For the second year in a row, I’ve served as a judge for a local writing contest, and for the second year in a row, I’ve been humbled by the variety and sincerity of the work submitted – and a bit horrified at the way the submissions have been formatted. So I thought I’d lay out the guide lines for a proper submission.
First, some terms: technically, a manuscript is a hand-written document, dating back to the days when that’s how authors submitted their work to be edited, typeset, and published. In the early twentieth-century, typewriters came into vogue, and an author was expected to submit a typescript, a typewritten document. By the late twentieth century, the typewriter was replaced by the personal computer. At the beginning of this technological change, computers were used to generate letter-quality typescripts, which were then typeset for printing. With the advent of the internet, those typescripts turned into eFiles; and with the advances in photo-offset technology, those eFiles are now transformed digitally into books.
Despite all these technological changes, the parameters for a professional submission still hark back to the typewriter days. What this means is that your eFile submissions should be formatted to look as if it were typewritten. If your submission is accepted, it will then be formatted according to the publisher’s design, whether in a periodical, as web content, or as a book.
So what does a typescript look like? Here are a few simple rules:
- Use a twelve-point, serif, font; your document should look typewritten, even on-screen.
- Use black ink.
- Use 1” margins top, left, bottom and right.
- Justify the left margin only.
- Double space.
- Use a running header in the top right corner with your last name (unless contest rules require anonymous submissions), the title of your work, and the page number.
While it may appear that these are fossilized rules, they’re not. They are the gold standard for ease of reading and will be much appreciated by all the contest judges, agents, editors, publishers and any others who read your submissions. These are people who read a lot; you want to make it easy for them to do so.
More on Typeface
No question, all those fonts on the computer are inviting. Save them for your holiday greeting cards. For most of the era of the typewriter, 12-point elite type was standard, although a few machines offered 10-point pica. Until the behemoth IBM Selectric came along, you were stuck with whatever typeface that came with your machine; the Selectric introduced script fonts. Generally, elite was chosen for being easy to read.
Typewriters all had serif fonts. Serifs are the little lines at the top and the bottom of individual letters, vestiges of the typesetting days, when printers used them to align typeface. They have a current use: serif fonts are easier to read, and you want to go gentle on your readers’ eyes. The most widely used and accepted serif font for typescripts is Times New Roman.
The san serif fonts have their uses, mainly in advertising. They take formatting well: bold, outline, filled in, shadowed, etc. These are hugely useful fonts – for graphic designers, not for prose submissions.
More on Font Formatting
Generally, it is best to write in sentence case: Initial capital followed by lower case words (except for proper nouns), with terminal punctuation at the end. A skilled prose writer will be able to create emphasis through diction and word choice rather than bold, italics, or change of font.
There are times when bold and italics are called for. Back in the typewriter days, words meant to be bold were typed in ALL CAPS, and titles of books were underlined, because italics weren’t possible. If you are writing for a specific market, it’s best to follow its specific style sheet, especially for citations. In absence of solid guidelines, what matters most is that you be consistent (i.e. treat all book titles the same throughout a typescript).
If all this sounds dry as toast, it’s meant to. It’s the language and story that matter, not blue ink or Gothic initial caps. Those are matters for the designer who will format your work for publication. Submitting professionally formatted files is the best way to cross that threshold.