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Manuscript Preparation

by Nann Dunne 

Recently, a reader asked me what format should be used to send an unagented manuscript to a publisher. Publishers tend to have minor variations, so my best advice would be to ask for specific guidelines from whichever publishers interest you. Some have their own web sites with submission guidelines posted there. To others, you can send a written request for submission guidelines, remembering to include a #10 business-size, self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE). Use a proper letterhead and type your request; you want to look businesslike from the very beginning.

How do you know which publishers might be interested in your work? Visit a nearby bookstore or library and search for books similar to yours. The publisher's name and address will be listed in the front matter of the book. Jot it down, then find the newest issue of Writer's Market--or a book geared to your market, if available--and look up the publisher. If an editor's name is mentioned in the front matter (sometimes in the Acknowledgments), jot it down, too. It may be possible to address a query directly to an editor, in care of the publishing company. (I'll discuss queries and cover letters in a later article.) See what the guidelines tell  you.

It's always good to find as much information about a company as you can, rather than blindly submitting your story. Some publishers state that they accept only agented manuscripts, while others don't require you to have an agent. I've done a lot of surfing in preparation for this newsletter, and I've learned that some editors for the larger publishers say if you don't have an agent, and you really believe in your story, go ahead and write a killer query letter and send the manuscript anyway. You might get lucky. You have to realize, though, it may be a very long time before you hear anything. At the large publishers, unagented work goes into a "slush pile." Junior editors read these when they have time, and if they see a story they think has possibilities, they pass it up the line, which could involve other junior editors. If the story makes it past them, it still has to be looked at and accepted by a senior editor who could already be up to her elbows in agented manuscripts. This sounds pretty "iffy" to me, so without an agent, I would suggest sticking to publishers who accept unagented manuscripts.

If you decide going the agent route sounds desirable, be sure to recheck October's back issue of this newsletter for the article by Ann Crispin that details what to beware of when choosing an agent.

Simultaneous submission, that is, submitting the same story to more than one publisher at a time, is frowned on. Publishers don't want to waste valuable time on a book that might be withdrawn, yet authors don't like waiting months at a time to learn if their submission has been accepted. One suggested answer is to send multiple queries instead (without including the manuscript). I have some interesting tips on writing queries that I will cover in a subsequent issue.

If the publisher is listed in Writer's Market and has a web site, check out the site. Submission guidelines are included in Writer's Market, but the web site could be more up-to-date. If the publisher isn't listed, try typing the company's name into,, or some other online search engine. If the company has a web site, the search engine should find it.

Collect the guidelines from every publishing company that interests you. Then carefully format your story to match what the publisher asks for and send it out with a cover letter and SASE. Make certain that the publisher wants to see the complete manuscript, rather than a query and samples.

Although, as noted above, publishers will have their own specific guidelines on manuscript formatting, here are some standard ones.

1. Use good quality, plain white paper, 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches, and type only on one side.

2. Type your manuscript using either a typewriter or a computer word processor. Choose a simple, easy-to-read font like Courier or Times Roman. These fonts have serifs (those little decorations on the ends of the straight and curly parts of letters), which make reading a lot more comfortable on the eyes.

3. Leave at least a one-inch margin all around the edges of the text, and double space the lines of type.

4. Put your real name, address, and phone number at the top left of the first page. Put the word count (rounded to the nearest hundred) at the top right. About halfway down the page, center the title and the name you write under. If you use a pseudonym, or pen name, for your writing, this is the place to put it:

Story Title


Sue Smith

Then put a couple of blank lines and start the story.

5. Keep the text ragged right. Justified text is difficult to read because it is forced to space unevenly across the page. When you are reading hundreds upon hundreds of pages, easier-to-read niceties make a huge difference.

6. Do not change from one kind of font to another unless the publisher allows it in the guidelines. That means no bold text and no italic. Where italicizing or emphasis is needed, indicate it by underlining the text.

7. Indent paragraphs five spaces (about 1/2 inch) and do not put extra lines between adjoining paragraphs. If a scene break calls for an extra line, put a blank (empty) line, then another with an asterisk in the center of the line, then another blank line.

8. After the first page, put the surname that you write under and the page number at the top right of every succeeding page. For example: Smith/page 2; or you can put the name and page number on separate lines.

9. Start each new chapter on a new page.

10. At the end of the story, leave a couple blank lines, then type "The End."

11. Do not staple or bind the pages together. If the manuscript is a short story or article of only a few pages, you may fold it up with the cover letter and insert it into a #10 business envelope. If it is larger, pack it in a large envelope or box, either loose or with a rubber band around it. A second rubber band applied in the opposite direction may be needed.

Remember, if you want the manuscript back, you need to enclose a suitably sized SASE. Note in the cover letter whether you want your work returned. In any case, enclose a business-size SASE for the publisher's reply.

12. ALWAYS keep a copy or two of your manuscript—losses do happen.

Remember: don't send a publisher or editor anything that doesn't closely follow their company guidelines. They are unlikely to consider it for publication.

Good luck!

—Nann Dunne
© Nann Dunne, 2003

Excerpted from Nann Dunne's Fiction-Editing Handbook (a work in progress).

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