Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Manuscript Format Questions and Answers


If you want the best chances as a submitter (and you want to be judged only on your writing, and not the way you're presenting it), you ought to make sure your submission is in standard manuscript format. Sure, that's the rules. But lately I've seen a lot of conflicting ideas (from supposed "authorities") about exactly what constitues this Standard Manuscript Format.

The irony of standard manuscript format is that nobody really agrees on it anyway.

Naturally, these conflicts cause paranoia, because hey -- I want to get it right. I don't want to look like an outsider because of the way I format my chapter headers or whatnot. Could you please clarify these deviations in standard format?

FONT: I know you prefer TNR over Courier, but I'm of the understanding that both are perfectly acceptible and "standard" (or technically, all four variations: Times, Times New Roman, Courier, and Courier New.) I can find examples of agents and editors who prefer one over the other, but I'm of the understanding that both are "standard." Has this changed? Are both still all right?

Both TNR and Courier are acceptable. Fonts that are similar to those but have some extremely minor different are probably acceptable. Other fonts, which are harder to read (arguably) are not acceptable. Arial is generally not acceptable.

ITALICS: I've always seen them underlined in book and short story manuscripts. Some claim that they must actually be italicized now, but the editor in me says, "No way, it'd be too hard to edit the ms."

I very rarely see a manuscript these days that has words underlined instead of italics. If I did it would be annoying because if we accepted the manuscript, the author would have to go back and change all the words.

HEADERS: I've always formatted them as LastName/TITLE/PageNo and set them flush right, for either book or short story manuscripts. Some sources
are saying that they should be flush LEFT, while others say the surname goes left, the title in the middle and the page number on the right. Is there a standard way?

I've always done it TITLE - Page# - SURNAME flushed left in my manuscripts. If you flush it right, or center it, or put your whole name instead of your surname, or flip the order around, it's not a big deal and you shouldn't think your manuscript was rejected because of that. The whole purpose of the header is to tell us what page we're on and what manuscript it is if the manuscripts get thrown in a pile and mixed up.

Also, don't put your phone number in the header. It looks silly.

SECTION BREAKS: I've always denoted breaks with a centered "#" on a line by itself; the end of the manuscript is indicated by "THE END" (or "# # #" if it's a short story). But now some people are claiming that section breaks should be denoted just with a blank line. As a former editor and proofreader, I know that's just bad form.

I've heard this # thing too, but for a manuscript I generally see more regular "extra space before the scene change" that I see in books. I use the #s only when I'm doing short story submissions. I don't think there's a hard-and-fast rule on this one because it doesn't affect the way we read the manuscript unless you give no indication that the scene changed at all.

CHAPTER HEADS: I've always skipped 12 lines, given the chapter name in upper-case, and then skipped a line and started the chapter. Now I'm seeing some people recommend the upper-case chapter name at the top of the page, then 12 lines skipped and the beginning of the chapter. Which way's it done?

The way I've always been told to do it is to start each new chapter 7 lines down with the chapter title after the dash for the name of the chapter. Years back, I was told this was so that editors could have a space to make chapter notes. In other words, leave some space before the start of each chapter on the first page of that chapter. We do not count how many lines you give us.

TYPESET QUERIES: While my manuscripts go out in 12-point Courier, I consider that an "editing" font, as something for manuscripts. I'd never send a letter in such a monospaced naked typeface unless I were doing a telegram. So for my query (and all other materials, such as the synopsis), I typeset the contents in the standard roman font. The query goes out on good letterhead (which is Copperplate Gothic, natch). Some people have said that your query must be typeset exactly like the manuscript. That doesn't make sense to me. Why should a letter look like the page of a manuscript?

"Some people" are not necessarily right. Generally the query is good as long as it's clear and readable.

Are the patients now running the asylum?

No, but I hear they have a controlling share in the company.


A Conscientious Submitter


The Rejecter

Update on Censorship on Amazon

So I all know you want me to stop posting about this, which is why it's not my only post today, but I got an email early this morning from, which briefly said it had copies of The Complex and would send my order when it was ready.

Hello from

We are sorry to report that we will not be able to obtain the following item(s) from your order:

John Duignan, et al "The Complex: An Insider Exposes the Covert
World of the Church of Scientology"

Though we had expected to be able to send this item to you, we've since found that it is not available from any of our sources at this time. We realize this is disappointing news to hear, and we apologize for the inconvenience we have caused you.

We have cancelled this item from your order.

While this item is not available directly from, you may be able to purchase it from one of the many other sellers with product listings on Please click on the link above to visit the product detail page. If the item is available from a third-party seller, you will see a "Used & new" link on the product detail page that will provide a list of merchants currently selling the item.

In other words: "The big bad cult told us there was something libelous in it, and rather than check or even wonder why we, as the bookstore and not the author, have a reason to care, we're pulling the concept of selling it." All the major bookstores in England have also pulled it. It is still available at

The publisher of the book, Merlin, released a statement.