Anyway, that got me to thinking, that with so many people self-publishing these days, and with some doing nearly everything, from first draft to final published work, standard format seems to have less importance. Quite possibly, some writers may not even be aware of it. Much of what I know, I learned over the years from Anne Mini on her Author! Author! Blog. I don't think she's posted anything for a few years, but it still has loads of information on traditional publishing and the writing world. (She posted a few weeks ago to acknowledge some problems with scammers and that some posts are appearing to be in some foreign language.) Yet if you can get to it, the voluminous blog has tons of information on standard format, querying, pitching, etc. There is an index or list of catagories, both by date of original posting and by subject. I find that nearly everything is explained fully and in complete detail,although it might take a bit to wade through it all.
A couple of years ago, I made a presentation to Spokane Authors and Self-Publishers on Standard Manuscript Format, and I include that here. It's in outline form and hopefully it will translate over when I hit "paste." I originally included samples, but I don't think they will show as they should,so I'll not place them here.
Not quite Standard Format, in that I've printed on both sides of the page and it's been punched to fit in a three-ring binder. Other than that, and the fact I've done some editing on these two pages, this is what standard format should look like.
Standard Manuscript Format
I. Why talk about standard format?
A. Several years since the last presentation on the subject (me), which was three years since Anne Mini’s presentation.
B. Many new SASP members have joined since then.
1. Many are just beginning to write or consider publishing what they have written.
2. Some of these individuals may not be aware of standard format or how to implement it.
a. This was confirmed years ago when conversation when a guest revealed he was
b. While helping edit a story for our Anthology, I noticed that it did not come close
II. What is standard format?
A. It is what a professional reader expects to see when evaluating a submitted manuscript, partial submission, or contest entry.
1. Professional reader - - Agency screener, agent; editorial assistant, editor; literary contest judge, etc.
B. All manuscripts should appear the same at first glance.
1. This allows manuscripts to be judged on the content and quality of the writing, rather than on the outward appearance.
C More than a slight deviation from “standard” can be cause for rejection or disqualification.
1. A professional reader isn’t going to waste time on an incorrectly formatted manuscript.
a. It may indicate other writing problems, or that the writer will be difficult to deal with.
b. There will be more than enough properly formatted manuscripts to evaluate or
2. Literary contests often specify unique and somewhat arbitrary rules designed to help pare the competing entries down to a manageable number.
D. Regardless of how you plan to be published, it is a good idea to have your work in standard format.
1. It looks professional.
2. Standard Format makes reading, reviewing, and editing as easy as possible
3. You never know when you might need to submit it to someone who would expect to receive it in standard format.
a. A copy editor or even a member of a critique group.
E. Once familiar with standard format, it’s easiest to simply write in it.
1. There is no need to change or convert later, unless a specific agency or other place of submission has specific and different requirements.
III. How did standard format become standard?
A. A long time ago, all books were manuscripts. They were hand written.
B. Copies were made by hand scribing another copy.
C. With the invention of moveable type, several copies could be made easily and cheaply.
D. The original that the author submitted was still hand written.
1. The legibility of an author’s hand writing was certainly a factor in those days.
2. Many of the great writers of the past submitted in handwritten form.
a. James Fennimore Cooper, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Herman Melville, etc.
E. The typewriter was invented around 140 years ago.
1. Mark Twain is believed to have been the first to submit a typewritten manuscript for publication (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) 1873?
2. By the twentieth century, the typewritten manuscript had become the normal way of submitting one’s work.
F. Standard Format of today is based largely upon the capabilities and limitations of the typewriter.
1. Even though it is possible to produce a document with the computer that closely resembles the page of a printed book, a manuscript is not supposed to look like a printed book.
2 Only in a few cases has the capabilities of the computer been taken into account with regards to what is standard.
IV. Conventions of Standard Format
A. Paper (If not submitting electronically)
1. Plain, bright white, letter-sized (8.5 x 11 in.) paper of at least 20 # weight.
a. Must be easy on the reader’s eyes.
b. Must stand up to repeated handling, spills, etc.
1. Sharp black lettering
a. Again, must be easy to read.
C. Margins and Alignment
1. One Inch Margins on all sides.
a. Twenty-three lines per full page of text is normal, as is a larger bottom margin.
b. Certain agencies and publishers may prefer or specify other margins, such as one
2. Align Left
a. Do not “justify.” Right hand margin should be ragged.
1. Times Roman or Times New Roman, “size” 12
a. Standard of the industry
b. Equates to an Elite (twelve characters per inch) typewriter, even though it is proportional with a computer, compared to non-proportional on a typewriter.
