When I was working in the acquisitions department of a publishing house several years ago, I was constantly amazed by the ways in which new authors would submit their manuscripts. Too often, writers will forget that the submission of a manuscript to a publisher is a professional undertaking, and should be treated as such. If you don’t know how to submit your book-length manuscript, do your research and find out!
Among other things, I saw the following mistakes that automatically peg a writer as an amateur:
— Printing the manuscript on colored paper
— Manuscript pages stapled together
— Copyright notices at the top or bottom of each page
— Single-spaced pages with almost no margin
— Failure to include author’s contact information
— Offering certain rights to the manuscript
The problem is that editors and agents will only represent or publish authors who know what they’re doing. Of course, if you’ve never published a book before, how on earth are you supposed to know what’s acceptable? Do your research. Read articles like this one and check out submission guidelines on websites. Never submit a book-length manuscript without knowing for certain that you are doing it correctly.
Everything in your submission before the actual book starts is called “front matter”, and should consist of a title page, a table of contents (if appropriate), a preface (if you’ve written one) and anything else that is pertinent to your submission. If you are including a query letter, an outline or a synopsis, these are also considered part of the front matter.
As mentioned above, the front matter should include a title page, which should be double-spaced and typed in a clear, easy-to-read font. Halfway down the page, type the title of your manuscript. Skip one or two lines and type “by”, then type your name two or three lines below that. If you are going to use a pen name, type that, but always include your actual last name on the header of your manuscript pages. At the top left-hand corner of the title page, type your real name again, your address, your phone number, your fax number and your e-mail address for easy correspondence. You should also include an approximate word count (rounded to the nearest hundred for book-length manuscripts) in the upper right-hand corner of your title page.
Your manuscript should be typed in a monospaced font, such as Courier, which means that every character is as wide as all the others (an “i”, for example, takes up the same amount of space as a “b”). You should always print in black ink on white paper, and never use fancy fonts (even for chapter headings or the title page). Make sure that you are only printing on one side of the page.
Every page of your manuscript (except the front matter) should include your last name (or pen last name, if applicable), an em dash (–) and the first one or two words of your manuscript’s title, followed by the page number. You’ll include the manuscript title so that your pages don’t accidentally get mixed up with someone else’s. The front matter should include the same header, except numbered with roman numerals.
Except for when you indent paragraphs, the left edge of your manuscript should be ruler-straight. The right edge, however, should be jagged rather than justified. If your manuscript is accepted, it will need to go to the typesetter, and it is difficult to do that if you’ve justified the edges. Further, justifying the edges will make it more difficult to read.
The only words that should be hyphenated in your manuscript are those which require hyphenation. This is difficult for most writers as word processing programs automatically hyphenate words which are too long to fit at the end of a line. Don’t do it! Make sure that a full word fits on its own line.
Never use italics when you are submitting a book-length manuscript. Instead, underline words that are supposed to be italicized.This is because underlined words are much more easily identifiable to the editor.
When you need to insert a line break in your manuscript (for example, to indicate the passage of time), skip two lines and center a “#”, then skip two more lines and begin again.
Always skip two lines after a period before you begin a new sentence. The same goes for the usage of a colon; always skip two lines to help the editor to differentiate between a colon (:) and a semi-colon (;).
Always start a new chapter halfway down the next page, with two or three double-spaced lines before you begin the chapter. Never begin a new chapter at the top of the page.