A recurring question posed to me concerns how to format a manuscript. I have three answers, depending on the author’s objective and where they are within their writing process:
- If the author is in the creative phase, it doesn’t matter how s/he formats the work. Whatever spurs you to write is as good as anything else. Cursive fonts, purple ink, beige parchment paper: it’s fine.This also applies if you want to create an “advance copy” of your manuscript to share with friends or family. I would suggest, however, inclusion of page numbers in the off-chance that someone prints a hard-copy of the manuscript since it’s easy for loose pages to get jumbled.
- If you are in the critique phase (such as our weekly Writers Workshops), virtually any format remains acceptable as long as it affords readability — in other words, avoid overly-expressive fonts and cramming too many words densely onto a page. To facilitate feedback, page numbers are essential.If you are requested to provide a specific number of “pages,” it is expected that an average page will contain about 250 words (equivalent to an 8.5″x11″ page with 1″ margins of double-spaced type in Times New Roman font).
Also note, if you are looking for grammatical and/or editing feedback, use of a standard “publisher’s format” will be beneficial to reviewers (see next item).
- For those looking for an agent, publisher, or credibility as an author who-knows-what-they-are-doing, you must use standard formatting. Yes, this means the creativity of your work must shine through in the words, not fancy formatting.Also, if you are submitting your material to an editor, the first thing they’ll likely do is reformat your manuscript into their preferred standard. You earn respect — and potentially save money — if you abide by the universal standard in this case.
So what is the universal standard that editors, agents, and publishers want to see? Rather than type it up myself, I’ll point you to another editor’s excellent blog post on the subject (thank you, Beth Hill):
If you have questions about grammar, punctuation, or style conventions, use the “Chicago Style Guide” (online Q&A is free):
More on the subject of the Chicago Style Guide likely to come in a subsequent post.