When you prepare a manuscript for publication, follow the agent’s or publication’s guidelines.
When you submit your work for critique, follow the guidelines set by your group. Readability is the key. That could mean you will use a larger font than the standard 12 font size to accommodate a member with poor eyesight. If you run out of black ink or white paper, use colored if it’s readable. Of course, you’d never use colors on a formal manuscript. When you ready your manuscript for an editor’s consideration, you will start the first page about halfway down from the top. Your critique group has no use for that extra space. Save paper, and begin on the first line below the top margin.
Another rule-breaker most groups agree to: if writing non-fiction, you don’t have to show your research data. It’s okay to leave superscripted reference numbers in place. Simply inform readers as to the purpose of the numbers.
If you have a quoted selection that is several lines long, indent it on both sides and single space it. That reminds members they cannot change the wording of quoted selections. Work that is littered with lengthy quoted material, however, is not acceptable. Writers who cannot paraphrase most reference sources indicate they haven’t grasped what they are repeating, and probably lack the knowledge needed to pursue their topic.
Sidebars often cause confusion. Be sure to note where one will appear if it is to be placed near a certain section. Example, “(see sidebar Title).” At the end of your manuscript, set each sidebar off with the word “sidebar” underlined and in all caps. Under it, write the title of the sidebar. Normally, double-space the content of a sidebar, as you do any other prose.
When formatting a manuscript that will contain charts, photographs, and so forth, you may need to include those features for readers’ understanding. If not, use a brief description. For example, “pie chart illustrating financial data goes here.” Clarity is the rule.
Poetry is single spaced with a line between stanzas. If a poem is long, add line numbers to the page. The acceptable number of pages varies from group to group, but remember, poetry requires careful reading. If you want good critiques, don’t overload your readers.
For screenplays, use screenplay format. Honor the page limits set by your writing circle, but don’t cut the end of a scene when one more page will finish it.
Prose: for both fiction and nonfiction, follow these guidelines:
× Double spaced
× Margins: 1 to 1.5-inches
× Line numbers on the left side.
× Length: groups vary on this. The book, CRAFT: Create, Rewrite, and Fine Tune, suggests 1-5 pages—numbered.
©2012, Bernice W. Simpson