First Impressions Count – Manuscript Format Matters

Authors | Industry Chat | Publishers

When presenting manuscripts to publishers, editors, competition judges or critique partners, the manner in which we format them speaks volumes. If your work’s formatting indicates you don’t care to follow publishing industry expectations, ask yourself why you should expect your work to be read. If you care to know what the general expectations are, read on.

Microsoft Word usually opens in letter format with Calibri 11 font. That’s not what you need. Before typing a single word of text, set all margins to 3cm and choose Times New Roman 12 font for text.

Next, insert a header with title and author name. As we read left to right, avoid drawing the eye to anything that isn’t part of your text by aligning the header to the right. It’s helpful to put your email address, perhaps on a second line. If a header attracts the eye too much, consider reducing font size to 11 or even 10.

Then insert a footer with page numbers. Choose page x of y and align it right. Close headers and footers.

Set paragraph formatting to double space all text and begin. Type the work’s title. On a new line, type the first paragraph. Once ready to start the second paragraph, format text to automatically indent paragraphs. Other than a work’s first line, and lines that open new chapters or begin after a line space (see below), all paragraphs are indented.

Okay, is your typing old school, or new? It’s now customary to use a single space between a full stop and capital letter that begins the next sentence. If a new paragraph is to begin, don’t hit the space bar. Simply hit the ‘enter’ key. If you think these spaces don’t matter, they might. See, spaces can cause grief at production time, like dropping off words, which is especially disappointing when self-publishing.

Check formatting by hitting the Pilcrow sign on the Microsoft Word tool bar. This will display all blank spaces. Arrows mean a tab was inserted manually and dots mean the space bar has been hit. Two dots mean it was hit twice. There should be no dot after full stops that end paragraphs. Delete manual indents and unnecessary spaces, then turn off that Pilcrow. It’s too distracting working with it on.

For chapter books and short stories, a single line space to indicate scene breaks or passing of time is acceptable.

Other than using bold text for a work’s title, the only time to use anything but standard text is when using italics to show what someone thinks, or what a note or sign says. No quote marks are required in these instances. Never underline or use fancy text or text boxes.

The way text appears in print is determined by publishers at publication time. Not by you. Publishers, editors, judges and assessors don’t appreciate distractions. They appreciate clean copy. If their guidelines have specific stipulations, follow them. If you think individual formatting style makes your work special, think again. It simply signals that you can’t be relied on to learn what’s expected of you.Remember, first impressions count.

By Emma Cameron


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