Book Manuscript Format
Book manuscript format is too frequently overlooked by many beginning writers. Of course, story is king. Nothing will help in your search for an editor or an agent if your story is weak. There must be something about the story which stands out—an essence which makes it memorable and unique. But there are some universal conventions in how you format your manuscript for submission.
These book manuscript format conventions are what make your work acceptable to an editor and presentable to the writing world, much like your personal manners and style of dress influence the opinion of the public or your peers. Consider the following as an etiquette guide for writers.
1. Your manuscript should be printed on standard, 8 ½” x 11” 20 lb paper on one side of the page only. (If you use thinner paper, it will feel cheap and if you use thicker paper, it is more difficult to handle. 20 lb paper is the standard.)
2. Double-space your manuscript and indent the paragraphs or dialogue 5 spaces. (This is the most important rule. I know you don’t want to waste paper, but double-spaced text is much easier to read quickly and editors do a lot of reading. Make it as easy as possible for them.)
3. Use a 12 point font Courier, or Times Roman. — (Check the publisher’s/agent’s guidelines before submission. Some are very old school and will not accept anything but Courier or Courier New Font. Others prefer Times Roman.)
4. Use only white paper for the manuscript and proper business stationery for the cover letter. Don’t send work in cutesy kitten envelopes etc. even if your book happens to be about kittens. The publisher will not care about your clever associations because they will not likely read the story.
5. Number your pages and include a header with your last name, a word from the title , and page number. If your busy editor drops a pile of manuscripts on the floor, or if her children rearrange them for her, you want it to be quickly reassembled in order.
6. RESEARCH. CAREFULLY. Don’t send your queries out without researching the agency or publisher. The number one reason for rejection is that the manuscript doesn’t fit the publishing house or agency. So make sure that the agency or publisher handles the kind of books you write. Consult a market guide, but also try to dig a little deeper than that. It will pay off.
7. Get names. Do not send your letter to whom it may concern or to sir or madam. Take a minute and phone the publishing house if you must to find out who you are to address your submission to. If the submission guidelines say to address the letter generically to the acquisitions editor or something similar, then this is acceptable—though it won’t hurt to take a moment to call and try to get a name.
8. When in doubt, query first. This is especially true if you are looking for an agent. If they are interested in your project, they will then request more materials (a submission package, sample, or the entire manuscript.)
9. Send only what is requested. Don’t send gifts, bribes or promotional materials with your package. Don’t send summaries for five manuscripts that you have in the drawer when they’ve only asked to see one.
10. Spend as much time and energy on your submission package as you did on your project. Make it as perfect as possible. These are your sales tools. Enlist the help of writer friends in making it perfect.
After writing and rewriting your novel, you may think that book manuscript format is a small concern. But following these simple guidelines may very well mean the difference between your book landing in the reject pile or receiving serious consideration.