I wrote the original version of my manuscript formatting guide in 1993, modeling it after a much older two-page guide I received from Damon Knight in 1985. Back in those days, even for those who'd made the switch to composing prose on computers, the goal of formatting was to produce a document for submission that looked as much as possible like it had sprung to life rolling through the platen of a typewriter, offspring of holy intercourse between paper, typebar, and ink ribbon.

The world of writing and publishing has changed plenty in these past seventeen, or twenty-five, or God knows how many years. A manuscript used to be the mere blueprint for a printed book or story, instructions in a coded language to the typesetter who would laboriously rework the entire thing into clean, finished type. Now the gap between manuscript and book has shrunk to the size of a computer file. Electronic submissions mean that the only physical keystroke in the life history of a given letter in a published work may well be the one executed by the author himself.

The accepted and acceptable standards of manuscript formatting have evolved to reflect this. Proportional fonts are used more and more in manuscripts, while typographical tricks that were necessary on typewriters now no longer make sense. More and more writers are submitting manuscripts that would have looked unacceptable a decade ago, and more and more editors don't mind this one bit. With the almost complete dominance of the word processor, topics like word-count approximation and end-of-line hyphenation are no longer relevant to most of us. It was long past time to update my format guide to reflect this new reality.

You old-school writers and editors, don't worry. I won't abandon my Courier font and double sentence spacing (more on that topic in a future post) without a fight. If I have my way, the manuscripts I produce fifty years from now will look the same as the ones I produce today. But I did want to acknowledge that mores are changing, and that not everyone agrees anymore about what proper manuscript format even means.

Full entry
            

A reader writes to ask:

I read your article on proper manuscript submission and found it to be very informative. I submitted my manuscript to a publisher and received an email that they would like to print but it is lacking formatting. I did not know of the correct formatting until I read your article. Question: Do I resubmit with your recommended format (courier, double spacing, etc.) for printing or do I do something else for the printing version? New at this.

The format described here on my site is intended only for manuscripts being submitted for consideration by an editor or agent. It is not a format for "camera-ready copy," which refers to the layout you see in a published book. A publisher asking you to provide a manuscript ready for printing is most likely a vanity or subsidy publisher, one that you pay out of your own pocket. In traditional commercial publishing, the publisher pays you for the right to publish your book, and then does the bulk of the work to prepare it for printing.

Commercial publishing can be hard to break into, with its complex systems of agents and editors and their rigorous ways of doing business. Getting your book published commercially can also take a very long time. What you get from a commercial publisher, though, is a certain level of professional treatment of your manuscript. If an editor likes your manuscript and wants to buy it for publication, he or she will guide you in rewriting it to make it the best and most compelling work it can possibly be. A professional copyeditor will help iron out spelling, grammar, and continuity errors. A professional typesetter will take your plain manuscript and render it in the sort of clean, beautiful format you're used to seeing in other published books. A professional marketer will, hopefully, help advertise your book in all the right places. A professional sales representative will convince bookstores to stock it, and a professional book distributor will deliver it to those stores.

Full entry
 
Looking for Bill's original properly formatted article on proper manuscript format? Click here.
Proper Manuscript Format Illustrated - Click here.
FLOG is Hugo- and Nebula-nominated author William Shunn's blog on manuscript formatting and preparation for fiction writers. It features formatting questions from real readers and writers like you. Submit your questions to format at shunn dot net. Identitying information will remain private. We regret that we can't always respond individually to submissions, and that we can't answer every question we receive.

About Publishing

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Proper Manuscript Format in the Publishing category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Poems is the previous category.

Punctuation is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.