Most editors have a great deal of work in their in-boxes, and don’t have time to deal with badly formatted manuscripts and these submissions are not even considered. All agents, editors and publishing companies have specific, standardized formatting they want you to use, and these guidelines are posted on their websites.
If you intend to go the traditional route and submit your manuscript to a Big Publisher such as TOR Forge, you will want to make sure your work is submission-ready, and that it conforms to the exact standards they have laid out on their website.
But what makes a manuscript submission ready? TOR Forge clearly says: Standard manuscript format means margins of at least 1 inch all the way around; indented paragraphs; double-spaced text; and Times New Roman in 12 pitch. Please use one side of the page only. Do not justify the text. Do not bind the manuscript in any way. Make sure the header of the ms. includes your name and/or the title of the book as well as the page number (on every page).
Publishers who accept electronic submissions will most likely want them formatted similarly. For the most part this formatting is basically the same from company to company, so once you know what the industry standard is, it’s easy to make your manuscript submission-ready, at least in the area of formatting.
First of all, running across the top of the page is something called the ribbon, and this is your toolbox. Everything you need to create a manuscript is right there, waiting for you to learn to use it. On the right hand side, by the question mark is a tiny arrow for expanding or hiding the ribbon – and we are going to expand it so we have access to all the tools we will need.
First, we must select the font. I use Microsoft WORD, and like every other word-processing program, it has many fancy fonts you can choose from and also has many sizes.
You don’t want fancy. Stick with the industry standard fonts: Times New Roman or Courier in 12 pt. Most say .11 is fine – for me, in a printout .10 is too small for my elderly eyes, I prefer .12. These are called ‘Serif’ fonts, because they have little extensions that make them easier to read when in a wall of words.
If you are using MS WORD, here are a few simple instructions: to change your fonts, open your manuscript document, and Click on the tab marked ‘Home’. In the upper right-hand corner of the ribbon across the top of the page in the editing group, click:
select> select all. This will highlight the entire manuscript.
With the ms still highlighted, go to the font group, on the left-hand end of the ribbon. The default font, or predesigned value or setting, will probably say ‘Calibri (Body)’ and the size will be .11.
You can change this by clicking on the menu and accessing the menu. Scroll down to Times New Roman, as it is the easiest on the eyes. Click on that and the font for the entire ms will be that font. Any errors can be undone by clicking the back-arrow. Once you are satisfied with your changes, click save.
Now we are going to format our paragraphs and line spacing. Editors and publishers want their copies double-spaced so they can insert comments as needed in the reviewing pane, which will be on the right side of the page when you receive your work back for revisions. Having it double-spaced allows for longer comments, and makes it easier for reading.
Remember, TOR Forge says they want a standard manuscript formatted with margins of 1 inch all the way around; indented paragraphs; double-spaced text. Do not justify the text. In justified text, the spaces between words, and, to a far lesser extent, between glyphs or letters (known as “tracking”), are stretched or sometimes compressed in order to make the text align with both the left and right margins. This gives you straight margins on both sides, but this is not the time or place for this type of alignment.
I’ve said this before, and I will say it again: Do NOT ever use the tab key or the space bar to indent your paragraphs. You have no idea what a crapped up mess that makes out of a manuscript. You will have to go in and remove these tabs by hand and it’s a tedious job, but do it now, if you have been using the tab key.
Instead of the tab key, a professional author who is writing in MS WORD uses the simple formatting tool:
On the home tab, look in the group labeled ‘Paragraph’. On the lower right-hand side of that group is a small grey square. Click on it . A pop-out menu will appear, and this is where you format your paragraphs.
- On the indents and spacing tab of the menu: Use standard alignment, align LEFT. The reason we use this format is we are not looking at a finished product here. We are looking at a rough draft that will be sliced, diced and otherwise mutilated many times before we get to the final product.
The picture below has it all clearly marked out:
- Indentation: leave that alone or reset both numbers to ‘0’ if you have inadvertently altered it.
- Where it says ‘Special’: on drop-down menu select ‘first line’. On the ‘By’ menu, select ‘0.5’
- ‘Spacing’: set both before and after to ‘0’.
- ‘Line Spacing’: set to ‘double’
Now we need to make the “Header.” This is the heading at the top of each page of a word-processed or faxed document, usually automatically inserted and, in this case, consisting of the title of the book and your name. Publishers and editors want this because when they receive a print copy, each page is clearly marked with your name and/or the title of the book as well as the page number. Remember, they want it UNBOUND. Accidents happen: if the ms accidentally falls off a desk, it can easily be reassembled and the editor will always know that brilliant work was written by you.
We insert this by opening the “insert” tab, and clicking on “page number.” This opens up a new menu. We add the page numbers using this menu:
Now your manuscript is submission ready, and is
- Aligned left
- 1 in. margins
- Has indented paragraphs
- Header contains title and author name
- First page contains the author’s mailing address and contact information in upper left hand corner
This may seem like overkill to you, but I assure you, if you are really serious about submitting your work to agents, editors, or publishers, it must be in as professional a format as is possible.
I hope these instruction will help you find the way to format properly in other word-processing programs. MS WORD is most commonly used, and is the one I use, because it is easy and has all the tools I need. Just don’t get too fancy with formatting your novel before you submit it because no matter how pretty you make that manuscript, if it doesn’t follow the submission guidelines for the place you are submitting it, you have wasted your time.