You’ve spent weeks, months, even years drafting and revising your work. You’ve researched agents, editors, contests, and publishing houses. You’ve read their recent winners and recently published authors. You think you’re done, that you’re ready to submit.
Hold on. Not so fast.
Here are five formatting mistakes that could get your manuscript tossed before anyone even catches the brilliant line (or two) in your first paragraph.
Not paying attention to the recommended format. Some houses want your name and the book’s title on every page. Some only want it on the title page. Some don’t want your name on anything. (This is most common for contests.) Some professionals prefer Times New Roman. Others prefer Courier New. Whatever the rules are, be assured they’re there for a reason. And, if you’re not conscientious enough to make sure you’ve followed the directions clearly spelled out on the “submissions” page, you can bet the person receiving your work isn’t going to read it.
Not knowing the industry standard. Unless a publishing house, agent, or editor specifically says she wants something different (see above), your best bet is to format your manuscript according to the industry standard: one-inch margins on all sides; double-spaced (poetry is the exception); aligned left; 12pt Times New Roman font; title page with contact information, title, and your name; and a header, aligned right, with your name, the book title, and page number on every page after the title page.
Inserting two spaces between sentences instead of one. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. Trust me. I groan inwardly every time I get a manuscript with double spaces, because I know how time consuming it is to fix. You don’t want someone reading your work for the first time with that kind of dread lurking in the background.
Stringing your chapters together without page breaks. In addition to looking messy, this makes it close to impossible for an editor or agent to skim your book and get an idea of its pacing. Each chapter should begin on a new page, about one-third of the way down. Warning: Do NOT accomplish this by inserting countless paragraph breaks. Instead, learn how to insert a proper page break.
Typing in strange colors, sizes, or fonts. Remember: Industry standard is black, 12pt, Times New Roman. Writing in 10pt pink Comic Sans or 24pt orange Lucida Handwriting isn’t going to do anything except give your reader a headache. It’s your writing that should make you stand out from the crowd, not your font.
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