To make sure you will capture the interest of an agent or editor you must prepare a professional-looking proposal. The manuscript needs to be formatted properly as well. The object here is not to stand out but to look like an established pro. Too often a submission reveals a lack of professionalism or research showing clearly you are not prepared. An improperly formatted proposal or manuscript will receive little or no attention. As agents, we want to offer editors a clean and professional submission.
The following rules cover the primary items for the formatting of the proposal and manuscript, but the submission guidelines posted by the editor or agent you are submitting to should be your guide. While it is true a manuscript might not be rejected for breaking only one of these rules (unless it's a glaring one), a combination is sure to catch attention.
If you need more help preparing to pitch or promote you can buy a helpful book by our agent Terry Burns entitled A Writer's Survival Guide to Publication.
Some of the key provisions are:
CHECKLIST FOR FORMATTING A MANUSCRIPT
• 1" margins, double spaced in New Courier 12 or Times New Roman 12 font – only on one side of the page. To insure a consistent number of lines per page the widow and orphans feature should be turned off.
• Paragraphs should be indented .5 inch with NO BLANK LINE between paragraphs. They should NEVER be indented by spacing in (these have to be removed by the editor) a tab is acceptable although preferred is to go into paragraph formatting and just select first line indent.
• One space between sentences (after a period or punctuation) – do NOT justify the right margin.
• If tracking changes has been used during the preparation process, these should be completely removed and not just "hidden."
• Chapters should begin near the center of the page (line 16 - 8 double spaces) and a page break (not section break) should be inserted at the end so chapter heads stay put if changes are made. Chapters do not require titles.
• Place a header slug with author's first and last name, a word or two from the title and the page number in the upper right of the page. For Joyce and Diana please note they prefer the page number to be in the lower right hand corner.
• The cover page on the front should use the title in normal size type centered halfway down the page and doublespace below it your name or byline. Your name, address and contact information in the upper left or lower right. Contact information should include phone number and email address, but SHOULD NOT include social security number.
• The word count (rounded off) should be in the upper right hand corner. Word count for many years was determined by multiplying the industry standard 250 words per page times the number of pages. Most houses now use computer word count.
• A forced scene break ( intentional white space) should be indicated by placing # centered on a line of its own
• Do not include drawings, colored type, fancy fonts, giant size type on the cover, or anything else to make your manuscript stand out – remember the goal is to look professional not different.
• Italics may be indicated by underlining, although most now will just take them inserted as italics where they go.
• Remember that regardless of what is being submitted the first paragraph or two MUST capture the interest of the reader, editor or agent by raising a question, capturing interest or arousing curiosity to cause them to commit to reading further down into the manuscript.
• Replace passive verbs with active verbs ( was, ing verb forms).
• When ready to submit the proposal itself will be single spaced, but the sample chapters should be placed in the proposal retaining their formatting so the editor or agent can insure the manuscript formatting is ready to go.
• Finally, individual places where you wish to submit may have requirements particular to how they wish to receive a submission. Always check submission guidelines usually available on their website and adhere to them religiously.
Please insure these are in the header or footer area and not in the text itself.
CHECKLIST AS TO WHETHER THE WRITING ITSELF IS READY TO SUBMIT:
This was a checklist for judges in a writing contest several years ago and author Deborah Raney found it so helpful that she adapted it for self-editing her own novels... reproduced with permission.
1. OPENING – Is there a hook to capture the short-attention-spanned reader’s interest? Does the book start in the right place, or is there too much backstory?
a. Does the first page COMPEL the reader to turn the page, not interest or encourage, but leave them no choice?
b. Ten pages to hook the reader into the story
c. The reader should know what the story is about in the first 20-40 lines, not pages
2. CHARACTERS – Are the hero and heroine vivid, likeable characters? Do characters have that “something special” that makes them come alive? Are they described well? Do they change and grow from beginning to end?
3. PACING – Does the pacing flow throughout the book? Does the reader want to keep turning pages?
4. DIALOGUE – Does the dialogue sound natural and realistic? Does the dialogue build characterization and move the story forward?
5. SECONDARY CHARACTERS – Are the secondary characters believable? Do they provide a valid addition to the story?
6. SETTING – Is a time and place established? Is the setting easy to picture without taking over the story?
7. POINT OF VIEW – Is the POV for each scene wisely chosen? Are the POV transitions smooth and important? Does the writer avoid head hopping?
8. STYLE – Is the author's style unique and appealing? Does she have a voice all her own?
9. CLICHES - Does the writer avoid cliches in plot, characterization, dialogue and narrative? (This doesn't mean tried and true plot devices can't be used. But they need to be done in a fresh way that makes you want to read on.)
10. Would you recommend this book to a friend?