How to Submit Your Manuscript


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from the website: Freelanceonline

What format should I use for a manuscript?


All of the following rules can be broken. However, any time you break one of them, you run the risk of irritating an editor. To quote Strunk and White:

"It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation. Unless he is certain of doing as well, he will probably do best to follow the rules."


Manuscripts should be typed in black ink using a new ribbon or printed on a daisy wheel, ink-jet or laser printer. Never write or print a manuscript by hand. Each page must be doubled-spaced (one blank line between each line of type) and each side must have at least a one-inch margin. Use white medium-weight business letter-sized paper (either 8-1/2 x 11 or A4) and type or print only on one side. Once the manuscript is typed or printed, do not staple, bind, or otherwise attach the pages to one another.


What font should I use?

A manuscript is not an opportunity to show off your elaborate desktop publishing system. Many publishers specify a font or type size in their writer's guidelines and only a fool would ignore such a requirement. Editors read vast numbers of pages and anything that strains their eyesight gets a deserved toss toward the reject pile.

If no font is suggested then the writer should choose one that does not distract from the writing. Serif fonts, which have slight projections to finish off the stroke in each letter, are been proven to be easier on the eyes than san-serif fonts, which resemble block printing.

Whether the font is proportional or monospaced also affects how easy it is to read. With proportional fonts such as Times, the individual characters vary in width ("w" is wider than "i.") With monospaced fonts such as Courier, all characters are the same width. Proportional fonts make a manuscript look more like a book and allow more words per page but monospaced fonts give editors a more accurate feel for the space required by the piece.

Size also matters, at least for fonts. The usual size is "12 point" (also referred to as "10 pitch" or "pica.") Pitch refers to the number of characters per inch. Point size refers to the relative height of the font; a point is a typographical measurement very close to 1/72nd of an inch. Anything smaller than 12 point or 10 pitch and editors might strain to read the words; anything bigger and editors may assume that you are disguising a too-short article.

Although any legible font might be acceptable, the safest choice is Courier 12. Work printed in Courier 12 closely resembles typewritten work. Familiarity with Courier allows editors to quickly extract word count and other important information from manuscripts printed in it.

1.2 What about photocopies?

If you submit a photocopy, make sure it's clean and clear; it also doesn't hurt to explicitly mark it "Not a Simultaneous Submission" (if this is the truth), as some editors assume photocopies are simultaneous. NEVER submit your only copy of a manuscript; tragedies do happen. Photocopy the manuscript, back up the disk. Not vice versa.


1.3 How should I format the first page and following pages?

First page header:


I. Wanna Write                                         Approx. 2000 words
1000 Maple Street
Anytown, USA 00000

(about 1/3 of the way down the page)

Title of Story


Ima Pseudonym


(Note that you use your real name, not your pseudonym, as the return address; the publisher wants to know who will be endorsing the check.)

Other additions to the header about which there is some debate:

  • Your Social Security number (Pro: Aids publishers in record keeping when they cut you a check. Con: If they need it, they'll ask for it.)
  • A copyright notice (Pro: May be useful in establishing legal claims to ownership of your work, should problems arise. Con: "This is a mark of the amateur; editors have better things to do than steal story ideas.")
  • Membership in writers' professional organizations -- SFFWA, SCBWI, et al. (Pro: Gets editors' attention in the slushpile. Con: Doesn't help, doesn't hurt.)
  • Rights offered (more important for articles/stories than for books)


Second-through-final page headers:


Writer's name/Title of Story                           Page X


This shouldn't take up more than one line; shorten the title to fit. Manuscripts *do* get dropped; if you identify every page, you reduce the odds of your story's being re-collated with the last third of "Marshmallow Mud Maidens from Madagascar". (Richard Curtis, the renowned agent, feels it's a mistake to include the story title in the page header, since this requires you to retype or reprint the entire manuscript if you change the title.)


1.4 How should I indicate that the last page of my manuscript is the last page?

It may also be a good idea to put an "end of story" marker on the last page. Use "# # END # #", "--FIN--", or anything else you're confident the editor won't mistake for part of the story. (Some people think that this marker is amateurish.)


