Manuscript format is the formatted work that an author submits to a publisher, editor, or producer for publication. Even with the advent of desktop publishing, making it possible for anyone to prepare text that appears professionally typeset, many publishers still require authors to submit manuscripts within their respective guidelines.
Although publishers guidelines for formatting are the most critical resource for authors, style guides are also key references for authors preparing manuscripts since "virtually all professional editors work closely with one of them in editing a manuscript for publication."
Manuscript formatting depends greatly on the type of work that is being written, as well as the individual publisher, editor or producer. Writers who intend to submit a manuscript should determine what the relevant writing standards are, and follow them. Individual publishers' standards will take precedence over style guides.
Requirements for copy editing
The copy editor needs to be able to easily read all the letters that make up the words. If a much smaller or larger font size is used, the text becomes more difficult for the copy editor to read.
Double spacing the text (providing additional leading), provides the copy editor additional space in and around letters, words, and lines to make notes and corrections on the manuscript. Leaving more than half of the first page blank allows the editor or copy editor to write summary instructions to the typesetter that concern the entire manuscript.
Writers can add the word count of the manuscript, although this may also be noted on a query letter. Most publishers pay writers based on a hypothetical number of words in the manuscript. However, this is not the physical count of actual words; this is a rough count of the number of characters divided to better estimate the space that the final text will consume in the published version. Normally, this involves counting every character in the manuscript, including spaces, and dividing by 6. If the correct font size is used, and if the margins are set so that lines contain an average of 60 characters, the editor can easily assume that there are 10 words per line. Furthermore, if the top and bottom margins are set so that there are, for example, 20 lines on each page, the editor can easily count 200 words per page.
Requirements for manuscript handling
The final reason involves how editors, copy editors, and typesetters handle manuscripts. They might work on an entire manuscript at one time or the editor might hand groups of pages to the typesetter at a time. Unstapled pages facilitate this. The copyeditor typically makes marks on every page; a page that lies flat is easily set aside and is out of the way of the next page. Typesetters often place the copy on a raised surface to view it better; stapled manuscripts are difficult to manage in this way.
Page numbers, author's name, and title on every page ensure that if an unstapled manuscript is shuffled on a table, shared among two or more people, or dropped, it can easily be reassembled, and if a stack of unstapled manuscripts is dropped, it can easily be sorted into the correct sets.
Other manuscript formats
Publishers have different requirements for manuscript format. Knowledgeable writers check a publisher's Writer's Guidelines before submitting manuscripts. In addition, specialized formats that are different from those described here might be required for certain situation including:
- Plays and screenplays
- Research or academic papers
- List of style guides
- Sentence spacing
- Sentence spacing in language and style guides
- Style guides
- Sambuchino, Chuck; The Editors of Writer's Digest Books (2009). Formatting and Submitting your Manuscript (3rd ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. pp. 5, 10. ISBN 978-1-58297-571-9.
- Stevenson, Jay (2005). The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Punctuation: A Handy Reference to Resolve All Your Grammatical Problems. Alpha Books. p. viii. ISBN 978-1-59257-393-6.
- Sambuchino, Chuck; The Editors of Writer's Digest Books (2009). Formatting and Submitting your Manuscript (3rd ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. pp. 10–11. ISBN 978-1-58297-571-9.