Your Manuscript: What’s It Look Like?

Your goal is to be a professional writer.  You want to be paid for your story. When you begin your manuscript start with correct formatting.  This way you will be accustomed to seeing it as the first screening reader will see it.  Agent, editor, publisher, it doesn’t matter.  The industry standards are the same.

Picture this:  The reader comes in from lunch feeling just a bit sleepy.  A stack of manuscripts sits on his desk.  She’s ready to start a new one.  He pulls the first off the top of the pile: it’s already smudged because the paper is correctible bond.  He tosses it in the reject pile.  She pulls off the second neatly bound in a leatherette cover.  She tosses it.  The next manuscript is printed single spaced in a tiny sans-serif font that makes her eyes hurt just looking at it.  Toss.

Your aim as a professional writer is to present your story in a professional manner.  You’ve read the tip sheet from the publisher and followed all the guidelines.  You know the industry standards.  Your goal is to be part of that industry.  As Chris Roerden says in Don’t Murder Your Mystery (Bella Rosa Books, 2006): The writer is expected to do whatever it takes to come up with a profitably publishable manuscript.

My gosh!  The next manuscript is yours.  She has it in her hands.  She idly flips through. Yes, Courier font (not Courier New), double spaced, wide margins for notes, crisp clean 8 ½ x 11 inch paper (no perforated edges, no three-hole punch), loose pages numbered sequentially, held together by a large rubber band. She starts to read your story.

3 thoughts on “Your Manuscript: What’s It Look Like?

  1. Zara, I love how you tell a story! Your narrative (toss) builds the tension that’s part of the submission process (toss), and you actually had me asking, “And then what?” “What’s next?” “Don’t stop now!” (Even though I know the ending.)

    I probably receive as many questions about Courier as I do dialogue or editing or anything else about writing, so since you mention it I should add that a certain well-known application dumped it for Courier New, which is so light it’s a challenge to read. A few writers have simply bolded their entire text before submitting for a hands-on edit. Fortunately for most writers, few agents stipulate Courier, preferring Times, because Times facilitates rapid reading or skimming. Thank you for emphasizing the need to follow the guidelines, which do differ from one reader/editor/publisher to the next.

    I’ll bet your own fiction shows great storytelling and tension. Best wishes,

    Don’t Sabotage Your Submission
    Don’t Murder Your Mystery


  2. Chris, thank you for your positive comments. Since I just started this blog discipline I find them superbly encouraging.
    I know about the well-known application problem, that’s why I stressed Courier. I am aware that many now accept Times which I certainly prefer for reading.
    Since I work with screenwriters, as well, I have Final Draft software which installs its very own font (can’t really call it type font in this new age) Courier Final Draft.
    Working with beginning writers I have seen the amateur presentations mentioned…and more.
    I’ve worked with some very excellent story tellers who just need to know the mechanics of presenting their story “professionally.”
    A good story deserves a fighting chance in the market.


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