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08.07.2011 15:27    Comments: 0    Categories: Writing Craft  Manuscript  Writing Tips      Tags: manuscript format  manuscript  format  

Okay, this is an easy one. So much of writing is subjective -- my preferences are not necessarily the same as someone else's, nor are they necessarily right or wrong. But writing professionals (agents, editors, publishers and so on) generally agree with the following guidelines:


  • The manuscript must be typed or computer-generated. No handwritten submissions, regardless of how wonderful your handwriting.
  • Use clean, white 8 1/2 by 11 inch unlined paper of average thickness. No onion skin and no card stock. And, please, no cute graphics or pretty flowers. Keep it professional.
  • Use an easy to read font, preferably COURIER or TIMES NEW ROMAN. Nothing cute, nothing fancy. Just ordinary type font easy on the eyes. The preferred font size is 12.
  • Left adjust the print. Do not right adjust, center or fill the line to force a right flush.
  • Leave at least a one inch margin on all sides -- top, bottom, left and right -- of the print.
  • Double space.
  • If you have carefully followed the above suggestions, you should average 250 words per page. The reason for this is not so you can destroy the environment by wasting trees, but so the writing professional can read your work without a migraine and have plenty of space to make corrections, comments and suggestions in the margins and between the lines.
  • Indent each paragraph 5 spaces (1/2 inch). Do not skip a line between paragraphs.
  • Do not leave a line between scenes. Instead, center asterisks, dashes, or dots to show the line was intentionally left blank.
  • Unless your manuscript is a submission for a contest with different instructions, put the name of the manuscript and your name, separated by a slash, on the upper left corner of every page (you may skip the first page, if the author name and info is included on the page). Example of how this should look: Living the Legacy / Tritt
  • Again, unless otherwise instructed, put the word "page" and the page number (and do use a number, not the number spelled out), on the upper right corner of each page.
  • Unless otherwise instructed, do not staple the pages. For small manuscripts, use a paper clip. For larger ones, put in an appropriately sized box and do not bind at all.
  • Spell check. No matter how few words you've added or changed, run spell check one more time.
  • Never send the only copy of your work.
  • Verify that all pages are included and that all are in readable condition. Copiers have a keen sense of humor and will eat your work, or better yet, substitute a blank or partially written page instead of the real thing. Do not trust them.
  • Include a cover letter, unless requested not to. It can be short, simple and to the point, but should include the author's full name and address, telephone number with best time to call, and email address. It should give the name of the manuscript, the approximate word count and a statement as to why you are sending it. (Be specific. If for publication in a magazine, list the magazine name. If for a contest, list the contest name and end date. If for a critique, say so. Many writing professionals dabble in multiple endeavors and don't like to figure out which one you are referring to.) You may also mention the reason for writing and anything else pertinent or special about the manuscript or the author (it is based on a true story or the author is twelve years old). Give special instructions, such as if you do not want the manuscript returned. Do not get carried away; a cover page should never exceed one page and should be single spaced.
  • If a query is enclosed, it should take the place of the cover letter. A query should have one paragraph about the manuscript, one paragraph about the author (include any awards, special qualifications and publishing history) and one paragraph about what you want (representation, published) and what you are willing do to get it (book-signings, speeches, sacrifice your firstborn). Don't try to be funny. It's almost guaranteed that the professional won't share your sense of humor and will send you straight to the rejection pile.
  • Include a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Be sure to include ample postage, enough for the professional to add three or four pages of her own in addition to your manuscript. If you live in a different country than the recipient, do not adhere the postage. Instead, paper clip international reply coupons (available at any post office) or enough money to completely cover the postage. This should be noted on the cover page.
  • If a fee is required, send a check or money order, never cash. Again, if you live in a different country than the recipient, send a money order in the recipient's country's funds. For example, if you live in Canada and you are sending to a U.S. address, get a money order payable in U.S. funds. Most banks, post offices and -- last resort -- international airports, can handle this transaction for a small fee.
  • Never pay an agent or publisher, unless you are well aware of exactly what you will receive for your money. Legitimate agents and publishers do not charge reading fees. Likewise, be wary of an agent or publisher who recommends a specific book doctor or editor. It is likely that there is a kick-back involved and you'll be paying for it.
  • Double check everything before mailing, including the recipient's address. Seal, drop in the mailbox and say a prayer.


There are entire books devoted to manuscript formats and submission, but these are the basics. Unless you need specific information or guidance for writing a query letter, you should be fine.


Remember, you will never be published (or win a contest) if you don't take that first step and make a submission. Rejection, however uncomfortable, is not fatal.


About the Author


(c) copyright by Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved, except for those listed here. These pages may be reproduced for educational purposes (such as for writer's workshops), as long as this copyright notice and the url: http://tritt.wirefire.com are distributed with the pages. For use in conferences or other uses not mentioned here, please contact Sandy Tritt at Sandy@InspirationForWriters.com for

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