Monday, February 23, 2009

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled MSS

manuscript--the text of a narrative, either printed on 8 1/2 X 11 manuscript paper, or as a formatted electronic package including captured keystrokes, which may be transmitted by electronic mail; one or more pages of text formatted in accordance with the publisher's conventions.

The writer's first responsibility in preparing a manuscript for submission is to learn the publisher's conventions. Most book publishers in the U.S. standardize on (and copyedit to) the conventions of CMOS, The University of Chicago Manual of Style, aka Chicago Manual of Style (latest edition). In addition, most book publishers standardize on punctuation, spelling, usage preference, and word-break conventions articulated in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate (Eleventh Edition), although a wise and useful investment for the writer is the American Heritage (unabridged) Dictionary of the English Language (fourth edition).

Magazine and journal publishers have different usage conventions relative to the use of numbers, abbreviations, capitalization, and punctuation. A handy guide is The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, yet another is The Associated Press Stylebook. For scholarly book and journal publications, the conventions of The Modern Language Association's Style Guide are useful, particularly in the presentation of bibliographical and source notes.

A major key to the preparation of any manuscript is the consistency of usage.

Basic requirements for short story and novel manuscripts:

Opening Page for Short Story or Chapter-Opening Page for Novel
1. Twenty-pound basis weight white paper with an opacity factor of at least 90 percent.
2. One-and-a-quarter to one-and-a-half-inch margins top and bottom.
3. Author's name, address (including e-mail) single-spaces in the upper left margin, first page.
4. Approximate number of words, rounded to the nearest hundred, flush on right margin, lined up with Author's name.
5. Numbers 1-4 are single spaced. Everything else in the manuscript is double spaced.
6. Five double spaced lines below to centered title.
7. One double spaced break below to author's name, centered.
8. Text is a twelve-point face such as American Typewriter, Baskerville, Courrier, (Unless a specific publisher requests it, do not use Times Roman.) printed in black ink. The use of computer composition makes for greater convenience in rendering italic.
9. Page number centered at foot.

Regular Text Pages

1. Author's last name or novel or story title, flush on left margin
2. Page number: either flush on right margin or separated from author's name or story title by a hyphen.
3. Use the # symbol, centered, or The End to denote completion.
4. Two-line space breaks throughout to separate scenes.

It is not necessary to concern yourself with copyediting, punctuation, or spelling until you have engaged and completed the revision process. The goal of the revision process is to have a manuscript that can be sent forth into submission with no further work, thus any preparation of manuscript is mechanical.

You may have some reason, particularly in longer works, to use different type faces to convey such effects as handwriting, interior monologue, shifts in point of view, newspaper stories

Much of the time, we will not have direct personal contact with those on the receiving end of our manuscripts, meaning that the arrival of the manuscript and its condition speaks of its creator to the reader. As you would not appear for a formal gala wearing sweat pants, your manuscript should reflect at first glance, via its crispness and legibility, your having dressed for the occasion. One or two strike-outs or uses of liquid erasure will not cause editorial eyebrows to twitch, but the reality is that professional writers tend to prepare their manuscripts as though the words on them merit respect and consideration. Think how you would feel if a colleague handed you a business card that had coffee stains on it, notes scrawled on the back, and perhaps a dented corner.

Think of the impression your manuscript will have on the reader, known to you or not; then think of that reader settling into reading your text, formatted, punctuated, and spelled with consistency, your choice of words exquisite, spiraling upward to the authoritative sense of authorship you mean to convey.


Kate Lord Brown said...

Hi Shelly - that's interesting about Times Roman. Is there a particular reason?

Querulous Squirrel said...

I write 1 to 5 page stories. Is it ok that I stick them in regular, albeit fancy paper, envelopes, with Edgar Allen Poe Stamps, and Wiley Coyote stickers???

lowenkopf said...

KLB: Times Roman is a skinny type face, designed for the London Times to pack more words in a line. Not the easiest or most graceful read. Think Baskerville, think Caslon (a la The New Yorker), think American Typewriter or Courrier or Georgia.

QS: Couldn't hurt. Might even help.