Formatting Your Manuscript For Submission

Paper sheet iconsI’ve received questions about formatting manuscripts for submission to editors or agents. Here are the basics.

These guidelines apply to most manuscripts from picture book to adult fiction.

They apply whether you’re sending a manuscript to a freelance copy editor or developmental editor (like me), to a publisher, or to an agent.

Always read the submission guidelines carefully and send what the particular recipient requires.

Use Times New Roman 12 point font, in black throughout.

Double space your entire manuscript, other than the address information on the title page. Don’t put extra spaces between paragraphs.

Use a one-inch margin on all sides. If your word processing program defaults to 1.25″, that is fine.

Leave the right side ragged (not justified).

The first page is the title page.

  • Put your name and address in the top left corner, single-spaced.
  • In the top right corner, indicate word count and date last revised.
  • Halfway down the page center your title (usually all upper case) with your byline two lines down, also centered.

For a novel, use a page break to move to the next page, go down a couple of inches from the top margin, and begin your first chapter (double spaced).

For picture books, you may start your double-spaced document immediately following the title, OR you can start it on the page after the title page. Type the text as a continuous document. Typically a 500-word picture book will use two or three pages. This is completely acceptable.

Create a header that gives your surname, the title of your book, and the page number. When you format the page number, ensure that it is formatted not to print on the first page. This will keep the entire header off the title page.

Format the header thus: Surname/Title of Book                                             2

In an email submission to a publisher or agent, DO NOT send your manuscript as an attachment. For a picture book, simply append the text of your manuscript in the body of the email after your query letter. For a novel, append the sample the submission guidelines require in the same way.

For a submission by regular postal mail, print your manuscript in black type on white paper. For picture books, send query and manuscript folded into a regular #10 white envelope. For novels, send query and sample of the length the guidelines require in a 9×12 envelope, unfolded.

N.B. Regarding illustrations for picture book and chapter book writers

  • unless you are also an illustrator, do not submit or include illustrations with your manuscript.
  • If you are seeking traditional publication, the publisher will choose your illustrator.
  • Do not arrange for an illustrator on your own unless you are planning to self/independently publish.

A good guide for any kind of submission is Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript by Chuck Sambuchino and the editors of Writer’s Digest Books.

Do you have any questions about formatting manuscripts? Feel free to ask them in the comments.

All the best to you with your submissions!

Beth in script for blog

Sometime or some time? Onto or on to? — A Grammar Owl post

The Grammar Owl has migrated over to the Flubs2Fixes site from my general website, He and I will be bringing you monthly posts that answer common grammar and word use questions. The Grammar Owl posts will appear the third Friday of the month.

Today we’re looking at a couple of word use quandaries.

There are some words that seem to have been designed to trip people up. These are words that sometimes go together, while at other times they do not. Tricky, huh?

I’d like to take some time today, rather than doing it sometime in the future, to tell you about a few of these words today. (Did you see what I did there? 😉 )

As you can surmise from the previous sentence, there are times when you use “some time” and times when you use “sometime.” How do you know when to use each one?

“Some time” means to take a while to do something. It will take time. How much time? It will take some time. So it’s an indeterminate while, but it’s a definite time period. It answers the question “what amount of time?” – although admittedly it answers it vaguely.

On the other hand, “sometime” means at an unknown time in the future, and answers the question “when?” It’s even more vague than the other. I don’t know when I’ll do it. I’ll get to it sometime.

And then there is “sometimes” – which means occasionally. It answers the question “how often does this happen?” It happens sometimes. Sometimes I do this, and sometimes I don’t.

Sometimes I wonder how long it will take for people to understand the difference between these words. It will take some time, but it will happen sometime. 😉

Another such word trap is “onto” and “on to.” Those two are misused often.

“Onto” is a preposition, and means to be atop, on top of, upon. David climbed onto the stage.

BUT if you write David finished elementary school and moved onto high school – well, I hope he likes heights, because he’s up on the roof of the school, or so it would seem.

In the sentence about school, “on” is actually part of the verb phrase “moved on” – it’s acting as an adverb, modifying “moved,” and “to” is the preposition.

So you would write David finished elementary school and moved on to high school.

The website Writing Explained suggests that a good way to test which to use is to put the word “up” between the verb and “on” – if it makes sense, then “onto” is the word to use.

“Into” and “in to” work in the same way as “onto” and “on to.”

Are there other similar words that you’ve always wondered about? Ask about them in the comments, and I’ll try to clarify their use.

If you have any questions about grammar or word use, simply send a message to the Grammar Owl (and me) using the Grammar Owl contact form. We look forward to hearing from you, and to answering your questions!

You can find previous Grammar Owl posts here.

The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide by Becky Levine — book recommendation

Writing and Critique Group Survival GuideIt is enormously helpful for writers to get feedback on their works-in-progress. By this I don’t mean a family member’s unreserved praise, which feels good but isn’t really helpful when it comes to knowing how to improve one’s manuscript.

Rather, I mean thoughtful, helpful comments from people who understand the writing process and know the elements that make up good writing.

Many people get this feedback from a critique group (or more than one). These days critique groups can be in-person groups of writers who live near each other, or very often these days, online groups, which may be made up of people from all over the country or indeed the world.

It’s hard, sometimes, to find the right group, especially if one is new to writing, or lives in an area where there are not many writers. It is also difficult to know, in a new group, just how to proceed.

Enter Becky Levine’s excellent book, The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: how to give and receive feedback, self-edit, and make revisions.

In this book, published in 2010, Becky tackles the topics of

  • the basics of getting a critique group going,
  • how to critique fiction (for adult, young adult, and middle grade readers),
  • how to critique non-fiction,
  • how to critique books for younger children,
  • how to revise and self-edit from a critique,
  • and how to maintain an evolving group.

