Some Real Basics
Yup, doesn’t get any more basic than that, but so many newer writers have no clue what that even is.
So I made it a requirement of The Great Challenge. I will count your story but not read it if you don’t have your story sent to me in a doc or docx attached file in manuscript format.
A simple Google search will get you what it looks like. In fact, go to this link and there is even a picture of the first page of a manuscript exactly.
I found that link and others with a two second Google search. Oh, the horror…
Point, I do not need courier font, any decent clear font will do. I tend to use New York. If the font looks too small, I bump it to 14 point because readability is more important.
A couple hints… Paragraphs must have indents. And white spaces between paragraphs in fiction means time jump or scene jump.
WHY IS THIS EVEN NEEDED…
First off, it is a simple thing that makes you look professional. Duh. It is sometimes the simple things that make a large difference.
Second, the name and address stuff at the top is flat critical. How are we supposed to get a hold of you???
The folks at WMG get mad at me or Kris or any other Fiction River editor who buys a story that is not in manuscript format, with the email at the top left under the name and phone and address.
Why put your name under the title?? Because we write the check to the name in the upper left at the top of the page, we publish the story with the name under the title.
Word count upper right is critical and as an editor one of the first things I glance at. Editors often buy for word count and I want to know the feeling of pacing I should be having when reading a 2,500 word story or an 8,000 word story.
So this first week of challenge, even though I stated it clearly in the rules, I didn’t read a number of stories for manuscript format reasons.
And I didn’t read another because the entire thing didn’t have a paragraph. (Or at least any indents.)
And scanned another one or two because of no depth, all talking heads in the opening.
But still I read some wonderful stories this first week. Great reading. Great fun.
So get the basics correct, folks, when you are sending off your work anywhere. Look and act like a professional.
And yes, a few more spots open in both challenges, novel or short story, and you can start at any time.
Wow. How can anyone who claims to be a writer not be aware of standard manuscript format? I wonder whether that knowledge started going away with the advent of indie publishing? Still, “indie” should never equate with “unprofessional”.
Thanks for the tip about New York font. I’ve always used Georgia for the same reason: readability.
It’s interesting that you mention the m/s format because I’ve used it for short stories that I’ve sent you on various assignments and I’ve wondered if any of it is a hangover from the old days of typesetting. For example, to prep my m/s in this format, I have to change italics to underline, which presumably someone would have to change back again to format the m/s for printing.
I can see the point of double-spacing for readability and to leave room for handwritten notes but do you think that any of the items are now out of date?
Julie, everything goes to professional appearance and readability.
When I submit to short story markets (paper submission or attached .doc file) I always follow their submission guidelines.
If they don’t have any specific guidelines, I format everything the same way I format for ebooks. In my case (for example) 1.5 line spacing, paragraphs indented by .15″, no extra space before or after paragraphs, etc. (If it’s a submission, add the word count and all the header info at the top of the first page, of course.)
This is not a suggestion. It’s just what works for me. The only suggestion is always make your submission look professional and easy to read.
Hi Harvey – I understand that we need to submit m/ss that look professional and are readable but my question really is whether there’s there any tension between the ‘professional format’ that we’ve inherited from the old days of physical typesetting, and the format that publishers would want now if they were inventing the format from scratch? Are there some aspects of ‘looking professional’ in a m/s that publishers would rather ditch because they no longer serve their function?
Another example is indenting the first line of the first para of a new scene. They’ll all end up needing that indenting removed when the story is published, and yet the indenting doesn’t make them more readable. I wonder if the only reason it looks professional is that that’s how it’s always been done, rather than that there’s any sense in doing it now.
But I’m not a publisher and maybe I just don’t understand the process of converting a m/s to a published format.
Julie, it is a simple point to do the formatting these days, so you as a writer don’t need to worry about the publisher. They know how to take a regular manuscript and move it into their house style easily.
Conflicts from the very old to now. Use Italics these days instead of underlining. That is a change. And use actual computer word count instead of the old counting method. That is a change.
Adding your email to your name and address at the top is a change. Also add in your web site URL in that address block and make sure your phone number is there as well. (Not a change.)
Thanks, Dean. Useful to know that the underlining isn’t necessary any more.
What Dean said. Plus, about removing the indentation from the first line of a new scene or chapter, I assume you mean the unindented and maybe drop-capped opening chapter/scene sentence. If that’s what you mean, that will go per publishing-house style. Or if you’re an indie publisher, per your style. That would have nothing to do with how the writer prepares the manuscript itself.
Hi Harvey – I thought all books (and publishers) didn’t indent the first line of a chapter/scene? When I’m writing I follow that rule but when prepping a m/s have to add an indent to fit the traditional m/s style.
Yup, I’ve been using this style format since I started submitting short stories back in the early 90s (at age 13). I still submit shorts to traditional markets, per your advice, and I have to think adherence to a pro format goes a long way in having an editor actually read your work.
Word even has this now as a standard format.
I’ve found this template useful as well. It’s the same site as you linked above.
It’s a Word file you can download that has the formatting built into the first page, headers for subsequent pages, and a macro that can update the word count.
If you write in scrivener you can use the short story format and once you’ve filled in all the data it automatically puts the story into standard manuscript format when you export it.
