How to prepare your manuscript for an agent or editor
Published: July 19, 2002
|Q: I've finished my manuscript and would like to send it to an agent or editor. While I'm satisfied with the content, I'm not sure if the text is "formatted" correctly. Are there any guidelines I should follow for manuscript presentation?|
It's important to view your manuscript as an "interview" with an unknown "boss," an editor or agent whose initial impression of you as a professional writer is based on the appearance of your manuscript. Just as you should look your best when going to a job interview, your manuscript should look its best when you're submitting it to an agent or editor. That means the manuscript should be reader friendly: inviting to look at and easy to read. Here are some tried-and-true tips that will help you achieve those goals.
Paper: Always use crisp, clean 81/2-by-11-inch, 20- or 24-pound white paper. Never send your manuscript on paper that's creased, old or yellowed.
Type: To make a good impression, always make sure the type is dark against the pristine whiteness of the sheet. Don't turn off a bleary-eyed agent or editor by presenting a sloppy manuscript that is difficult to read.
Spacing: Always double-space your manuscript. Editors and agents will not read anything single-spaced.
Precede a shift in scene or a flashback with four line spaces--or two line spaces, a cross-hatch (#) and two more line spaces.
New chapters should begin a third or halfway down the page.
Paragraphs, subheads and orphans: Indent five or six spaces when beginning a new paragraph.
Don't place subheads at the bottom of the page with no text beneath it.
Never leave "orphans"--the last word of a paragraph that appears as a single word on the following page.
Number of lines per page: An inviting, reader-friendly page should contain no more than 25 or 26 lines.
Font and size: Make sure your text is easy on the eye--use 12-point type and a serif font (Times Roman is the most common). Avoid long sections in italic type, which is more eye-straining than eye-catching.
Margins: Use 11/4-inch margins along the top, bottom and left-hand side. Use a 11/2-inch unjustified ("ragged") margin on the right-hand side--many editors and agents like to write comments there as they evaluate the manuscript.
Pagination: Number all pages consecutively, from the first page to the last: 1, 2, 3, etc. Always place the page number in the upper right-hand corner, and the name or number of the chapter, along with the title of the work, in the upper left-hand corner.
Foreign words: Italicize foreign words and phrases that have not become part of the English language. Do not italicize those that have. When in doubt, consult your dictionary or a contemporary book on American usage.
Finally, review your manuscript carefully for spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors. Such errors identify you as careless and not worth the time and attention of an agent or editor. Be sure to use your spell-check or dictionary, and consult a good grammar book whenever necessary. If time and budget allow, you might also have your manuscript edited by a professional trade book copy editor.
--Posted July 19, 2002
This month's question is answered by Jerry Gross, editor of Editors on Editing: What Writers Need to Know About What Editors Do (Grove Press). Gross, a freelance editor and "book doctor," is a frequent speaker at writers conferences.