A blog from Tonto Books, featuring musings from the publishing world and some occasional special guest appearances.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Top tips for formatting your manuscript

If you're thinking of submitting to our New Novelists competition, or sending your writing to another publisher or agent, you might find the following tips useful:

1. The first step, of course, is to get your spelling and grammar right - while the odd mistake will be overlooked and corrected in a copyedit, multiple mistakes will make the manuscript difficult to read and likely to be rejected. Refer to a good dictionary and Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.

2. Once you've got your spelling and grammar in order, there's no getting around the need to format your manuscript in a sensible font (e.g. Times New Roman 12pt) and double-space it. Don't try to be clever or quirky with this - a manuscript submitted in Comic Sans is unlikely to succeed.

3. Align text to the left margin. Don't be tempted to justify the text (stretching it between left and right margins) to make it look more like a finished book, as this makes your manuscript difficult to read.

4. Ensure there is just one space between your sentences, not two. For some reason, many writers are in the habit of hitting the spacebar twice after every full-stop. If you are one of them, you can use 'Find and Replace' to correct this.

5. Don't use bold or underline. Italics are fine, but don't overdo it - large passages of italics can be difficult to read.

6. Avoid any drop caps or other embellishments. You are not typesetting a book - that will be done by the publisher. Similarly, don't paste illustrations into your manuscript.

7. Paragraphing: Left justify the first paragraph of a scene or section. Indent subsequent paragraphs using one 'tab' key, not the space bar. Only double space between paragraphs to denote a change of scene or section. Don't paragraph every sentence. Think about how the words will be laid out on the page. If unsure about paragraphing, just pick a favourite book from your shelf and see how it's done.

8. Be consistent with your use of numbers, dates, titles, quotations etc. For example, you can spell out numbers one to ten, and use numerals for numbers 11 and up. You could use single quotation marks for quotes, and double quotation marks for quotes within quotes. You could put book, song or film titles in italics. But always be consistent.

9. Avoid using song lyrics unless you have written permission from the copyright holder. The use of song titles is fine.

10. If sending via hard copy, print onto plain white paper and don't bind your manuscript. If sending via email, save as a popular file format (e.g. .doc, .rtf) but don't 'zip' the file, and send as an attachment - don't paste it into the body of the email.

One final note is to check specific instructions given by publishers or agents. The guidelines for our New Novelists competition can be found here. Good luck.


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