I posted this piece a number of years ago, when most writers still submitted paper manuscripts. It addresses a true FAQ. People are always asking writers how you set up manuscripts for submission and it's actually a good question. There is a standard format for paper manuscripts submitted to commercial markets. It's simple and logical and it lets the editor know you've done a little research and found out what you're supposed to do. It's probably the best format to use when you're submitting electronically, unless a publication's submission guide says you should do something else.
Here's my original piece, with updates:
Print the manuscript double spaced on letter size 8 1/2 x 11 paper, with one inch margins all around. Use 20 pound weight. I normally use a good quality bond paper for my submission drafts.
Place your name and address on the upper left hand corner of the first page, single spaced. Use the name you want them to print on the check. Nowadays, I also include my phone number and my e-mail address.
Place the word count on the upper right hand corner of the first page. I usually round it off to the nearest hundred words, sometimes the nearest fifty. (Ex "About 15,300 words.") I use my word processor's word count function. You'll find more complicated procedures on some websites but nobody's ever objected to my word counts.
Switch to double spacing. Go down five or six lines. Type in the name of the story and your byline (the name you want them to use if they actually buy it and print it). Go down five or six more lines and start the story. I usually put the title in caps.
Number each page in the upper right hand corner. Include a running head in the left hand corner. The simplest running head is just your name. I sometimes include a shortened version of the title but that has a disadvantage--the editor may want you to change the title. The running head is a help to the editor. If a bunch of manuscripts fall on the floor and get scrambled, the editor can put yours together without a lot of searching and checking. (That's a quaint consideration these days but the running head still seems to be appreciated.)
At the end of the manuscript, most people type THE END. I used to type an old newspaper symbol, -30-. Nowadays I don't put anything. So far, nobody's objected.
Physical manuscripts should be mailed flat in 9x12 or 10x13 manila envelopes, depending on how thick they are. In the past, you always enclosed a stamped, self-addressed 9x12 or 10x13 envelope. Nowadays, most writers enclose a stamped, self-addressed No. 10 envelope instead and let the editor know the manuscript can be destroyed if it's rejected. It's cheaper to print up a new manuscript when you send it out again.
Should you enclose a covering letter? Some editors hate covering letters. Most seem to be mildly in favor of them. The best advice is to keep it short. Tell the editor you're enclosing a manuscript entitled Y of length X. If you want to say something about the story or the author, I suggest you confine it to one short paragraph and tell her something that is (1) factual and (2) relevant to this particular story. DON'T tell her what rights you're selling, or how much you want to be a writer. If the editor rejected a story of yours with a personal note, you might want to thank her for her comments on story X-- giving her a polite reminder that she's indicated you may be a writer worth watching.
For electronic submissions, you should check the submission guidelines on the publication's website.
The above is essentially the system I've used for over fifty years, modified by the advent of the computer..Still, you shouldn't take my word for it. You can find more advice on this subject on theAsimov's and Analog web sites. You can also check the annual Writer's Market volumes and many of the books on writing you will find in your local library and your local bookstores. I learned how to format a manuscript by reading books on writing when I was a teenager. I've often wondered why the people who ask about it don't do the same thing.
(Last updated March 13, 2014)
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