Sunday, July 06, 2008

Formatting Your Novel Manuscript

In between coats of paint yesterday I decided to format my novel manuscript properly, or at least the part that I've edited and rewritten.

After reading several websites, posts and forum discussions on the best way to format your novel manuscript ahead of submissions to agents and publishers, I've found that some standards put forward are universal - and some vary drastically from person to person!

What everyone seems to agree about:

1. Cover page
At the beginning of the manuscript, put your name, address and contact details at the top left hand side (single-spaced), the name of your novel and your name/pen name centred half-way down the page, and the approximate word count rounded up to the nearest thousand centred at the bottom. The header and page count should not appear on this page.

2. Header
Right align: Your surname / ONE OR TWO WORDS FROM YOUR NOVEL TITLE / Page #.
So my novel heading is: Reilly / DECALOGUE / Page #
The header should appear on every page apart from the cover page.

3. Chapter headings
Start each chapter on a new page. The chapter heading should be centred and begin either a third/half the way down the page. Follow the same format for each new chapter.

4. Body text
Double-space the text, indent the first line of each paragraph by 5pt and don't use too small a font. Use styles if you can so that if you decide to change the body text you can do so more easily.

5. Scene breaks
Indicate breaks in scene by inserting a centred '#' character. (No need to insert this at the end of a chapter though.)

Unfortunately here is where much of the advice diverges:

1. Font
There isn't a full consensus about which font to use. Traditionally you would use Courier 12pt because it is a monospaced serif font (meaning that each character is the same width), therefore the editor will be able to see how many pages your novel would run to when published.

But some agents have professed Courier to be ugly and difficult to read, and prefer another serif font like Times New Roman.

The general advice - check the agent's submission guidelines. If a font is not given, use Courier 12pt. That's why using styles is so helpful; you can change the entire body text with a few clicks.

2. Word count
Traditionally each page of a manuscript is 25 lines long with each line averaging 10 words (60 monospaced characters, hence the use of Courier). The editor would count each page as 250 words. (To get 25 lines in a page, select 'Exactly 25pt spacing' instead of 'Double-spacing'.)

However, in the age of word processing and automated word counts, this has changed somewhat. I couldn't find out if editors still used this format as each novel is now printed with different font types and sizes. As it doesn't seem like a deal-breaker I'll be using the word count given by Word until told otherwise.

3. Spacing after a full stop
Traditionally you would always put two spaces after the end of each sentence. Some agents/publishers seem to prefer this still, but others are put off by it as it has fallen out of favour. I'm using one space, but if I change my mind or am told otherwise I can use the find and replace tool in Word.

A disclaimer: please don't take this post as gospel, I just thought I'd share the results of my research like a jumping off point - I'm merely a beginner! Here are some links to some people with way more experience in the publishing industry:

Holly Lisle
William Shunn
BBC Style Guidelines
Charlotte Dillon (includes step-by-step Word setup - very handy!)
Miss Snark


SpiralSkies said...

That's all very jolly useful - you are so organised and ace.

Must take leaf out of your book.

Debs said...

That is all most useful, thanks.

I've also found Charlotte Dillon and found her site very helpful.

Yvonne said...

Jen, it's not so much organised than being completely anal, but thank you for calling me ace, I've always wanted to be called that! ;)

Debs, I've never been on Dillon's website before but it is incredible how much information and guidance she has on it. Fair play to her.

Maddie Moon said...

That's brilliant, Yvonne! Thanks very much.

Thanks too for the link to Charlotte Dillon's site. I'm building myself up to write my synopsis, aaargggh!, and there looks to be lots of great tips there.

JJ said...

Yvonne, that's so fantastic, thank you. Now, all I need now is the one on punctuation...

S'okay, I'm just joking.

Lane said...

Thanks for taking the time to do this! Very helpful and the link to Charlotte Dillon is great!

I'll copy Spiral and call you Ace too:-)

Yvonne said...

Maddie, I was happy to see those synopsis examples too, good luck with writing yours I hope they help.

JJ, a post about punctuation, that sounds like a challenge! ;)

Lane, yay another ace!

KatW said...

Heck - i'm getting it all wrong. I will save this useful advice for further use. Thanks. Kat

Yvonne said...

KatW, I'm sure you weren't doing it wrong, these are just guidelines really. There are no hard and fast rules - unfortunately, cos I want there to be!

Angie said...

Thanks for the info and the links, they're all interesting. I'm finding Holly Lisle's 'writing life' advice particularly interesting.

Yvonne said...

Angie, I like Holly Lisle's website, I've found it very useful.

KAREN said...

That's really interesting - especially the bit about scene breaks, which I'd often wondered about (whether you should leave them blank or what!) Thanks :o)

KAREN said...

...being a dyed-in-the-wool shorthand/typist, I CAN'T get out of the habit of leaving only one space after a full stop!

Yvonne said...

Karen, and I can't do the two spaces thing, it just kills me. I'm sure both are completely fine though, if someone really hated one or the other I'm sure they'd put it in their submission guidelines. (I hope!)

on a small island said...

Thanks so much for that - really useful!