Manuscript Formatting

One of the biggest challenges afoot these days with manuscript editing is how to deal with poorly formatted submission files. It is the author’s responsibility to submit properly formatted word processor files. Some publishers will pay editing fees to fix bad files, while others choose to pass those fees along to the authors.

If a publisher fixes a manuscript file without charging the author, that usually means the in-house editors will scrub the file through a plain text editor such as Notepad. Washing a file through any plain text editor is a severe process that removes all special formatting, including essential things like tabs, Italics, long dashes, page breaks, extra lines, centering, ellipses, embedded notes, font settings, and all symbols. In other words, the plain text washing process strips out everything except basic keyboard letters, numerals, and standard punctuation. It’s called plain text for a reason.

The only way to avoid having your file stripped to plain text is to provide a properly formatted submission file. Manuscript files should be created in the simplest format possible, so the file will transport across the most platforms and open cleanly in the most word processors. Here are a few tips on creating a simple manuscript file.

* Use either RTF (Rich Text Format), DOC, or ODF (Open Document Format). [Never use non-standard file types, especially DOCX.]
* Set the PAGE SIZE at 8.5″ x 11″ (standard letter) with 1.0″ margins all around.
* Set the default FONT to standard Times New Roman size-12 (TNR-12). This must include the whole document, including the Header and the Footer.
* Set the body text to JUSTIFIED (not ragged right).
* Set a LEFT TAB at 0.5″ (1/2 inch) in the body text.
* Adjust the PARAGRAPH setting for 1-line space with no extra space between paragraphs and disable both the “keep with” and “widow/orphan” settings.
* Turn off all smart tags and other types of style codes.
* Leave the Footer blank, but make sure it’s set to TNR-12 centered or justified.
* Make sure the Header is set to TNR-12 justified. Set a RIGHT TAB at the far right margin. On the left add your document information, such as: MY WORK by Jane Doe [08/03/2013]. Hit the tab and then set the page numbers on the right, such as: # of ###.

If you cannot format your own manuscript file, then you will need to find someone to do it for you. It can take several hours to format a medium-sized fiction manuscript and much longer for large manuscripts (of 90,000 words or more). Since most editors charge by the hour, paying to have your file formatted can be very expensive.

However, if you don’t want to do your own formatting or for any reason simply cannot do it, then the best advice is to find an editor you trust to format all of your files prior to submission.

Producing a properly formatted DOC, ODF, or RTF file requires some word processor expertise. Not a lot, but enough to handle the basics. And a basic word processor text file is what a publisher needs.

If you use MS Word, be sure its default template (i.e. the settings for any new file) is reset to the above basics, meaning RTF or DOC using Times New Roman #12, etc. The newer versions of WordPad (i.e. the small on-board word processor part of the Windows desktop) is now much more powerful and will work as a reliable word processor with the proper formatting. Free word processors that work very well include: Kingsoft, Open Office Writer, or Office Libre. Open source programs generally use the default ODF (Open Document Format) file type. Another very good word processor is Atlantis, which costs about $35 for a quick download and install.