be different.  Start with spilling coffee, or missing the elevator.  Also, don’t end it with falling asleep.  This second one, especially, invites the reader to put the book down.

Remember that dialog gets things moving.  Someone once told me that 90% of best sellers had dialog within the first three paragraphs.  I don’t know if it’s true, but I try to hold to that rule, which sort of melts into the suggestion of don’t try to put too much “this is who my character is” in the first chapter.  Be brutal.  Cut everything that the reader doesn’t need to know at that exact moment. Use that information to lure them into reading more to find out.  Try starting your book from chapter two, not one.  If it reads with action and tension, consider throwing chapter one out and move the essential stuff into chapter two.

Oh, and if you are not willing to change things, listen to your editor’s suggestions, and understand that this is something you created, not birthed, then don’t bother submitting.  Go to a small press where you can have everything your way.  Everyone will be happier.

And good luck!  As they say, there is no prize for being the first to submit, so take another look at your manuscript.  You’ve got until the 14th.

Harper Voyager opens digital submission palooza in October


Filed under Drama Box

33 responses to “Formatting a manuscript-one way to do it

  1. Pingback: Give that Publisher What They Want, Dernit! Finale | Jennifer M Eaton

  2. Pingback: Give that Publisher What They Want Dernit! – Keep It simple | Jennifer M Eaton

  3. Pingback: Give that Publisher What They Want Dernit! Part Five – Formatting #3 The dreaded emdash and ellipse | Jennifer M Eaton

  4. Pingback: Give that Publisher What They Want Dernit! #4: Formating #2 (Advanced) | Jennifer M Eaton

  5. Pingback: Give that Publisher What They Want Dernit! #3 Formatting part 1 | Jennifer M Eaton

  6. Pingback: Give that Publisher What They Want DERNIT: The Basics #2 – Identifiers | Jennifer M Eaton

  7. Great information for us “newbies” aka noobs! Thanks for sharing!! Cheers mate!!

  8. Diana

    Just uploaded my manuscript! Thanks for tweeting about this in the first place, and thanks for the helpful tips.

  9. Jessica

    If you’re using word, I find that it’s easier just to start each sentence as I normally would with two spaces, and change things when I’m finished. Click Ctrl + F and select the box with the little arrow, then choose Replace. In the Find what box do two spaces and in the Replace with box do one space, click Replace All and voila! I grew up being pestered (kindly of course) by mother to start new sentences with two spaces as opposed to one and haven’t managed to break the habit as of yet. Good luck everyone!

  10. Raven

    You are absolutely wonderful to share all of this with us.
    Thank you so very much!

    (HIIIII VAMPY! Miss you!)

  11. Thank you so much for taking the time to give us these tips. I’m saving this to come back to when I finish the novel I’m writing!

  12. Isvind

    Great tips. I Might be stupid. But is the program you use mentioned? Or is it word?

  13. jkh

    Oh, good grief. There’s a reason to leave a MS to “age.” My deathless prose first sentence, first paragraph, began with my main character waking up! And to add to the amateurishness, many of my chapters ended with going to bed, or to sleep … Almost time for that first rewrite…

  14. izzybella

    Thank you for being so generous with your advice and time. I appreciate it so much.

  15. You are a sharing writer, Kim. No matter what the skill level we fans are, your tips, suggestions, and advice always open a new door. Thanks for these.

  16. Thank you, so much. These are tips I will hold onto. I’m not there yet, but when I am, I will have a step in the right direction. Have a wonderful day!

  17. Claire

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. Hopefully we can put it to good use 🙂

  18. Kim, your time and knowledge is appreciated.

  19. Jess

    Thank you for sharing and giving us a head start on formatting our submissions professionally. I didn’t know about the single space after sentence rule, but it looks so much better now. You’re a wonderful author and a lovely person. Thank you again.

  20. Totally awesome tips, Kim! I’m kicking ’round the idea for another book. Doubt if I’d have it done by 10/14, but there’s always next year (if the world don’t end on Dec. 21, lol …).

  21. That was an amazingly helpful post for all of the fledgling authors here. Good luck to you all, I hope to be reading you soon.


    • vampyre


      I just finished “Nightwalker” by Jocelynne Drake. She said some nice things about you in the acknowledgments. Is there no end to your goodness? (That was a rhetorical question)


  22. Mine is with the betas. Hopefully I can get it all done in time *chews nails*

  23. Carla Lewis

    Thank you, Kim. I also wish I had my manuscript ready to submit in October, but I just finished it two weeks ago. I will have to keep checking back to see if they offer open submissions again in the future. I really do appreciate the submission advice, it will be extremely helpful when I’m ready to submit.
    I picked up A perfect Blood in paperback yesterday. I already had it on my nook but I was really curious about the chapter told from Trent’s POV. All I can say is WOW!!! I really love your books, and I hope we can get more of Trent’s POV in the future. 🙂

  24. Reblogged this on Serendipity and commented:
    Important information I wish I’d had when I was shopping my manuscript around.

  25. Terri J.

    Hey Kim! Thank you so much for sharing this information. I have had a manuscript ready to be typed since Dec. 2010 and wasn’t sure about double or single spaced or the ‘correct’ font. I have hand-written the story 3 times now, so I think it ready. I only recently got a computer, so your tips will help me transferring it from purple ink on notebook paper to Times New Roman font. See? I was already paying attention! (big grin) Thanks again, Kim. Have a great day! Kiss-kiss! ♥

  26. I just want to say that you are incredible. You are a fantastic writer/storyteller who not only takes the time to respond to her fans many questions but also offers them suggestions on how to make their own writing better. Many writers, who have never had the opportunity to learn the nuances of submitting, can learn from you. This post just confirms that you are not only an amazing writer but also a truly fantastic person. Thank you.

  27. Those are really great tips Kim! I just heard about the “single space after the end of the sentence” for manuscripts. I still double space–at least APA style I think still recommends double space. Switching between the too has not been easy! 🙂

  28. With love from Kim Harrison and your Sis!! Write, fool, write. It cleanses your soul and changes the world you live in. And there is no try only do…

  29. Thank you, Kim. I really appreciate it when seasoned authors share what works for them.

  30. These are awesome tips, Kim, and thank you so much for them! I wish I had my manuscript ready to submit in October. Sadly, it’s still in the planning stages — character maps, setting the “rules” of the world, etc. But I’ve bookmarked this page for future reference!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s