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Manuscript Formatting

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Formatting Your Manuscript for Submission 

This is for paper or e-mail submissions. If you're formatting a book for e-readers, be sure and see the (for instance) Amazon and Nook Press format guidelines. Keep in mind that Nook and Kindle are NOT formatted the same (Kindle wants Page Breaks at the ends of chapters, Nook wants Continuous Section Breaks), which means you're going to have to format two versions of the manuscript. Amazon makes it easier to find information. Nook does not: you're going to have to Google "Nook Press." However, Nook makes your manuscript easier to format, and their Manuscript Editor lets you import your book or write it directly in the Editor.

     It always amazes me how many perfectly competent writers sabotage themselves by sending an agent or publisher a good novel in a bad manuscript format. I think that they believe that only the content counts, so they slap their novel -- the book they may have spent years working on -- down on electronic "paper" in the same format they use for their blogs or e-mails, add a copyright notice on the first page, and hit "send." The first impression is that this is from an amateur.
     And it isn't entirely the writer's fault, either. Unless you've been through the MFA factory, you may have never seen a novel in standard manuscript form. 
     But agents and publishers have. And when a publisher looks at your electronically-submitted novel, one of the things she sees is the money she's going to have to shell out -- by the hour -- to the person who's going to have to go through this mess and take out all the extra spaces you put in because you don't know how use the Tab key, or the extra lines you put in between paragraphs, or your fancy fonts. 
     Maybe you don't know how to properly use your word processing program. Are you kidding me? You're a writer and you haven't taken the time to learn this? That's like a stoner not knowing how to use a bong.
     Here are the instructions for formatting a standard manuscript in Microsoft Word 2003. This all sounds really, really complicated but you'll only have to set it up once. Worth it to have your manuscript look professional.

One rule to remember: It's always easier to set up the formatting before you start writing the book. Vastly easier.
     Set your page layout for a 1.5" margin all around, maybe 2.0" at the top of each page, because editors like to write notes there. (This is done using the "Page Setup" under the "File" menu.) Text is double spaced, 12-point type, Times New Roman or Courier font preferred. Editors hate fancy fonts. No spaces between paragraphs. Sometimes Word wants to default to this, so you're going to have to change it. The easiest way is to go into the "Format" menu and choose "Paragraph." A box will come up, and you'll see an area for changing spacing. Make sure the "Before" and "After" boxes are set at zero and the "Line Spacing" box is set at "Double."
     On the FIRST page only of the manuscript, put your name, address, phone number and e-mail address on the top of the left side, single-spaced. Opposite that on the top of the left side, put the word count. Editors want to know this.
      Start about halfway down the first page and type, single-spaced, centered (or it can be double-spaced. For these three lines it doesn't much matter.):


Your Name (or your pen name)

Chapter One

     Then start your text a couple of lines down, and it must be double-spaced. If you've got a quotation that goes before Chapter One, put it on a separate page, or just above Chapter One.

     Indent the beginning of each paragraph using the Tab key with the tab set at about 5 spaces or 0.5". (*See below if you don't know how to do this.)  At the top right hand corner of each page should be a header (use the Header and Footer option from the View menu) that basically looks like this: Title/Your last name/ Page #.  Use the "Insert Page Number" button from the Header and Footer box and it will automatically change the number when you add or delete pages.

     All chapters should start on separate pages. The end of Chapter One and the beginning of Chapter Two should not be on the same page. At the end of each chapter, right after the last line, insert a page break by going to the Insert menu and choosing "Page Break." This will automatically add a paragraph mark and a new page for you to start typing Chapter Two. DO NOT try to get to a new page by hitting the ENTER key a lot of times.
    When you finish, type The End. If you've got a dedication, acknowledgements or anything else you can put them at the end -- for now. If the publisher buys this book, you're for sure going to see this manuscript many, many times and you can put it at the beginning before the copyediting starts. Right now, your job is to grab an editor's attention from Page 1, Line 1.
     The entire manuscript should be in one document. If you've saved each chapter as it's own file on your computer (which isn't a bad thing), you're going to have to use the "Insert" and "File" menu in Word and insert each chapter, one after the other. Be sure and add the page breaks between chapters.

     Never add a copyright notice -- only beginners do that. Publishers file the legal copyrights on your behalf when the book is published.

     Now, should you use real italics and boldface or indicate them by underlining? Depends. Most publishers these days want you to include the actual formatting, using Word's italic or bold buttons. If the publisher or the agent has a website, they'll usually tell you what they prefer. And this is another thing. If you're submitting your book to a specific publishing house or agent, ALWAYS CHECK THE WEBSITE, if any, for the submission guidelines.

     More and more, we're seeing books that go through the entire editing process without ever being printed on paper. My current novel never saw paper until the actual book came out. But submitting your work in a professional format always makes you look good.

* Automatic first-line indents: Put the cursor at the beginning of your text. You should have the ruler at the top showing. If you don't, go to the View menu and click Ruler in the drop-down box. At the left side of the ruler are two little triangles that look like an hourglass sitting on a box. These set your margins and tabs. Put your cursor on the TOP triangle and drag it halfway between the grayed-out area of the ruler and the 1" mark. In other words, the half-inch mark. Start to type. Every time you hit the Enter key and start to type a new paragraph, the first line of the new paragraph will automatically indent a half inch. If you've already finished your manuscript and you're trying to do this after the fact, may the gods help you. You're going to have to highlight the entire manuscript, then do the whole dance with setting the tabs. However, there's a shortcut. Put your cursor at the left of the very first sentence of the book. Go into the Edit menu and choose Select All, which will highlight the entire manuscript. While it's highlighted, set the tab on the Ruler. Be sure and proofread to see if your tabs are set correctly. An easier way to set first-line indents: Go to Word's FORMAT menu and select PARAGRAPH from the drop-down box. When another menu drops down, go to SPECIAL and select FIRST LINE. In the BY box, click the little "up" arrow until it says 0.5". Then hit OK and your first line of each paragraph will be indented.