Before your script leaves home, let’s make sure it’s in the right shape. What do publishers and agents expect to see on your page, apart from your undiluted genius?
In today’s competitive world, having your precious words in the wrong font and size might well mean they will be binned unseen. Writers are expected to provide what is asked for and to the kind people who are reading the right format all day, any variation will leap out.
You will find submission guidelines on agents’ and publishers’ websites. It may seem obvious but please read the submission guidelines of each agent and publisher you try, with your very best attention to detail. That way you’re already a leap ahead of the thousands of writers who don’t. Sometimes they have a submissions template or proposal form for you to complete.
If they spell out their requirements, this is the sort of thing you will find:
- Printed submissions only. No beautiful calligraphy or hand written exercise books. We are after a clean, professional look.
- A plain, simple font like Times New Roman, Calibri or Arial. Your friends might be panting for something off a Whitby headstone or a squillionaire’s signature but professionals do not have the time to fight their way through it.
- Wide margins, about one inch to the left, two to the right.
- One page per sheet, one side only.
- In a header show the title of your book, your name and a contact email or phone number, all in small capitals or italics to distinguish from the text.
- Number your pages as you would a book, running through the whole book, not chapter by chapter.
- Start each chapter on its own page, about a third of the way down that page.
- No justification – rough edges on the right are fine.
- On your un-numbered front page, the title appears centred half way down with your name/pseudonym, and in the lower right corner your name appears again with your contact details.
- Some aspects of layout are down to each publisher’s house style. Publishers vary in how they deal with dialogue, paragraph indents and spacing, and new chapter layout. They probably won’t notice if you follow their usual practice; they will if you don’t.
- There is no need to plaster your work with statements protecting your copyright in the UK. You keep it automatically.
- No need to bind your pages as if the book has already been published. In fact, it can be a bad idea: some agents and publishers see it as a suggestion that you’re not as open to improvement as they’d like you to be. All submissions are seen as work in progress. It’s best though to make sure your pages will not fall on the floor the minute they’re touched. Michael Legat suggests a ‘wallet-style folder’.
- Your biography need not go in the typescript – its correct place is an economical paragraph in your email or letter of submission.
This is only a guide – please check through the submission guidelines of each agent and publisher you try, while you’re putting your submission together.
You may well think you’ve been attending to formatting as you go but it’s amazing how often word-processing software falters, allowing fonts, margins and type sizes to jump and slip. It makes sense to give it that final check all the way through before it goes.
It also gives you a sense of the enormity of what you’ve achieved, that you are scrolling through something that looks more and more like a professionally written book. Congratulations on getting this far! It’s time (again) for the hillside exercise – let’s call it the mountainside exercise now.
Now that your novel is ready to go, we’ll look next week at finding your ideal agent or publisher.