[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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Manuscript Format Checklist

Copyright © 1997 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved

Manuscripts being submitted to editors should be in the standard format expected by the publishing industry. Although some idiosyncratic variations are occasionally seen, this format is accepted universally at virtually all magazines and publishing companies, and is designed to facilitate the process of line editing, copyediting, and proofreading. Only deviate from it if you've received specific instructions to do so.

I'm providing a complete sample manuscript, in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. You'll need Adobe Reader (available for free from www.adobe.com) to view or print this file. I'm also providing the following manuscript-format checklist:

Header / Footer Material:

  • Printed on one side of white 8.5x11-inch 20-pound paper; pages not stapled or bound.

  • Author's real name, address, phone number, and email address in upper left of page one.

  • Approximate, rounded word count (based on ten words per 6.5-inch Courier 12-point / 10-pitch manuscript line) in the upper right of page one.

  • Notice that this is a "Disposable Copy" if you only want the editor's reply but not the actual manuscript returned (saves on postage costs for your SASE).

  • Title and author's name (or pen name) centered about halfway down the first page.

  • A page header identifying the author, story, and page number on each page after the first, flush with the right page margin: Sawyer / Uphill Climb / 2.

  • On the last page, an indication that this is actually the end of the story: "# # # # #," "The End," or "—30—."

The Actual Story:

  • One-inch margins on all four sides of the page (use a 6.5-inch ruler line for text). [In Microsoft Word, set these margins in the "Page Setup" dialog: Top: 1", Bottom: 1", Left: 1", Right: 1", Gutter: 0", Header: 0.5", Footer 0.5".]

  • Monospaced (not proportionally spaced) Courier 12-point / 10-pitch — ideally a decent, darker Courier, such as these free ones:

    or BitStream's "Courier10 BT," which comes with many Corel and WordPerfect products — but do not use the anemic "Courier New" that comes with Windows; it's far too spindly to comfortably read. (Many writers do now submit manuscripts in Times Roman, or another serif proportional font, even though that makes copyediting harder; you can probably get away with that, too.)

  • Ragged right margin (not right-justified) [set in Word at Format, Paragraph, Indents and Spacing, Alignment — choose "Left"].

  • Hyphenation turned off [set in Word at Format, Paragraph, Line and Page Breaks].

  • "Widow/orphan control" and "keep lines together" turned off [set in Word at Format, Paragraph, Line and Page Breaks].

  • Double-spaced lines (24-point leading) [set in Word at Format, Paragraph, Indents and Spacing: Set "Before: 0 pt" and "After 0 pt." And note that Word's "double spacing" is actually more than double spacing; rather than selecting "Line spacing: Double," instead select "Line spacing: Exactly," and specify "24 pt."]

  • Paragraphs indented one-half inch (set a tab for this amount).

  • Two spaces between sentences, if using a monospaced font such as Courier.

  • Punctuation inside of quotation marks.

  • Em-dashes shown as two hyphens -- like so -- if you can't, or prefer not to, show actual em-dashes.

  • A new paragraph every time you change speaker.

  • Emphasis and foreign phrases shown by underlining rather than italics (although this rule seems to be falling by the wayside).

  • Scene breaks shown by a number sign (#) centered on an otherwise blank line.

  • Spelling checked (using American spellings for U.S. markets, Canadian ones for Canadian markets, and British ones for U.K. markets — use the spelling of the market you are trying to sell to, not your home country's spelling) and manuscript manually proofread.

More Good Reading

Rob's "On Writing" columns
Notes for the Copyeditor
Essay: WordStar — A Writer's Word Processor

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