Welcome to this guide to formatting a manuscript. Before it comes to sending out your shiny new stories to publishers, it needs to be formatted in the right way. Most publishers state in their submission guidelines how they wish your story to be formatted. Don’t ignore this. If you do, it’ll demonstrate to the editors that you either don’t care enough to take the time to do it or that you haven’t read the guidelines. Both will piss them off just as much. This is the golden rule when it comes to formatting your work.
A lot of publishers, particularly those based in the US, will ask for your manuscript to be formatted in the Shunn style. Indeed, William Shunn’s formatting guidelines have proven so popular they’ve become something of the default. By that I mean, if a publisher does not state in their guidelines how they’d like your piece formatted, revert to Shunn.
The Shunn style
William Shunn is the chap behind these formatting guidelines, and his short essays on both formatting manuscripts for short stories and novels are freely available over on his website www.shunn.net.
The URL for the short story guide is > https://www.shunn.net/format/story.html
And for novels > https://www.shunn.net/format/novel.html
I encourage you to read both so here I’ll cover just the highlights—some of the biggest pet peeves of editors.
Keep it simple. Shunn recommends using either Times New Roman or Courier. Courier is his strong preference because it’s monospaced, meaning every character is evenly spaced apart, which makes it easier to detect spelling mistakes. Size 12 font is also recommended.
Often a subject for debate. Shunn recommends double spacing—it’s easier to make notes around the text, and for me, I find it easier to read the text and detect any mistakes.
The first page is where you feature your name, contact information and word count, usually positioned at the top left of the page.
Some publishers will ask you to format your manuscript in their own ‘house’ style. It’s worth taking the time to follow their guidelines completely. And it’s not that much extra work. I usually save another copy of my formatted piece and just make the adjustments. Shunn is, however, the industry-standard it seems, so it won’t be often that you have to deviate.
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