A good friend once asked me to read a manuscript. “It’s only seventy-eight pages,” he said.
The friend was a good one, so I said yes.
The manuscript came and indeed it was seventy-eight pages. But the margins were one-half an inch wide, top, bottom, and sides. The font was size 10. The pages were not numbered.
After my first gasp as to what I was seeing I knew I would never read the text. It was blushingly unreadable. What I sent back were suggestions on how to make a manuscript readable.
If you send someone a text, you want to make it easy to read. So, to begin, double spaced and bold, please. Number the pages.
There are many fonts available on a computer. I recall a lively conversation with Kevin Henkes about how we went about matching the “right” font with a particular text. Fonts are not only fun but a real art form. My own favorite is the 18th century Caslon. (Hey, I do write historical fiction). That said I submit my texts using Times New Roman, at 12 points. It’s fairly standard and I think all computers can replicate it.
My computer allows me to design the text: Regular. Expanded. Compacted. I always use expanded. Again, easier to read.
As for the layout of a page, there are infinite possibilities. But I suggest you use the default layout your computer offers.
In all this, I am urging that there be nothing about your manuscript that inhibits the reader from reading it. That is, after all, the point.
But since I am a bad speller, and my knowledge of grammar would put a seventh-grader to shame, I run my texts (often) through spell and grammar checkers. When I got my first computer and learned how to use a spell-checker I was thrilled. I have long believed the inventor(s) should have won the Noble Prize for Literature.
I remember Richard Peck—a former teacher—telling me he never wanted a spelling or grammar mistake in his books, lest a young writer learn to write the wrong way. Ah, Richard, I miss you.
So, I have three programs for checking. My PC, my Laptop, and Grammarly. They don’t agree one with the other or even themselves over periods of time. Being without brains they can be wrong, or out of touch with my writing. It’s always my judgment, but I love, love the advice.
There are also programs for checking word repetitions. Do you really want your protagonist to say, “I was dazzled!” a hundred times?
Too many exclamation points? Use your word finder!!! Elmore Leonard said you should never use them. Hemingway (I think it was him) said “Using an exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”
Your word finder will find them for you. And the “delete” button should be your most well-used key.
Another agent once told me she received manuscript submissions tied up in ribbons and bows, along with brownies and cookies.
I send in my manuscripts via e‑mail attachments.
Once I asked an agent how long it took for her to tell if the submitting author wrote well.
Her answer: “The first line of the submission letter.”
Ever since my submission letters read:
Here is the book about which we talked.