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05.07.2011 19:51    Comments: 0    Categories: Fiction Elements  Fiction Writing  Manuscript  Writing Craft  Writing Tips      Tags: crawford kilian  manuscript format  

Once your book appears in print, your publisher will return your manuscript as “dead matter.” At that point it's of interest only to future Ph.D. candidates. But when it first arrives in the publisher's office, it ought to look as inviting, clean and professional as you can make it. You want to make sure it's as readable (and correctable) as possible; don't give the editor an excuse to reject you because you make her eyes hurt, and she can't even find room to insert proper spelling.

Ideally, you'll submit your manuscript in laser-printed form. If you can't afford that, then use an inkjet printer (used with good bond paper, it's almost as good as laser), a good dot-matrix printer, or an electric typewriter. If your dot-matrix printer has a pale ribbon and you can't replace it, make a darker photocopy of the original printout.

Consider your choice of font. A sans serif font is legible but not readable--that is, you can recognize a word or phrase quickly, but reading page after page would be exhausting. A boldface font is even worse. A serif font is more readable, so by all means choose one for the body of your manuscript text. Point size is also important. For the Mac, 12-point Times isn't bad, and it lets you put a lot of text on one page. But 14-point Times is more readable.

(This issue, by the way, recently kicked up a big fuss in this newsgroup; some people argued that only a monospace font was acceptable. I finally phoned Del Rey Books to see if they preferred a monospace font like Courier, or a more flexible font. The editor I talked to obviously thought I was bonkers; they don't much care as long as they can read the manuscript.)

Paper should be standard 8.5x11, 20 lb. white bond. If you use fanfold paper in a dot-matrix printer, make sure it's reasonably heavy. (You will of course separate each page and remove the strips on the sides.) Give yourself a margin of at least an inch top and bottom, and an inch or an inch and a half on the sides. Double-space your text. Do not put an extra double-space between paragraphs, unless you want a similar gap on the printed page to indicate a change of scene or passage of time. Indent each paragraph about half an inch. If you are using a font with letters that take up variable amounts of space, a single space after a period is enough. If you are using a typewriter or a monospace font, two spaces are better. Either way, a single space should follow every comma, semicolon, and colon. If you can, use an “em dash” with no spaces between the dash and the surrounding words. Two hyphens -- are an acceptable substitute. Underline text only if you cannot italicize it.

Do not use a right-justified margin! It may look tidy, but it creates gaps between words that make reading hard. Avoid hyphenations. Also avoid “widows and orphans”--that is, a paragraph that begins on the last line of a page, or a paragraph that ends on the first line the following page. Most word processors can kick such paragraphs onto the next page. This may create huge lower margins, but it's better than breaking a paragraph.

Be sure that each page displays a plain Arabic numeral in the upper right-hand corner. Otherwise, don't bother with a header. They're not going to scatter your ms. or lose the title page. And when you send it in, don't bind it in a cute cover. Send it loose, in a typing-paper box. Make sure you have at least two copies on disk (in separate locations) or a photocopy. In 1979 I sent half a manuscript (240 pages, a year's work) to my editor in New York; he sent it back a couple of months later, but I'm still waiting for it. Fortunately I had a carbon copy.

The publisher may want you to send along a disk with the manuscript on it, as well as the hard copy. When I did that recently, I found that the editor just poured my files into a new font and layout and sent me the page proofs for correction. That meant all the mistakes I found were my own; I couldn't blame some clumsy typesetter. This is the downside of the computer revolution, folks.

  1. Developing Efficient Work Habits
  2. Elements Of A Successful Story
    • In the opening...
    • In the body of the story...
    • In the conclusion...
    • Throughout the story...
  3. Style: Checklist For Fiction Writers
  4. Manuscript Format
  5. Storyboarding
  6. Ten Points on Plotting
  7. The Story Synopsis
  8. Understanding Genre: Notes on the Thriller
  9. Symbolism and all that
    • The Natural Cycle
    • The Natural Versus the Human World
    • The Hero's Quest: Mysterious or unusual birth
    • Symbolic Images
    • Symbolic Characters
  10. Narrative Voice
  11. Constructing a Scene
  12. Show And Tell: Which Is Better?
  13. Character In Fiction
    • The Character Resume
  14. “Let's Talk About Dialogue,” He Pontificated
    • Some Dialogue Conventions to Consider:
  15. Writing A Query Letter About Your Novel
    • The Letter Itself
  16. Researching Publishers and Agents
  17. Reading a Contract
    • Delivery Of Satisfactory Copy
    • Permission for Copyrighted Material
    • Grant Of Rights
    • Proofreading and Author's Corrections
    • Advances and Royalties
    • Author's Warranties and Indemnities
    • Copies to Author
    • Option Clause
    • Going Out of Print
    • A Word of Advice


About the Author


Crawford Kilian was born in New York City in 1941. He moved to Canada in 1967 and now resides in Vancouver B.C. Crawford has had twelve science fiction and fantasy novels published. He has been nominated for an Aurora Award 3 times for his novels Eyas, Lifter and Rogue Emperor- A Novel of the Chronoplane Wars. His latest contribution to SF is a non-fiction book for would-be SF writers called Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. Crawford has two more novels in the works.

To learn more about him, visit his blog at: http://crofsblogs.typepad.com/fiction/

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