Cheating the format | Proper Manuscript Format | William Shunn

Cheating the format

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A reader writes to ask:

I'm getting close to done writing a manuscript, set to your specs for 250 words per page, and it's threatening to break 600 manuscript pages (about 150k, assuming no half-pages). That's going to be a heavy stack of paper when I get it printed out. There seems to be some empty room on the pages as it stands, and I'm thinking of squeezing it into 500 words per page by increasing the line length and quantity, just so I can save some trees. Would you recommend for or against this plan? Do you have any other suggestions for my big stack dilemma?

I can sympathize with your desire to reduce your big stack, if not for environmental reasons then at least to keep postage costs in check. But when you look into your heart of hearts I'm sure you know what I'm going to tell you. Six hundred pages for a 150,000-word manuscript sounds just about right.

I've examined the sample page you sent along with your question, and honestly it looks perfectly fine to me. You're using a 12-point Courier font. You're averaging about 60 characters per line, which tells me that your left and right margins are set properly. You have 25 lines of text on the page, plus a header, which means the top and bottom margins are good. In short, you're doing everything right. You're just having a hard time digesting the fact that your manuscript is so big.

Your options for making it smaller are limited. You need to give up the idea of getting 500 words on a page. No way can you accomplish that. You'd have to switch to single-spacing, and no one wants to read a single-spaced manuscript. You could cheat the margins a little, or make the font a little smaller, or adjust the line spacing enough to squeeze another line or two onto each page, but none of those tricks is going to buy you much, at least without making it obvious that you're trying to mess with the formatting. This will not incline most agents and editors to look favorably upon your submission.

There is one thing you can do to reduce your big stack problem, and one thing only: change your font from Courier to Times New Roman. I don't recommend it myself, as you'll know if you've studied much of my site, but since Times New Roman is a narrower font the switch will reduce the size of your manuscript by about a quarter, to maybe 450 pages. If you can live with that, go for it.

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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.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 7, 2011 7:44 AM.

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