I still prefer the old-fashioned ‘manuscript’ to the modern ‘typescript’ (which, technically speaking perhaps should have evolved once more into ‘printscript’ anyway!) Although I was always took some care with the way I set my manuscript out before submitting, it was never that high a priority and I always assumed that if someone liked the story enough they wouldn’t care what the actual pieces of paper and typing looked like. After all, one of my favourite authors, Scott Fitzgerald, used to submit atrocious manuscripts and he seemed to do okay!
To some extent that’s true, Particularly if you write something brilliant and it grabs the reader from the first line. But how many of us are that good? How many of us, instead, are trying to elbow our way past hundreds of other writers of a similar ability, hoping to catch the eye of an editor who is looking for reasons to weed out as many MSS as she can to make her final choice easier?
Here are a few tips:
- The basics – use a 12 point standard font, double spaced, printed on one side of the page only
- Make a title page. My method is – title in the middle, your name below, number of words below that. (For age children’s books, the target age group also.) Postal address and other contact details in the bottom left corner. Title pages aren’t usually counted as page 1. It isn’t obvious how to stop it from being page 1 in Word, but it can be done!
- Don’t insert line spaces between paragraphs. Line spaces in publishing denote a formal break in the chapter. Simply indent the first line of a paragraph. Just to make things complicated, for some reason the first line of a new chapter (and after a line space within a chapter) isn’t usually indented
- Always start a new chapter on a new page
- Leave a bit of extra space at the start of a new chapter. Among other things it’s useful space for editors to make notes to the author and, if it’s going forward for publication, others involved in the process. I start mine about a quarter to a third of the way down.
- Some writers use headers or footers with the title and/or their name on every page. It’s a good idea because pages can easily go astray. However, I’ve never bothered and I’ve never had any complaints!
- Number pages sequentially from start to finish. It might sound obvious but I had one MS where each new chapter started at p1 again. Sod’s law dictated that it was the only MS I ever accidentally dropped from a height (well, I was trying to read it while on my exercise bike…). I then spent many happy hours grovelling on the floor trying to work out which page 3 belonged to which chapter etc
- This perhaps applies more to non-fiction and children’s writing – don’t include illustrations. They almost certainly won’t be used unless you (or your best mate, as it often is) are a professional artist, and even then it’s far from guaranteed. Publishers choose artists from their own database. It’s fine to raise the subject when you submit – which also applies to maps and photographs if it’s non-fiction.
- There is some debate about this, but my personal view (reinforced for me by a very experienced editor) is to submit your MS in as simple a form as possible. Don’t bind the pages in any way: this applies to the whole MS but also includes keeping chapters separate with paperclips etc. I recommend using nothing more than an elastic band to keep everything together, or a paperclip if it’s a very short MS such as a poem, short story or children’s work. I don’t recommend using cardboard or plastic folders etc, although as I say that seems to be a moot point.
- That’s it.
But it brings me on neatly to the actual content of your precious MS. Scott Fitzgerald’s MSS were, as I say, pretty bad, with lots of spelling mistakes, crossings outs and so forth. (But then, he was an alcoholic…) Does it matter if yours is like that? You’ll have to wait until the next thrilling episode to find out.