Some Basics

When I decided to start writing last year, I just opened up Word and started to type.  Easy peasy.  I’d been writing work reports for the last decade, so I knew the basics of formatting paragraphs, etc.  However, it turns out that manuscript format is very, very different from what I was used to as a someone who wrote for a professional environment.

So, in the interest of making sure this information is as widely available as possible, here are a couple of links on proper manuscript format.

Vonda N. McIntyre, “Manuscript Preparation,” from the SFWA website

William Shunn, “Proper Manuscript Format,” as linked to from Lightspeed Magazine’s submission guidelines.

As you’ll see if you read both documents, there is some wiggle room in manuscript formatting and it seems that things are constantly evolving, especially with the advent of electronic submissions, but if you can at least stick to the basics it will go a long way in making a good impression with anyone you submit to.

Here are the basics that pretty much everyone can agree with:

  • Double-space
  • Use 12 point Courier (you’ll see that Times New Roman is sometimes acceptable, but Courier seems to be universally acceptable)
  • Use 1″ margins on top, bottom, left, and right
  • Don’t put spaces between paragraphs
  • Indent the first line of text for each paragraph by 1/2″
  • Underline any text that will be in italics (see the second link for a discussion on this)
  • Use a # sign and center it for any section break
  • Use “–” to represent an em dash (that longer dash that you want)
  • For paper submissions, print on one side of the page, with black ink, on white paper
  • Place your Last Name/Title/Page number at the top of the document (See documents for a bit of a discussion.  Also, this may need to be changed for contest entries.)

And, of course, above all else, read the submission guidelines for the market you’re submitting to.  For example, if you read the guidelines you’ll see that they make a comment about “Putting the string “SUB:” at the start of your subject line will help us know that you’ve read this, which is quite confidence inspiring.”  (If they feel they have to write that on their submission guidelines it means that A LOT of people don’t bother to read them.  You don’t want to be one of those people…)

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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