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HOW TO FORMAT YOUR MANUSCRIPT

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Oh, the crazy things I see when prospective authors share their manuscripts with me. Dingbats. Fun with fonts. Huge margins. Tabs, tabs, tabs. Odd line spacing.

When you’re submitting a manuscript to an editor, you need not be creative with the look of it. Indeed, most editors want to see a simple, clean manuscript devoid of frills and embellishments.

With that, a few pointers on how to format a manuscript:

  • The order of your manuscript should go roughly like this:
    —Title page, which features the title and subtitle and your byline. And that’s it.
    —Contents, which features chapter titles (complex or technical manuscripts might also require subheads). No page numbers.
    —Foreword. (Please note it is a foreword. Not a forward or a foreward or a forword.) Not every manuscript requires a foreword, but if you have one, it goes here.
    —Introduction/preface/prologue. The typical manuscript uses just one of these, of course.
    —Main text. Chapter by chapter. Each chapter should start on a new page, which is created by using “insert new page,” not by hitting return return return return until you get to the next page. Chapter titles can be centered or flush left, and the text can start two lines below or about a quarter of a page below.
    —Conclusion/epilogue. Note that if your front material was called a prologue, the back material should be called an epilogue.
    —Notes, bibliography, resources. Of course, fiction manuscripts typically do not include this backmatter, although some novelists do include a bibliography or list of resources.
    —Index. Again, typically for nonfiction titles; not for fiction.
    —Acknowledgements. The space you use to thank everyone who helped you with the manuscript usually goes at the back of the book, although it’s also appropriate to include it between the Contents and Foreword or after the Introduction. Some authors elect to incorporate their acknowledgements in the Introduction.
  • Your manuscript should be formatted with 1″ margins all around—top, bottom, left, and right. Line spacing should be double-spaced throughout, with no points above or below. Paragraphs should be indented 0.5″ at the first line.
  • Most editors prefer a simple typeface, such as 12-point Times New Roman. A serif font like this is much easier to read than a sans serif face such as Arial or Helvetica. Do not mix and match fonts.
  • Chapter titles and subheads should be in bold, and they can be centered or flush left, but be sure to be consistent with usage. Make clear whether a subhead is an A-, B-, or C- level head (sometimes called 1-, 2-, or 3-level heads) by using different font sizes—e.g., chapter titles at 16 points, A-level heads at 14 points, B-level heads at 12 points, and C-level heads at 12 points italicized.
  • Primary text should be ragged right rather than justified. Pull quotes (usually extracts from other sources that are more than 50 or 75 words) can be set off as justified text with narrower margins and tighter line spacing.
  • For the love of Pete: one space after a period!
  • Also: serial commas! Whether you call this an Oxford comma, a Chicago comma, or a serial comma, please use it. (See that? I used a serial comma right there!)
  • For footnotes, use the handy footnotes tool in Word, which automatically numbers the notes for you and drops them at the bottom of the correct page. If you prefer endnotes, that’s completely fine, but still use that tool. Use Cardinal numerals instead of Roman numerals. Notes should be formatted in 10-point Times New Roman, single-spaced, with a hanging indent of 0.25″.
  • Tabs are best saved for tables and charts. You can center titles, headlines, and subheads using the centering tool. You can indent paragraphs using the first-line indent tool. Don’t tab tab tab tab tab over to wherever you want to place an element. That’s annoying and can screw up your formatters/typesetters later on down the line once the manuscript goes into production.
  • If you’re going to open a chapter with a quote, make sure that all chapters open with quotes. Be consistent!
  • Page numbers should be inserted at the bottom of the page in the footer, flush right. It can be helpful to include your name and the book title in the footer as well; these should go flush left.

Of course, if you are already working with a publisher, the style and formatting guidelines required by that publisher rule above all else. Too, the field for which you are writing might have a preferred style guide, such as Chicago Manual of Style, Modern Language Association, or American Psychological Association. Whether you use CMS, MLA, APA, or some other style guide, be sure to be consistent with usage throughout the manuscript.

Why is any of this important?
For at least a couple of reasons.

For starters, although it might seem mundane or finicky, a properly formatted manuscript is easier to read. A messy, goofy, dolled-up manuscript can be annoying, which doesn’t exactly predispose your editor to read your manuscript with a charitable eye. Editing is as much art as science, and if your sloppy manuscript sets the wrong tone, it might not end up well for you.

In addition, if you’re paying out of pocket for an editor to work on your manuscript, it might cost you less in the long run if that editor doesn’t need to spend a lot of time reformatting your manuscript. I’ve worked on projects that required many hours of formatting. If the author had taken the time to format the manuscript correctly in the first place, he could have saved himself hundreds of dollars.

In the end, remember that a manuscript isn’t a printed book. A manuscript isn’t even typeset pages. There is no reason for any writer to play “Fun with Formatting,” because any design elements will be settled on later in the production process when the internal design of the book is determined. The manuscript should be clean and easy to read. You’re much better spending your time being creative with your writing than being creative with the appearance of your manuscript.