2. Courier or New Courier, “size” 12
a. Also acceptable and the normal/standard for screen writing.
b. Equates to a Pica (ten characters per inch) typewriter, and even on a computer is
E. Paragraphs and Text.
1. Indent the first line by one half inch.
a. Standard or default tab setting on most computers.
b. Some sources specify five spaces, but with the nature of the computer, this can be
2. DO NOT skip a line between paragraphs.
a. A skipped line indicates a scene break.
b. Some professional readers require a # or a * or multiples thereof on the skipped
3. Double-space all lines.
4. Double-space after all sentence ending punctuation. (Periods, Exclamation Points, and Question Marks.) (A lot of folks say this is no longer required and that you shouldn't do it. I'm old and stubborn and will do so unless specifically told not to!)
5. Print on one side of the page only. (Unless for your own use.)
F. Slug line
1. In the upper margin, aligned to the left.
2. Allows for reassembly of manuscript if it is dropped, mixed with others, or otherwise out of order.
a. Manuscripts traditionally are not bound or fastened in any way.
3. Contains author’s name, title, and page number, separated by slashes.
a. Some sources call for slug line to be in all capitals, while others prefer it to be in
b. Do not indent or leave a space between letters and the slashes.
c. Permissible to abbreviate author’s name and name of book.
d. The first page of the story is page one. Number pages consecutively. Do not start over with the start of a new chapter.
G. The First Page, and the First Page of each chapter have a specific format.
1. Centered on the top line, the chapter number. “Chapter One” with the number spelled out
a. For book length manuscripts, there should be no author contact information on the first page of text. (Other than the Slug line)
2. Centered on the second line, the chapter title, if desired, if used.
3. Begin the text one third of the way down the page, or on the eighth double-spaced line.
a. Indent the first line of the first paragraph, even if many printed books do not.
4. At the end of a chapter, leave the remainder of the page blank and start the next chapter on a new page, even if there is only one word on the final page of a chapter.
5. You may want to think of each chapter as a separate computer document, whether or not you create them as such.
H. The Title Page.
1. Goes in front of submitted text, whether a complete manuscript or a partial.
2. Two accepted formats. The “professional format” is discussed here.
a. Upper right hand corner, the book category/genre and word count.
b. Centered left to right and top to bottom, the book’s complete title, “by” and the
c. Lower right hand corner, the author’s contact information. Here, use the author’s
d. Title page should be in the same font and size as the rest of the submission.
I. Word Count
1. Estimated according to the following:
a. Times Roman or Times New Roman: two hundred and fifty words per page, times the number of pages.
b. Courier or New Courier: two hundred words per page, times the number of pages.
2. Estimated word count is usually less than according to one’s word processing program.
a. It is traditional to use the estimated word count unless the individual you are submitting to specifies you are to use the actual count.
V. Other bits of useful information.
1. With the advent of the computer, use italics when needed. It is no longer acceptable to indicate italics by underlining.
1. Write or spell out all numbers less than 100.
a. Ninety-nine instead of 99.
b. Dates and time are exceptions.
C. Other parts of a submission package are usually expected to be in standard format as well.
1. Synopsis, although I’ve seen agencies ask that it be single spaced.
2. Author bio. If it is accompanied by a photo it should be single spaced. The idea is for it to be no more than one page in length.
3. Query letters or cover letters should follow the basic rules of standard format, other than being single spaced.
D. Be sure to check the requirements of the specific agency, publisher, or contest you are submitting to for variations from “standard.” (Submission Guide-lines)
1. Contests often require the author’s name to be removed from the slug line and elsewhere in the entry.
2. Contests and others might require the slug line to be arranged or located differently.
3. Different margin specifications.
4. Specific non-standard fonts
5. Actual, rather than estimated word count.
6. Symbols of some kind to indicate a scene break.
7. One space versus two after a period or other sentence ending punctuation.
8. Make the changes and give them what they want, but return manuscript to “standard” before sending elsewhere. (Or make a second copy you can modify to meet specific submission or entry guidelines.)
E. If working in Standard Format on the Computer… specifically in newer versions of Word.
1. Set “style” to “No Spacing,” vice “Normal.”
a. Will prevent inadvertent extra spacing between paragraphs when hitting Enter as
2. Be sure to turn off “Widows and Orphans.”
a. If not, computer may not allow a single line of a paragraph at the bottom or top of the page.
3. Default margin setting should be the required one inch on all sides, but you should check.
a. Change if needed to meet specific requirements.
4. In older word programs, the default font and size was the desired Times Roman or Times New Roman, “size” 12. Newer programs default to a different font and smaller size, so that will need to be set.
F. Try to be consistent in how you do something. Even if it is wrong, it is less noticeable if you do it the same way all the time. If you do it one way here and another way there, it stands out and just might cost you.
Well, that's Standard Format as I have come to understand it over the years. Most is based on what I learned from Anne Mini. Like so many things in the writing and publishing world, there are variations, contrary opinions, and just plain opposite directives.