It’s a never-ending source of wonder to me that so many writers won’t take the trouble to learn the correct way to submit their work to agents and publishers. Presentation IS very important! This is a job interview! Don’t turn up scruffy and unkempt. Your work shows how careful and caring you are; you are judged by your professionalism. If you haven’t bothered to find out how the publisher likes manuscripts formatted and sent, why should the publisher be bothered about finding out what’s inside? Because a scruffy manuscript has already said volumes about the writer, and the publisher will be unlikely to want to work with a careless, un-businesslike author, unless the content is absolutely riveting – and even then, he’ll think hard about whether it’s worth the strife.
I realise that to an individual, whether or not he/she has used block paragraphs or indented, Times or Arial, single or double spacing, etc, shouldn’t matter because it’s the writing itself that counts, doesn’t it? But I have news: NOT TRUE!
Well, it IS true overall, but it’s not the FIRST truth.
Why does it count? Because to the person faced with a huge mound of manuscripts to work through, the ones that hurt the least will gain greatest immediate favour. First impressions count! If that reader picks a manuscript off the pile and realises immediately that it’s an eyesore (literally – it’s been proven that different fonts affect eyestrain differently; there’s good reason for the industry standard being a serif font, such as Times New Roman, and not any other), either because the font is wrong, or the spacing is single, or the paragraphs are all over the place – his/her reaction will be reluctance. And the more mental marks against your manuscript, the less psychologically prepared he is to like your work.
It makes sense to set your manuscript out as much like a book as possible. You want the reader to “see” it as a book. Books are easiest to read in a serif font, with indented paragraphs and no extra line spaces between those paragraphs. The flow of the reading is smoothest if there are no spelling errors, or typos, making the reader do a double-take as he goes along.
But you also want the reader to be able to flip smoothly through your work, to feel free to make notes as he goes along (unless of course you want your work returned so you can send it out again – in which case of course you have sent a properly sized, properly self-addressed, properly stamped envelope along with it). If I know a manuscript doesn’t need to go back, and I like it well enough, I start making notes in the nicely wide margins, corrections in the nicely spaced lines themselves, and additional comments on the nice blank backs of the pages. I also appreciate being able to simple page through as I read, flipping the pages over into a neat pile – which I couldn’t do without confusion if the work was on both sides of the page.
So: here are the basic rules EVERY writer should know, and follow, to their best advantage:
1. Use a serif font that isn’t too fancy. Stick to stuff like Times New Roman, Book Antigua, and the like. It’s literally easier on the eyes.
2. Use single spacing ONLY for your query letter and synopsis. Use double spacing (or at the very least, 1.5 spacing) for the manuscript itself.
3. Never, ever, ever type on both sides of the page.
4. By all means spiral-bind, or use a file, or similar, but don’t send in a manuscript that’s full of paperclips or staples – they hurt!
5. Make sure your pages have good margins – at least an inch all round.
6. If you really want it sent back, make sure you provide an ample envelope that really will take your manuscript back safely to the clearly printed address on the front, and that is correctly stamped. If you don’t get it back, it’s usually because the company won’t keep paying out on stamps for the hundreds of manuscripts it receives. Remember, you are only one of many!
So: present your manuscript in a way that gives you Brownie Points from the moment the recipient opens it up. It really does make a difference to a tired reader!
Till next time ... happy writing!