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Manuscript formatting:
get it down pat!

The instant an agent or editor takes your materiel out of the envelope, s/he gets whapped in the face by one feature which is so highly visible, its impossible to miss. Not your cover letter, nor the SASE. The first hurdle you must get over is right here, in the two or three seconds after your pages see daylight.

It's the manuscript formatting. The simple formatting of the page itself -- including the paper size, the font, the lot. Some editors and agents are so overworked, they'll reject right here, if you make one mistake. You could have written Harry Potter, and an editor wouldn't care. Mistakes at this stage are so visually obvious, you can be slapped onto the "rejects and returns" pile without a single word being read.

Which makes this a delicate and crucial subject ... read on!

All publishers have their own quirks and special requirements, but they all agree on the majority of points regarding how a manuscript ought to be formatted. There are so many different formats into which the same piece of text can be fed (the book, the webpage, the catalog, the magazine extract), and your job is to make sure the plain, ordinary body text supplied by you fits the bill. You can't afford to get fancy at all. Period. Don't insert any formatting, as neat as it might look on your own computer. For all you know, you might be trying to make square pegs fit into round holes.

Publishers, editors and agents should always be specific about what the want. The real chore of editing, at this point, is to ensure compliance. Every house will have a handout, a requirements guide. You can usually download it from the publisher's website these days.

Here are some of the things you'll be looking out for:

Most publishers still demand paper. (This is changing to accommodate email, but at the time of this writing it's still much more normal to send paper when submitting to a mainstream, and major, publishing house.

The paper American publishers want to see is US Letter size, which is 8.5" x 11.0" ... and some of them won't accept A4, though it's the normal paper size for the UK and Commonwealth. You'll need to get some larger paper (A3) specially guillotined to US Letter size.

Set a 1" (2cm) margin all around the page. If by any remotest chance you're typing on a typewriter, don't let your margins get too narrow; you're not fooling anyone by squishing in those extra words per page. Editors were up to these tricks decades ago! And, if typing, always adhere to one fixed "hard" margin on the left, never let the margin "wander in."

Format the text in a specific font. This is probably Times Roman 12pt, or 10 point courier. Do not set type in fonts other than the publisher specifies, not even the title on the cover sheet! There are excellent reasons for this. Editors might have to speed-read (or scan) 1,000 pages per day to sort wheat from chaff. (The chaff gets chucked back, fast.) The easier the page is to read, the more likely it will be to be read. It doesn't have to be pretty, just clear and easy on the eyes.

Never justify the right hand margin of the text. Editors swear up and down that justification makes reading harder. (Go figure.)

Use underlines to indicate where italicized words should be. (Because italics are harder to read. Same reason for using Times or Courier as the font.)

Indent the paragraphs to exactly .5"/1cm on the left only. Do not double-space block paragraphs. (Block paragraphs are paragraphs without any indent. This is the norm on webpages -- like this one -- but it won't pass muster on a manuscript intended for paper publishing.)

Never use more than one (two at most) spaces between sentences within the same paragraph. Huge gaps between sentences irritate the eye. Also, if your work is accepted and you're asked to send a disk, or an email attachment, with the work in electronic form, these extra spaces will have to be removed before typesetting ... and you're the one who's going to spend hours taking them out! Better not to put them in, in the first place, right?

If you're word processing on a computer, never use spacebar strikes to indent paragraphs. In fact, the "proper" way to do it is to use the tab-set rule at the top of the word processor page:

Click on this image to see it at full-size. Notice the rule at the top of the page; notice the two "teeth" or guides ... notice that the bottom one sets the left hand margin (it's aligned with the extreme left side of the text). Now, see the top 'tooth." Wherever you pull that little guy to, sets the paragraph indent. Now, all you have to do is hit ENTER (carriage return) at the end of a paragraph, and there you are. Auto paragraph indents ... which you can change at whim by adjusting the tab-set "tooth" there.

In keying-in, make sure you use the correct kind of quote (speech) marks for the country of your submission. In the US this means double quotes ("/"); in the UK, single quotes ('/') .

Always start a new person's dialog on a new line.

Always start a new sentence with a capital letter: no exceptions!

Always end a sentence with a period (.), ellipsis (...) or emrule (—), never comma or colon;

Always use curved "brackets" (/) for contextual parenthesis, never square brackets [/];

Print out in double-space lines (see the picture above). Never use single-spacing or even 1.5 spacing. Editors have tired eyes ... also, they like to scribble "corrections" on manuscripts, and you have to leave them plenty of scribbling space.

Never double-space paragraphs. You're already double-spacing the lines. If you double-space the paragraphs as well, your manuscript will blow out hugely. It could end up at 600pp for a fairly small novel, and the thickness of the stack of printout paper will be an off-putter before anyone looks at page 1. (It'll also cost a fortune to mail!)

Never use bold or bold-italic in the text; use underline only. Do not use capitalization or asterisks to indicate italics. Always use underline.

Make sure every page is numbered, on a manuscript. You know what offices are like. Someone turns on the a/c and the whole stack goes flying. It's gathered together, but it's out of order ... rejection. Instantly.

Place the author's name in the header on every page, and place the title of the work in the header on every page ... for the exact same reason as you're using page numbering!

Never use footers, only headers.

Never type in, or print out, colored fonts. They're just tough to read.

Where you want blank lines left to indicate a new line, use a hash mark (#) on that line. Indicate the end of the document with three hash marks (###).

These can be boring and aggravating rules. You ask yourself why you ever bothered to get a computer, since you just had to configure the machine to behave like a typewriter ... copy editing isn't always easy, or fun!

Remember, however: this is how the manuscript will be formatted for submission. Once an editor has approved it, and you're expecting a contract ... then, they'll need the whole file on a disk or jumpdrive. They'll take the absolutely plain file, as supplied by you, and they'll format it to suit their own typesetting.

The best thing you can do at this stage of copy editing is to meet them halfway, supply exactly what they want. If you can do this, you'll stand the very best chance of having your work read.

Tired eyes need big, plain fonts, and double-spaced printouts. And every publisher, editor and agent has a different way of working. Some might not notice footers, therefore footers are useless. Others might want only the author's byline in the header, not the whole book title. You won't know till you inquire, and get the "cheat sheet."

Always do some research before you call your copy editing finished and print out the manuscript. Find out exactly what your target publisher wants and needs. Do your best to meet their requirements.

Remember, a wrongly-formatted manuscript will be tossed back unread! One glance at it, and the editor opening the parcels knows instantly, you never bothered to find out what the company wanted. This certainly won't endear the editor to you, and if s/he is inundated with work, and tired, and annoyed, your SASE will be used at once!

Do a little extra work at the preparatory stage ... a little judicious copy editing right now, right here, it can pay dividends later.

1 comment:

  1. It is helpful for all. You can get help here. If you get more information about manuscript editor


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