Formatting Your Manuscript: It’s Complicated

In the days of paper manuscripts, we had one accepted format for manuscripts: double-spaced, two spaces between sentences, the first line of every paragraph indented. This was the deal whether we were writing for publication or for our diaries. Letters were a different story, but that’s not our topic today.

Then came computers. Make it one space between sentences, a change some people still haven’t gotten straight. As a copyeditor, I have zapped millions of those extra spaces; left in, they make huge gaps in your copy on the computer.

As long as we were still printing out our manuscripts and submitting them on paper, everything else stayed the same: double-space, indented first paragraph. If we editors wanted something italicized or boldfaced, we marked them in pencil on the paper before sending it to the typesetters.

Typesetters? That job no longer exists. Now what we type goes to print without somebody retyping it.

These days, much of our work is submitted online. That requires different formatting in some cases. If your editor accepts attachments or submissions by snail mail, you can still go with the old double-spaced, indented format, but in many cases you will be asked to submit your work in the body of an e-mail or in an online submission form, such as Submishmash, where you fill in the blanks, then browse and click for the program to select and download your manuscript.

Try pasting your double-spaced manuscript into the body of an e-mail and sending it to yourself. See what happens? Your double-spacing disappears, along with any italics or bold-facing. In addition, your paragraphs get all wonky. The same thing can happen with the online submission programs.

The solution: Save your original double-spaced version with a new name (you might need the old version later) and reformat your manuscript as follows: Single-space, no identations, blank space between paragraphs. Then send it. Your manuscript will come out looking ever so much better.

After a while, this becomes habit. In fact, I wrote this post in MS Word sans indentations, single-spaced, without even thinking about it. The other way doesn’t work for my blogs.

The trick is to consider where and how you’re sending your work and format accordingly.

One important rule: don’t indent and insert a blank space between paragraphs. Do one or the other, or your editor will go nuts.

In the next post, we’ll talk about book formatting, a subject that’s been robbing me of sleep lately.

Happy writing!