Introduction

I  churned out the instructions that follow in a couple of hours one afternoon in late 1993 or early 1994. Being a typical angry young man without any more productive things to get angry about, I was in rather high dudgeon over the formatting errors repeatedly showing up in manuscripts submitted to Xenobia, the writing group I belonged to at the time. I wanted a document to put in front of some of my colleagues that not only explained what they were doing wrong but served as a concrete example of how to do it right.

Having learned manuscript formatting at the feet of folks like Damon Knight and Algis Budrys—and having once been chewed out by (the estimable) Mr. Budrys for submitting a single-spaced manuscript to the Clarion Workshop—I figured I had some wherewithal for speaking. In fact, this little essay of mine was a conscious (and less concise) attempt at recreating an even littler essay of Damon's which was handed to us in the course of Clarion, and which I had sadly misplaced in the years between. Damon's piece, like mine, served as its own example of all the things it taught—and did so more elegantly in much less space.

Accordingly, when recreating this document for Web consumption, I've tried my best to retain the same formatting that it had on the printed page. For that reason, the essay is spread across seven separate pages, and it uses the monospaced font configured for your browser—ideally Courier, since my text explicitly names Courier as the best font choice for your manuscript submission. (Why Courier? Wait and see . . .)

Remember as you read that what I'm saying is not absolute gospel. Other writers more successful than I would no doubt quibble with some of my details, and I've seen reference works that contradict some of my advice. (I've even updated my own advice on the subject several times, most recently in 2020.)

This is okay. The basics of what I'll tell you are sound, and I've gleaned them not just from my own experience (which may differ from yours) but also from the aforementioned Knight and Budrys, from David Farland, and from the (now largely obsolete) book Manuscript Submission by Scott Edelstein. Every professional writer does things a little differently, but when you get right down to it, their manuscripts look pretty much the same overall.

Okay, my rather lengthy and apologetic disclaimer is over. Let us press onward to unlock the secrets of proper manuscript formatting.

[proceed to Proper Manuscript Format]

Do you find this website useful? If so, please...

Also by William Shunn

 
Go deeper with More on Formatting, William Shunn’s look at advanced topics in manuscript formatting. Submit your questions to info at format dot ms. We regret that we cannot respond to all submissions individually, nor can we accept or open email attachments.