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Rated: 13+ · Article · Writing · #1961338
Formatting your manuscript and word counts

Every course I've taken on writing focused on primarily the creative aspects. That's not unusual ... it's the most fun to talk about. However, when I began to immerse myself in writing fiction and seriously began to think about submitting manuscripts, I discovered they had left off some very valuable pieces of information: what my manuscript should look like. So, to help clarify that for the novice writer, and maybe for some other writers whose instruction skipped this part as well, I've included this section on how your manuscript should look.

Remember, it's always important to exactly follow the guidelines specified by a publisher, which can vary. Find out the specific guidelines for each publication. However, if none are provided, or you are sending your entire manuscript cold, you should adhere to the following format.


Cover Page

1. Type your name, street address, city/state/zip, and phone/e-mail in the upper left corner.

2.Type “Approx. xxx words” in the upper right corner, replacing the x's with the document's word count. More on word counts and the reasons for approximating can be found later in this document.

3. In the middle of the page type the title, the word “By” and your name on three separate lines. They should be in the same type as the manuscript, and double-spaced.

4. Begin the content on the bottom 1/3 of the page.

Manuscript Standards

Interior Pages and Last Page

1. Type the title in the upper left-hand corner, followed by a colon, a space, and then the page number. Most word processors have header controls that do this easily.

2. Type “The End” at the end of the manuscript.

3. To protect the last page, include a blank sheet after the last typewritten page.

Manuscript Standards

Paper and Printer

*Bullet*  Use good quality 8½ x 11-inch white paper. Don’t use onion skin. It’s fine for Ph.D. dissertations, but it’s much too difficult for editors to read.

*Bullet*  Use a good laser printer with enough toner. It should be perfectly legible.

*Bullet*  Don’t bind your manuscript with a staple or paper clip. You have numbered your pages and that is sufficient. If the manuscript is large enough, bind it with one large rubber band horizontally around the middle to hold it together.

Margins and Headers

*Bullet*  Use ¾- to 1-inch margins on all four sides of each page

Spacing and Alignment

*Bullet*  Every piece should be double-spaced when submitting to an editor. Doing so allows them to make comments and notations in the space between lines of text. Some editors prefer paragraphs separated by extra white space with no indentations. Others prefer no extra spacing, but with indentations. Make sure you research what each editor requires, and abide by it. Regardless, don't use symbols like "• • •" or similar characters to separate sections. An extra empty line is appropriate, and to indicate the line is an empty line, you can use a simple "#" symbol centered in the middle. This is the format printers (real printers, not your desktop printer) recognize as a full empty line space.

*Bullet*  If not submitting to an editor, your work can be left single spaced, but the paragraphs should either be indented, or separated by extra white space. You don't need to do both, but you need to do one or the other. Without indentations or extra spacing, the paragraphs disappear and make the story virtually impossible to read.

*Bullet*  Type on only one side of the paper. One page query letters and synopses can be single spaced, but anything over two pages and manuscripts should be double-spaced.

*Bullet*  Don’t justify the right margin, leave it ragged.


*Bullet*  10- to 12-pitch mono-spaced fonts. These include Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier.

Word Count

Some authors have become confused regarding word count. The Writing.com site makes it easy to check your word count. Simply view your document and you'll find an item titled "Word Count" in the item tools drop-down menu at the top right of your document. It returns a word count in a separate window, but is this word count accurate?

If you create a story, article, essay, and other such document in a different word processor, sometimes you can get different results. For example, Microsoft Word may return a different word count. This has to do with a variety of things, not the least of which is how different software programs deal with hyphenated words. Hence the source of confusion.

Instead use a publishing industry standard (outlined below). This is because both of the word counts mentioned above are providing a false sense of security if submitting to a publisher. You can use a word-processing program, or even a stand-alone software program, to give yourself a reasonable approximation of word count, but don’t rely on it when submitting works to editors.

The reason is because publishers are more interested in the space a document will fill up, rather than how many words it contains. They ask for word-count because that’s all they have to go on. So, any actual word count will mislead them ... something you definitely don't want to do.

For example, look at the following sentence:

                   “I wish I could be with you right now.”

You will discover that it contains 36 characters. It will be 9 words using a strict word count calculator. But then look at another example:

                   “Summertime signifies quiet pleasures.”

This yields the exact same number of characters as the preceding sentence, yet it is only 4 words, half as many as the previous example. It will take up the same amount of space. The point is clear: you need to use averages. The best thing to do is use the following formula that publishers came up with a long time ago.

WC = (CPL x LPP x TP)

WC  = Word count
CPL = Characters per line in a full line of text
      (use one in the middle of a paragraph)
LPP = Number of lines per page
TP  = Total number of pages in your manuscript

Divide the total by 6 (for 10- to 12-pitch monospaced fonts). That’s because at one time, publisher’s decided the average word length was 6 characters, including spaces. Always round up, it looks more professional. For manuscripts less than 1,000 words, I round up to the nearest 50. For manuscripts over 1,000 words, I round up to the nearest 100.

For this particular document, I counted 85 characters per line and a total of 167 lines. That resulted in 2,366 words. Rounding up yielded a 2,400 word-count. The actual word-count in this document was 1,300. That's a huge difference. So, it's likely this article will take up more space than the explicit word count would indicate, because of all those short lines that still take up the space of an entire line. The published document would still need the full compliment of characters on those line in which I had only typed a small amount. I think an editor would appreciate the fact that I used an average instead of an actual word count. I've discovered that, generally speaking, actual word counts are 5-10 percent lower than estimated word counts.

Remember, this has to do with word counts on manuscripts you are submitting to outside publishes. Here at Writing.com, you should continue to use actual word counts, especially If you are entering a story in a contest. It will avoid any accusations of impropriety. Then change it later to the approximate word count if you submit the story to an outside publisher.

Page Count

*Bullet*  Most publishers accepting shorter works will post their maximum preferred lengths. Novels are generally considered on the strength of the story itself, not on how many words you have squeezed into each chapter.

*Bullet*  In most cases, industry standard preferred length is 250 words per page [100,000 words = 400 page novel (400x 250)].

*Bullet*  To see what size book is selling in your genre, take a look on the shelves.

One reason it's harder for a new author to sell a large manuscript is the size of the book it will produce. A 500+ page book is going to take up the space of almost two, 300 page books on the shelves.

It's also going to cost more for the publishers to produce, so unless the author is well known, the book stores aren't going to stock that many copies of a thick novel as compared to the thinner novel. Arthur Hailey's first novel in 1958, Runway Zero-Eight, only ran 239 pages. By the time he wrote The Moneychangers in 1975, he had become an established author and published it at 472 pages—double the length.
© Copyright 2013 Eric Wharton (ehwharton at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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