Making sure your manuscript is correctly formatted is essential if you are going to submit it to an agent, publisher or editor. Why? Because it makes your work easier to read, assess, mark up and, in due course, to typeset. Additionally, because there are publishing industry standards which, if you appear ignorant of them, or choose to ignore them, make you look unprofessional as an author.
Many agents and publishers have their own specific requirements which they make clear on their websites or in publicity material, usually as ‘Submission Guidelines’. The first rule is to find, read and follow those Submission Guidelines – don’t make the mistake of thinking it won’t matter if you don’t, or your own formatting ideas are better.
This is how we like our authors to format their manuscripts for Rethink Press.
Microsoft Word is the publishing industry’s default software for reading and editing book manuscripts. We can’t see important details on a PDF and we can’t mark it up for an edit.
Only use one font (typeface) throughout, for all body text and headings too. Stick to a common, much used font rather than something you consider more attractive or original. You want to be sure whoever you’re sending your ms to has the same font on their computer, or your formatting may appear wrongly. The two safest are Times New Roman, a serif font which some publishers prefer; and Arial (our preference), the most commonly used sans-serif typeface. Whichever one you use, stick to it – don’t try to get creative by putting some sections in a different font, or trying to represent, say, handwriting with a cursive font. This is a job for a designer/typesetter, not the author.
Whichever font you choose, the size should be 12pt and black throughout. Make headings bold, and emphases, titles and non-English words italic (do not underline – this editing convention was used in written or typewritten manuscripts to indicate what should be italicised in typeset). Do this by highlighting and using the tabs for bold and italic; do not change the typeface to, for instance, ‘Arial Bold’ or ‘Times New Roman Italic’. Do not use CAPITALS for emphasis – or bold italics, come to that.
Margins, spacing and indentation
Margins should be one inch all around the page (this is the default margins setting for MS Word).
Line-spacing should be 1.5. Synopses, though, are single-spaced so you can get them onto one page.)
Paragraphs should either have two line returns between them, or start the first line with a 0.5 inch indent, but not both. We prefer non-indented paragraphs with a double space between them as they are easier to mark-up and make less work for a typesetter. If you choose to indent paragraphs, the indents should be created with a tab, not by pressing the space bar several times.
Boxes and backgrounds
When you are writing case studies or breakout boxes, please do not put them in text boxes or coloured (even grey) background boxes. Just indicate where they start and finish and let the designer/typesetter create the look. All your boxes and formatting will have to be removed – and actually make your manuscript look amateurish, rather than the opposite.
Dots and stops
Full stops/periods should be followed by one space only – not two. Writers who learned on a typewriter, may have been taught to put two blank spaces after a full stop. This is no longer needed on computers, which produce more accurately spaced documents, and is not correct in manuscripts today.
Dots, or ellipsis, as they are really called, indicate an unfinished thought or, at the end of a sentence, a trailing off into silence… They should be formatted like that. Three (no more) dots immediately after the last word, with a space before the next word. But they should be used sparingly, and not instead of proper punctuation (they’ll be edited out if you work with us!).
Headings and text
On your cover page put your name and contact info on the upper left hand side of the page. Your title, centred, goes a third of the way down the page with your name two lines below.
Chapter/section headings should be in bold and can either be centred or justified to the left. Start main sections and chapters on a new page. If you can use the Headings function in Word, to indicate the hierarchy of your headings and sub-headings within chapters, we will love you forever. If this means nothing to you, don’t worry!
The body text should be justified to the left only, leaving it ‘ragged’ on the right hand side.
Numbers from one to nine are generally written in letters, while those from 10 upwards go in numerals. The editor’s industry bible, Hart’s Rules, also allows for numbers one to ninety-nine to be written in letters, with numerals used for 100 and above. Whichever you choose, be consistent. Speaking of which…
Above all, be consistent in your formatting, spelling and grammar. If you are unsure of a correct, or whether to use a UK or US, spelling, make a decision and stick with it. Don’t write ‘OK’ sometimes, ‘ok’ at other times, and ‘okay’ occasionally. Similarly, don’t use double quotation marks around some dialogue and singles around others – unless you have a typographical reason to do so. Nothing drives an editor madder! Again, it makes you look unprofessional and as if you haven’t bothered to consider such things.
You can find more detail on planning, writing, formatting and editing your book in ours: How To Write Your Book Without The Fuss.