Tag Archives: How to format a manuscript

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


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