For me personally formatting stuff drives me crazy and I take any short cuts available. Less time formatting more time writing
Maree, I just have a simple Word doc temp. Open it, rename it and off I go. Very simple and the same every time.
I wonder if what you’re comfortable with depends on how long you’ve been submitting fiction to markets. I’m still writing in 12pt Roman with 1.13 line spacing (Word’s default) like I have done for decades in my job and other writing and to submit a story I have to convert everything to m/s format, which just looks weird to me.
I find it very hard to look at double-spaced text in a monospaced font such as Courier (where each character takes up the same horizontal space) and imagine it as book-text which has normal leading and variable-width fonts. If I was writing in the professional style from the get-go, I’d have trouble in seeing whether I was producing monster paragraphs, for example, because everything looks twice the length.
When I first started trying to write fiction, I formatted the page margins and font size and leading to look like an actual book so that I could get a better idea of how it would look, because even my usual method made it a bit difficult.
I wouldn’t want to write within a professional m/s template for that reason. It’s useful to know how to convert text later, though!
And Julie, with all you describe, even if you got through the editor, you have no idea how much those in publishing houses have sworn at you without you knowing. Everything you describe has to be undone by someone, fixed, worked into different format for the house style. Where the production folks already know how to do it from straight manuscript format.
And honestly, with my bad eyes, I would never even attempt to read what you described if you sent it to me as an editor. I would just form reject it back. 12pt basically single-spaced is unreadable.
And by the way, that Word default is set up for nonfiction, which also has a default of an extra line between paragraphs.
Plus, I know you think it stupid, but a lot of us editors print out stories when we are buying them to work on them, make notes to house production, and so on. That is also what manuscript format is for. For that reason alone I would never buy one of your stories in that condition you describe.
But if you are indie and not selling to magazines or anthologies, makes no difference at all. It’s your house, your style.
Hi Dean – I don’t think I expressed myself well. To submit a story, I’d put my m/s into the traditional m/s format. It’s only when I’m actually in the process of writing that I use my own format, and then I convert it to the trad form later. I understand that the double-spacing is for readability as an editor (it’s the same in non-fiction academia if you’re submitting anything to an editor), and would always follow what’s expected.
This is the classic page I refer people to, showing the standard manuscript format.
I use simple text editors like TextEdit or Bean to generate pages. It is a faster load than Word and gives you all the benefits of a computer without so many unnecessary options. I’ve set up a template in rtf to write using classic format. It is a tool, just like a saw or hammer. It scares me how many people blow off the format as “out of date”.
There is real power in starting the writing with a half page drop, and double spacing the story. Even if you never send the story out to someone else. It’s seeing the story fill a page, page after page, that lets you get a sense of how the prose flows.
– The example Dean mentions of retyping prose from somebody like Koontz, in manuscript format, helps get a sense of how he sees the page.
Seeing the prose in the same format and font while writing it, your eyes miss simple errors. They skim right over repeated words like “the the”, etc… When you pour the prose into a different format and font, those nits leap out when it comes time to copy edit the text.
BTW, When you copy edit, don’t forget to have your computer read the text out loud as you look at it. If you do a page at a time, throughout the day, nits show up quickly without overwhelming you.
We used to do that at work when checking plan sets. One person would read the prose out loud while the other looked at the page, catching the nits.
It’s funny, I was just griping the other day about how many indies conduct themselves. I was mentioning that a huge benefit to selling Avon for almost ten years before going FT as a self-publisher was that very thing. I learned proper business etiquette so learning to format a manuscript for sending it off was the first thing I did. My editor thanked me for that formatting the first time we were chatting with one another to see if we’d work well together. It saddens me that many believe just because they can so easily edit and publish on their own that they shouldn’t learn the basics. The basics will never go out of style, and will always set us apart from the crowd.
Skill building is a process whether you’re writing a fanfic, or a patent application, or a short story for paying markets. Give us indies a bit of credit there. I’m glad your own learning curve has been so smooth and seamless, but that’s not the case for most of us. Many of us started writing for fun, not for profit. My first submission, a SS to a publisher, was definitely NOT in a proper MS format, yet they liked it and encouraged me to send more. When I was ready to send a novel, I asked about the format. They told me, but that was a house preference, and I still didn’t know the proper MS format.
Four years in, I did the fun and fabulous Anthology Workshop and was promptly directed to Google “Manuscript Format.” That’s what I now use. Enterpereurs generally don’t learn skills until they need them. Writing in MS format is an industry specific convention just like writing “one claim per sentence” is a specialized industry convention for people who write patents. Yet many inventors invent useful stuff without knowing how to write a patent application. (If they know what’s good for them, they’ll learn, just like writers.) I am sure you had no intention of coming across as high-handed, but please keep in mind that skill building is a process, and that’s what we’re here for.
I once submitted a book to a small publisher that was brand new. She had a huge list of how to submit your partial manuscript, don’t remember everything but I had to go in and reset the margins to some bizarre setting, I’ve never used since, put it all in courier (ugh), and manually make sure that each period had 2 spaces after. I think she wanted some weird paper too, maybe that almost see-through kind. Anyway I was told if I followed all her bizarre rules she would give you notes about it. The tacky women never responded. Since then I’ve seen many places have their own rules. If there is a standard manuscript format, a lot of people don’t like it. Maybe because it doesn’t look like it was typeset by Gutenberg himself?