—Kelli
September 12, 2017

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YOUR BOOK IS ONLY PART OF IT

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How many books are published to lackluster sales?
How many books fail to garner literary reviews?
How many authors go unnoticed?

The short answer: too many

More than a million new books are published every year in the United States. The number of self-published books has grown by more than 375% since 2010. This at a time when the average nonfiction title sells about 250 copies a year and about 2,500 copies over its life, and at a time when a book has a less than 1% chance of being stocked in a bookstore.*

These dismal statistics fail to thwart most writers, who, despite the odds, continue to pursue their dreams of becoming published authors.

So what’s a writer to do?

If you want your book to have any chance at all of not only getting published but also not dying on the vine, you have to look at your book as just one part of your overall plan. Call it a branding plan or a business plan or a publishing plan, but the book is only part of it.

This is probably the biggest failure I see authors succumb to. They have a good idea (it all starts with a good idea, of course) for a new title, they write a good manuscript, and they get their book published—and then they sit back and hope it sells.

This is a bad plan.

Instead, your book, whether fiction or nonfiction, has to be part of your overall publishing strategy—and that strategy must include establishing yourself as a go-to subject-matter expert in whatever topic or genre you plan to publish your book.

The work of establishing yourself as that go-to SME speaks to your platform, that holy grail of publishing that gets agents, editors, publishers, bookstore buyers, reviewers, and—yes—even readers all hot and bothered about your book. That’s because becoming a subject-matter expert (or thought leader or guru or influencer or whatever the buzzword du jour is) is about building a community of loyal, dedicated fans, friends, and followers who not only recognize your name but also love your work and want to read more, more, more of it. That is, they are ready, willing, and able to shell out $19.95 or $24.95 or $27.95 or whatever to buy your book. They want to buy your book because you are the one expert they want to read, because you are saying something that no one else is saying, because you are important to them—and because they believe they are important to you.

Your book, then, is only part of your cachet as a subject-matter expert/thought leader/guru/influencer. Also crucial to building this cachet is publishing widely, in print or digital, in the same (or, at the very least, related) subject or genre you plan to publish your book. Every byline matters. Same goes for every presentation, speech, lecture, panel, and keynote you make. Every podcast and TED talk. Every course, workshop, or seminar you offer. Every related professional association you’re affiliated with as a member, every related organization for which you volunteer, every related conference you attend. Everyone who signs up for your newsletter or your RSS feed. Everyone who regularly visits your website or blog to see what you’ve been writing.

All of this matters. Why? Because it helps you build your community. Platform isn’t so much about the quantity of followers you have as it is about the quality of those followers. You can buy all the Tweeps you want, but not one of them is going to buy your book. You can amass thousands of anonymous followers on Instagram, but chances are that few of them will buy your book, either. Breadth is good—i.e., building community across various media and through various organizations. But even more important when it comes to book sales is depth—i.e., how loyal your community members are.

Because what you want are followers who absolutely simply cannot wait for your book to come out. What you want is to be known as the one person who should be read in whatever subject or genre you’re writing. You want to be that person who is recommended, who is buzzed about, who is listened to.

Becoming a subject-matter expert, building a community, and establishing your platform isn’t a one-and-done exercise. It begins well before you plan to publish your book, and it continues well after the book is published. The book is just part of it. Everything you do to establish yourself as a published writer is related. It has to happen before you publish, while the book is hitting bookstore shelves, and long after sales peak.

Remember: You’re not just promoting your book; you’re promoting yourself. In fact, you have to start with promoting yourself well before you can ever hope to have the chance to promote your book.

If you think of publishing your book as just one aspect of promoting yourself, your brand, and your message, you will be better positioned to publish a successful book. Your website, blog, and newsletter; your articles, essays, stories, white papers, and reports; your guest posts; your public appearances; your attendance at conferences; your presentations, workshops, and seminars; your networking meetings; your social media conversations—all of that goes to promoting yourself.

It’s all connected.

No one wants to publish a book only to see it sell fewer than 250 copies. No one wants to publish a book that can’t get stocked in a bookstore. When we publish books, we want them to sell, we want them to get reviewed, we want to see them in bookstores and libraries and everywhere fine books are sold. We want them to get into the hands of our readers, our many, loyal, dedicated readers.

But if we haven’t already established a loyal community of dedicated readers, it’s almost impossible to break through to become one of those few titles that sells many thousands of copies instead of a few hundred copies.

So think of your book as just one aspect of your overall publishing plan. Promote yourself and build a community of loyal fans who can’t wait to buy your book. Use every tool in your arsenal to reach that community and establish yourself as the writer they can’t wait to read.

—Kelli
August 29, 2017

*See, e.g., https://www.bkconnection.com/the-10-awful-truths-about-book-publishing and http://www.npr.org/2015/09/19/441459103/when-it-comes-to-book-sales-what-counts-as-success-might-surprise-you

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