(Those words are direct quotes from the section titles.)

She does this in an easily readable style, giving helpful guidelines fleshed out with enough detail so that a critique group newbie feels totally supported and can understand what to do and how to do it.

There are also many worksheets to both further advance one’s understanding of critique groups, critiquing, and self-editing, and to help work out one’s needs and priorities.

In her introduction, Becky explains why she wrote this book:

“I’ve been in strong critique groups and groups that weren’t so great. I’ve seen poor communication between critiquers make for some nasty moments, and I’ve watched writers struggle, not knowing what to do with the feedback they are getting about their books.

I’ve also seen the success of writers who have joined or built a great group, in which the members support each other in all the important ways—with encouragement and with detailed, thought-out critiques.

I believe that most writers can learn to give respectful and useful critiques, and that they can also develop the strength to hear those critiques and work with them to take their manuscripts to a higher level of writing.

I also believe that writers need a set of tools to succeed at these goals.

My hope is that this book will provide you with those tools.” (quoted from page 1)

I highly recommend this book.

Be sure to come back on December 11, when I’ll be interviewing Becky about this book and about critiquing and self-editing in general.

Title: The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to give and receive feedback, self-edit, and make revisions

Author: Becky Levine

Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books, 2010

What is your experience with critique groups?

Beth in script for blog

Writing Query Letters (plus Special Opportunity for Picture Book Writers)

lavorare al pcQuery letters. Just reading the phrase is enough to make a writer feel nervous. So much of what we do seems to depend on this short epistle, as it is the way we introduce ourselves and our manuscripts to agents and editors.

We want that introduction to go beyond a hurried “nice to meet you, but I need to talk to someone else now,” so it’s important for us to do all we can to make our query letters sing.

We start by learning the basics. Those basics include the following steps:

  • target the publishers and/or agents you query – there is no point in sending a middle grade novel query to a publisher who doesn’t publish children’s books, even if they target your particular niche in every other way.
  • read submission guidelines carefully – if they ask for 10 pages, don’t give them 15; if they don’t take electronic submissions, use snail mail (and vice versa); if they say they’re currently closed to submissions, don’t assume you’ll be the exception.
  • ensure that your letter is no more than one page long, single spaced.
  • don’t try to be too quirky or off-the-wall in an attempt to be noticed. This is a business letter.
  • do send simultaneous submissions – unless they specifically state that they do not consider simultaneous submissions, it’s best to make good use of your time by sending out several targeted queries at a time.
  • don’t send blanket, generic submissions. Address the letter to a specific publisher or agent, following their specific guidelines, and giving some indication of why you think your manuscript would be a good fit for what they’re seeking.
  • get the editor’s or agent’s name right.
  • don’t get too familiar. Use an honorific and the person’s surname, not their first name, at this stage. (Dear Ms. Agentname)
  • BE PATIENT – if they say they will respond within three months, wait that long before checking with them UNLESS they have said “If you don’t hear from us within three months, assume that your manuscript doesn’t fill our needs at the moment.” In that case, simply move on to the next possibility.

The basics in terms of the style and form of your letter include

  • a brief introductory paragraph stating the title, word count and genre of your manuscript and including a brief explanation of why you chose this publisher or agent. For example, Dragons Can’t Sing! is a 450-word picture book. With Crashing Cymbals Publishing’s penchant for quirky picture books featuring the arts, I think my manuscript might suit your needs well.
  • a paragraph telling about the story. You don’t need to retell the whole story, just say enough to get the editor/agent interested. Make this engaging, with an intriguing “hook” sentence, but again, don’t try to be too quirky or off-the wall.
  • a brief paragraph indicating market potential, if you can provide some. This doesn’t have to be elaborate, perhaps a suggestion like “with the current success of x, I believe my book has potential to appeal to the same market” or “since Dragon learns the notes of the scale in the course of the story, music teachers and schools might find this book a good addition to the resources they share with their students.”
  • a brief paragraph indicating your publishing history IF you have any. If not, don’t mention it. If you have particular skills, such as “for many years I taught so-called tone-deaf children to sing, and have incorporated my methods into Dragons Can’t Sing!” then mention them. Otherwise, simply leave this paragraph out.
  • a brief closing. Thank them for taking the time to consider your submission, state that you have appended the requested sample, and also state if this is a simultaneous submission.
  • a formal sign-off. Yours sincerely or yours truly may seem mundane, but they are effective and completely acceptable. Give your name (first name and surname).
  • your writing sample. If you are submitting a picture book manuscript, you will usually send the full text. If it is a novel, the guidelines will specify how many pages to send. NEVER send this as an attachment. Copy/paste it into the body of the email.
  • If this is an electronic submission, they have your contact info with your email address. If it’s a snail mail submission, make sure you have included your mailing address and, only if they request it, a sase (self-addressed stamped envelope).

While you wait to hear back, get working on your next manuscript!

I learned the basics (and so much more) from author and freelance editor Emma Walton Hamilton, who has an almost magical talent for helping writers improve their query letters. If you’d like to hear Emma’s take on queries, here’s a link to a video she made.

SPECIAL OPPORTUNITY! If you’re a picture book writer and you’d like to learn about queries directly from Emma, she – along with author colleague and friend Julie Foster Hedlund – will be offering a free, live webinar called “Cracking the Picture Book Query” on Tuesday, November 10th at 1 pm Eastern time.

If you can’t attend at that time, the replay will be available for one week following the live event.

To learn more about the webinar, and to register, check out Emma’s blog post here.

Here’s to queries that sing!

Beth in script for blog



Note: The title Dragons Can’t Sing!, the name Crashing Cymbals Publishing, and the background in teaching kids to sing are all fictitious, used only as examples.