Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Bare Naked Manuscript: how to format your story for submission


Is your manuscript naked?

If it is – give yourself a hand.

If it isn’t, or if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read on… I’m going to give you in a few simple steps explaining how to get naked – and why you MUST, if you want to give it a chance of success with agents and editors.

Before you send out that manuscript, hold on a second… take a minute to make sure it’s naked.  By which I mean absolutely clean and clutter-free, ready for an agent or editor to take one look and say… YES!

Who wouldn’t want that?  Yet many writers I’ve known spoil their manuscript by adding things, covering up its nakedness.  Trust the agent; trust the editor.  They’ve handled more books than you’ll ever write, and they’ll be able to see your story’s potential even without the fancy touches.

Even bare naked.

Here’s a quick and easy checklist to make sure your book is as naked as possible before you send it out:

  1. FONT STYLE – Use an industry-standard font.  Times New Roman, Helvetica, Arial.  Nothing weird or wacky.  Absolutely no Comic Sans or Papyrus.
  2. FONT SIZE – 12 points, throughout, even for titles, headings, etc.  There’s no reason not to.  If they want to make the words bigger or smaller, they can zoom in or out.
  3. SPACING – double-spaced, with no extra spaces between paragraphs.  You can indent by 1/4” or 1/2” at the beginning of a new paragraph if you’d like.  By the way, most people consider UN-justified text to be better-looking in a manuscript, because Word’s justification is so clunky and unprofessional.
  4. PAGE – if you’re submitting to North America, use letter size - 8.5”x11”.  For Europe, an A4 page size is standard.  DO NOT USE ANY OTHER PAGE SIZE!  Whatever you do, don’t choose small pages to make it “look” like a picture book!
  5. MARGINS – standard 1” margins all around.  Anything smaller makes it look like you were trying to cram more onto the page.
  6. ILLUSTRATIONS – unless you’re the illustrator, don’t include any.  You can mention in your cover letter if you have an illustrator in mind, but even this seems to be jumping the gun.  If you ARE the illustrator, you should be submitting a picture-book dummy, not a naked manuscript.
  7. PAGE BREAKS – no, absolutely not.  If your story is a picture book, you definitely should be thinking about it in terms of the standard 32-page picture book size, and visualizing how the pages would be divided.  But please… trust those with more experience to make the final call on where the page breaks will fall. 

Essentially, all this comes down to one simple rule:  let them see your story, barenaked and all, and trust them to decide if it’s worth spending time with based on its own merits.

A couple more quick ways you can help editors and agents out:

  • Think of a working title for your story, even if you don’t love it, and create a title page with the title and your contact info.  Using “untitled” shows a lack of imagination – why would I even want to turn past the title page to see what you’ve got if you can’t be bothered giving it a name?
  • Include only your last name and the story’s title in the header of each page.  NOT full contact details.
  • A page number at the bottom is fine, but keep the formatting identical to the formatting of the document:  12-point Times New Roman, or equivalent.
  • Illustration notes – NO!  Remove these!  The only time you should include illustration notes in a naked manuscript is if the story is impossible to understand without them.  In that case, make the note as brief and unobtrusive as possible.
  • READ the agent / editor’s guidelines carefully!  They may not want a full manuscript at all, but instead, a copied/pasted excerpt, or even the whole thing in the body of an email message.  Whatever you do, follow these instructions to the letter.  You blow any chance you had if you don’t.

And finally… What about copyright messages, or warnings about your rights as the author of this manuscript?

One word:  DON’T.

That’s right – don’t.  Get them out of there.

When you’re sending a manuscript to editors, agents, etc., make sure you remove any copyright messages (or just don’t put them in there in the first place!). 

A harsh-sounding warning not to copy or use any part of the manuscript is sure to be offputting and it shows a lack of professionalism and trust.  If you’re sending to genuine industry professionals, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about… and if you’re not, well, don’t waste your time.

The biggest mistake writers make when they’re submitting their children’s picture book manuscript is wanting it to “look like a book.”  So they fancy it up with weird page sizes, text formatting, images, even clip art to “give them the idea.”  All of these are a baaaaaad idea.

A book is what editors CREATE, not what they receive from you, the writer.  What they’re expecting from you is exactly what you should give them – no more, no less.  A clean, unadulterated manuscript that’s as pure as you can possibly deliver.

So revel in that nakedness!  Be proud of your story… and let it all hang out, in all its naked glory!

1 comment:

As always, I love to hear from you.