In the beginning, there was a properly formatted manuscript... And the editor looked at it and said, " This is good"
[/font] Although I've never been a proponent of rules, there are a few basic ones you should keep in mind to help your brilliance shine through the murky depths of the publishers' infamous slush piles. (Which was, by the way, where both my first books for two different publishers were actually discovered a week apart.) You may have received different advice about several of these points. That's okay, since these are admittedly guidelines, not gospel. However, they've served me well for eighteen years and more than seventy books, so you may find them useful.
1. So, you're writing romance. Good for you. But that doesn't mean that you'll catch an editor's eye or win her heart with pink paper. Or paper with little hearts printed all over the background. There are, undoubtedly, a great many editors who got into the publishing business so they could someday write their own books. The only problem is, most of them are too busy reading all day and most of the night to find time to think up a story, let alone write it. If you want to bring a gleam to their poor abused, red-veined eyes, use plain white paper. 20# bond. Editors everywhere will thank you for this and one might even buy your book.
2. Okay, you've got a ream of snowy white paper (recycled now comes in bright whites, too, for those of you who fret about killing trees for your prose.) Next you need to determine a font style. Calligraphy may look nice on wedding invitations and valentine cards, but it's not right for your romance novel. Neither are any of those cool scripts that are available these days, or the program that uses your own handwriting, because hand-written notes are appropriate for correspondence with friends. And at this point, the editor is not your friend. Nor will she ever be unless you stick to the preferred Courier or something simple like Times New Roman. Something that's easy on those poor bloody eyes.
3. Proper format begins on your first page. Drop down one inch from the top, then, at the left top corner, type your name (your real name), address, and phone number. Although people will give you varying advice, I think it's okay to go ahead and put your pseudonym (if for some reason you insist on one) beneath your real name. At the top right, tell what type of book it is - contemporary, historical, time travel, regency, etc. - the setting, and the approximate word count. (Of course we all know that it's best to write the entire book before submitting a proposal, so if an editor does ask to see the entire manuscript, you'll be able to whip it right out to her before she changes publishing houses, marries an actor and moves to California, heads off to Paris to write a romance of her own, has a nervous breakdown or goes blind.)
4. Now that you've announced who you are, space down and put the title of your book and whatever name you're writing under. Some writers will tell you that this should begin about one-third the way down the page, others suggest one-half. My advice is to print the first page out both ways and see which one appears more pleasing to you.
5. The following pages will all carry a header. I put mine half an inch from the top of the page, with the title and my name on the left side, the page number on the top right. Some writers prefer to leave off the page numbers off entirely, adding them after printout with a felt tip pen, which avoids having to make corrections if you change something midway through the book that throws the numbers off. Whichever you decide, no editor will reject a manuscript with felt tip numbering. She will, however, be very irritated if the pages all fall apart while she's reading on the subway home at the end of a very long day and the page numbers aren't on every page in some fashion.) There should be two spaces separating your header from the first line of type on each page.
6. Left, right and bottom margins are all one inch. I've known writers who try to squeeze in more words than requested by narrowing the margins. I've also known editors to actually pull out a ruler if they're suspicious.
7. Granted, full justification looks prettier, but the justification of your manuscript should be to the left. It's easier for editors to determine word count and final justification is the typesetter's job.
8. All manuscripts are double-spaced. This is written in stone. No options.
9. Double double space between scenes. Some writers and editors like to use a # in the center of the page to make the break stronger.
10. Although often first words in a book or chapter are in larger type or indented more than five spaces, all your lines should be the same size type and five space tabulation is the rule.
11. There has been a lot of arguing about whether or not to put two spaces or one after a period now that manuscripts are written on computers and often typeset directly from our diskettes. I've used two spaces for several publishers and have never heard a word of complaint.
12. And finally, at the end of your story, although I usually forget this part, it's best to drop down 3-4 lines, then type THE END.
Contest rules usually specify standard manuscript format, which means double-spaced, one-inch margins all the way around, Courier 12 point, non-proportional font or equivalent, standard headers with book title on the left side, and the page number on the right.
Let’s take fonts, for example. Debates have raged for years over whether one’s manuscript should be printed using a Courier or a Times New Roman font. Over the course of my career, I’ve written books for several major publishers, and to tell you the truth, I’ve never known a single one who cared whether you used a Courier or a Times New Roman font or some other font, as long as it was legible (warning: you really won’t do yourself any favors if you think BuxomD is appropriate for a romance or Shotgun for a western).
For my first several manuscripts, I used a Letter Gothic font, because that was the only font ball I had for my typewriter (we didn’t have personal computers then). No publisher ever sent me a rejection letter telling me I had used the wrong font. In fact, to this day, the subject of fonts has never even come up. From Letter Gothic, I moved on to Palatino; my publishers never said a word. Nor did they speak up when I eventually switched to Century Schoolbook, then finally to Times New Roman.