1.5 How much of my manuscript should I include?

Research the rules of the market you're submitting to. For short fiction (less than 20,000 words), you normally submit the entire manuscript. For novel-length fiction, many publishers perfer to receive a couple of sample chapters and an outline; if the publisher likes your sample, he/she will request the remainder of the book.

Publishers won't normally commit to buying a manuscript from an unknown writer until they've seen the whole thing. DON'T submit a portion of an unfinished book, unless you are certain that you can finish the book very quickly (within a month) if the publisher expresses interest.


1.6 How do I format a picture book? What about illustrations?

Children's picture books are normally assembled by the publisher, who buys a manuscript, then assigns an artist to create the drawings. Historically, most publishers have strongly perferred *not* to receive manuscripts with illustrations; the feeling has been that it was too difficult to accept one part of the package and reject the other. Author-illustrators generally earned their spurs by illustrating the works of others, and were then allowed to create their own books. Some publishers are beginning to accept (but not perfer) complete packages; check *Writer's Market* to find suitable candidates.

If you are submitting an unillustrated manuscript for a picture book, you should generally not attempt to indicate page breaks, double-page spreads, etc., or give detailed illustration suggestions, as these are the book designer's and illustrator's domain. Anything that you want to appear in the picture should be part of the text. One obvious exception to this rule is irony: if the text reads "Irene's room was always tidy", you're allowed to insert a note like "(Illustrator: the room is actually a pit.)"

As always, you should read many different picture books to get a feeling for the strengths and limitations of the format. Bear in mind that picture books are almost invariably 32 or 48 pages long, including title page and other front matter.


1.7 How should I format a poetry submission?

According to the _Writer's Market, 1997 edition, poems are submitted one to a page. The format is single-spaced with two lines between stanzas.



1.8 How do I count the number of words in my manuscript?

Start at the beginning. Point at the first word and say "One." Point at the second word and say "Two." Repeat, increasing the count by one integer for each word at which you point. <g>

Now, some more professional answers:

  1. You could use the "Word Count" feature of your word processor. Note that all word processors do not use the same algorithm to compute this--Word may give a different figure than WordPerfect.
  2. You can multiply the number of pages in the manuscript by 250. This gives a very rough estimate.
  3. Figure that 1.5 typewritten/computer-printed pages equal one page of a book (another rough estimate)
  4. Count the words on five random pages of the manuscript. Find the average number of words per page (divide the count by five) then multiply this number by the number of pages in the manuscript.

You will be paid by the publisher's word-count, not yours; the publisher's algorithm may differ. (And padding word-count is like double-parking in front of Police Headquarters; you *will* get caught.)


1.9 What are the standard word counts for novels, short stories, et cetera?

  • 0 - 250 words: Flash or sudden fiction
  • 0 - 2,000 words: Short-short story
  • 2,000 - 10,000 words: Short story
  • 10,000 - 40,000 words: Novella
  • 50,000 - infinity (or durned close to it): Novel

A good length for a novel (by consensus of this newgroup) is 80,000 words.

Certain genre publishers require a maximum word count because they produce a standardized paperback. Follow these requirements.


1.10 What is the best length for a chapter?

It depends. Although chapters of a standard length (4,000 words, say) may be easier to outline, plan, count, and edit, there are no rules on chapter length. It is easy to find huge novels divided into 20 or fewer chapters and very slim novels with 45 or more divisions.

When to end a chapter and begin another one is one of the factors of story-telling. Sometimes a chapter closes where a story would end: following a brief cooldown after a crisis resolution. This gives a feeling of accomplishment for the reader and a sense of intermission.

Sometimes the chapters close before the resolution of a crisis, or after the introduction of the next crisis. These chapter breaks give a sense of suspense--that events are crowding in on the reader.

Sometimes chapters are kept consistent in length to establish a rhythm. Sometimes chapters vary greatly in length, giving the reader a sense of a kaleidoscopic world. Other times, chapters end and begin with a change in Point Of View, the scene's setting in time or space, or at a radical change in mood.

All depends on what suits the needs of your story.