A writer can start with THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE and move from it to any number of academic works on what a manuscript layout should look like. But adhering to the following eight suggestions will assure an acceptable format for almost all fiction.
Hint Number One–Your Name, Page Number and Book Title in the Top Left Corner of Each Page
In the top, left corner of the page, many editors prefer your last name followed by a hyphen and the page number, and one single space below this, the title of your book. Then three single spaces below this (if you’re not beginning a new chapter, which I’ll cover later) begin your narrative.
Hint Number Two–Double-Line Space the Narrative
No one I know will accept a single-line spaced manuscript, and there is good reason. In the days of the covered wagon, when everything was edited with a pencil, the suggested corrections were made between the lines. Many of us still prefer to work this way, and the format is paramount when line-editing material manually. Plus, most people find double-line-spaced copy on an 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper much easier to read and therefore more comfortable to work with.
Hint Number Three–Double Space After a Period
Double spacing after a period enables room to manually annotate punctuation changes and draw lines to move sentences around. I am aware that some people are saying this is “old school” and therefore the double space after the period is no longer necessary. But every editor I know prefers two spaces after a period, as do I, even though for the purposes of this published piece the text is provided with a single space after each period. Finished copy and submission material are two different animals.
Hint Number Four–Indent Paragraphs 1/2″
Most word processing programs seem to use a 1/2″ indention as standard, but I often receive manuscripts with erratic or inconsistent paragraph indentions. If you always indent 1/2″, then your text’s appearance will be consistent and this will also enable you to “fudge” when you want your text to look its best from an aesthetic standpoint.
Hint Number Five–Never Justify Text
Under no circumstances should a manuscript be submitted with justified text. This makes copyediting a nightmare (read “impossible”), since extra spaces between words are something a copyeditor flags.
Hint Number Six–Locate the Chapter and Its Number in the Center of the Page
As with unusual or inconsistent indentation, I receive a wide variety of chapter setups. My suggestion is to type out the word Chapter with a capital C and follow this with the number 1, 2, 3, etc., one space after the word; i.e., Chapter 1. This isn’t as Mickey Mouse as it seems, because this differentiates a Chapter 1 from Part 1, for example. The Chapter designation is a location in which centered text is not only acceptable but desirable.
Space the chapter identification down however far you desire, with an equal number of lines below it before your begin the narrative. Five single spaces from the book title in the top, left corner to the centered chapter identification, then five single spaces to the beginning of the narrative, is a good template.
This again provides room to “fudge” if need be during later revisions and not require a writer to have to repaginate an entire chapter–or even the entire book. With our more sophisticated word-processing software, this isn’t the big deal it was 20 years ago, but there are times when it’s desirable to have material appear in a certain way on a specific page, and this is why I continue to suggest allowing extra room to maneuver text.
Hint Number Seven–Use a 12 Point Times New Roman or Courier Font
Many in the publishing industry seem to recommend these fonts. Also, if a writer sticks with either Times New Roman or Courier, this could save having to manually go through an entire manuscript to clean it up should it have to be changed to either of these font styles later. Because, even with all of the word-processing genius that’s out there, different fonts don’t often wrap in the desired manner when the entire text is converted from one font style to another.
Hint Number Eight–Leave an Extra Double-Spaced Line at the End of Each Page
If you choose to ignore everything I’ve written, please leave an extra line or even two at the end of each page, especially during the early drafts of your work. Meaning, instead of typing to the last line, which will generally be line 24 of double-spaced copy, type only to theoretical line 23 or line 22. This has nothing to do with editing but will enable you to revise and often not have to repaginate work, irrespective of the sophistication of your word-processing software.
If you follow the suggestions outlined in this article, you won’t have any difficulty with 99 percent of the editors, agents, and publishers out there.
Robert L. Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®
For Serious Writers! The Perfect Write® is now providing a Free Opening-Chapter Critique and Line Edit. Paste the first chapter of your manuscript (up to 5000 words) to email@example.com (no attachments). In addition to the critique, The Perfect Write® will line edit, if applicable, up to the first three-pages of your double-spaced material also at no charge.
Also Free! Receive The Perfect Write® Newsletters that feature articles on writing at a publishable level. Click here and scroll to the bottom of The Perfect Write® Home Page for the simple two-step sign-up box.