Manuscript Impressions (Part 3)


That’s the ubiquitous nod to preferred layout that many market guidelines offer. It’s good advice, sure, and clear as far as it goes. But is that really all there is to your manuscript layout? What about indentation? What about white space? What about headers? Footers? Title slugs? Page numbering? And should you or should you not type “The End” at the end?

If you’ve been reading along in this series, you already know The Big Caveat, about always checking the market guidelines and doing whatever they say, regardless of what I’m telling you here. Do that, and if you still have unanswered questions, fall back on what I’m telling you here.

So we already have the basics, from the first line above. Your manuscript should be:

  1. Typed. You can do this on a typewriter, if you still have one with a good ribbon. You can print it on any sort of printer that yields clean, readable type. If you’re printing on a color printer, resist the urge to use any color other than black.
  2. Double-spaced. This means that the line spacing is double. Not one and a half, not some custom setting that you think looks better. Double. It’s easy. Do it.
  3. On one side. Do not print on both sides of the paper. It may be ecologically good practice to print on both sides, but in this case the editor does not care (unless they say so in the guidelines. But I don’t have to keep telling you that, do I?)
  4. White paper. Not cream. Not ivory. Not a rainbow-pack with different colors for each chapter. Regular weight printer paper will do just fine.
  5. One-inch margins. Again, don’t be tempted to use smaller margins to save paper, or bigger margins to make your story look longer.

All right, those are the basics. Now what about those other details?

  1. First page. Top left corner, type your name, address, email and phone. You may wish to include an approximate word count. This can go on the right, opposite the last line of your contact information. Space down to about the middle of the page. Type the title of your story, centered. Under that, centered, type your name or byline.
  2. Indentation. Indent the first line of each paragraph either 3 or 5 spaces, or set a tab or automatic indentation to one of those settings.
  3. White space. Do not include white space (an extra blank line) between paragraphs. The indentation does the job of setting your paragraphs apart.
  4. Scene breaks. You may use white space to denote a scene change, but it’s a better idea to also use a centered # or *** to make sure the break is clear. Sometimes if the break falls at the end/beginning of a page it can get lost.
  5. Justification. Left-justify your document, and leave the right edge ragged. Do not turn on full justification (having both edges of the paragraphs aligned with the margins).
  6. Headers and Footers. Turn on a proper header/footer in your word processor–don’t try to create the look of one simply by spacing or manipulating the text of the body, because it will invariably not display properly and you’ll end up with page numbers and header information interspersed in your text. Preferably in the header, right-aligned, insert this information: your last name/title of your story/page number. If your story title is long, use a reasonable abbreviation. In case your story somehow gets mixed in with one or more others on the editor’s desk, you want to make it easy to put the pieces back together.
  7. The End. It’s good practice to include some kind of indicator that your story is over, especially in case it falls at the end of a page and the editor could be left wondering if there’s a page missing. Center and type “The End” or “End”.

If you’re reading this and still wondering why all this is important, go back and re-read the first post in this series. Even if this is not the editor’s favorite layout, even if you somehow missed his or her special guideline desires, following this “standard” setup at least says that you are conducting yourself on a professional level.

If you still have questions about the layout portion of the program, if I’ve missed anything you’re wondering about, just ask in the comments. I’ll be sure to answer as best I can.

Next up: the cover letter. Whole books have been written about cover letters, but I’m going to cover the basics in one post. Hey, you have the rest of your writing career to work on the refinements.

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  1. Alright Sherry, you said to ask questions so here they are :-)

    1. Short stories – should your story begin right after your byline?

    2. How do you handle chapters with novels? Chapters with titles?

    3. How do you handle opening quotes in chapters? Such as the quotes from the Galactic Encyclopedia in Asimov’s Foundation Series, or quotes from the Orange Catholic Bible in Frank Herbert’s Dune? Is there a special name for these?

    — Chuck

  2. err I keep receiving an malfunction when attempting to skip towards the following post

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