Once your first draft is done, and you have taken a well-earned break, the manuscript will need some more work. You may make further drafts and do some self-editing. Then could be when you feel it is ready for someone else to read. If your presentation lacks uniformity, you should consider resolving this before anyone else reads it. This standardisation will reduce the reader being distracted from the meaning of the words.
Who will the next reader be?
Who you choose to read through your manuscript could be a family member, a beta reader, a friend, a publisher, an agent or any combination of these. Maybe you will decide to collaborate with a professional editor, as you could feel that the writing would benefit from their expertise and fresh eyes. Whoever you present your writing to, you will want them to form an opinion and probably offer some feedback, advice and their suggestions for improvement.
Why good presentation matters
How your manuscript looks to a reader will make an impression, favourable or otherwise. Clear writing will take the reader less time to read. This would be desirable even if they were family, but if they’re an editorial professional, a difficult-to-read manuscript could end up costing you more in their time. Presenting your manuscript well will reflect how seriously you take your writing and how well you respect their time.
How to set out writing clearly
Some agents and publishers offer authors a predetermined style, in the form of submission guidelines or author guidelines. Experienced authors may have a style or convention they like to follow for all their writing as their own preferences or guidelines.
If you do not have a documented format that your manuscript should follow, there is flexibility, but aim to be consistent. As a general guide, the following choices will present a clear, readable manuscript:
- Use a title page (unnumbered)
- Begin numbering on the first page of the text
- Typeface: keep to one font throughout and use a commonly available one such as 12 point, regular (not bold in text), Times New Roman, Black
- Margins 1 to 1.5 inches all round
- Each chapter on a fresh page, following a page break (not multiple spaces down to the start of the new page)
- Line spacing 1.5 or double-spaced
- Align left (also called ragged right)
- Only one space between sentences
- Do not use tabs (use Word Styles with indents of five spaces for each new paragraph)
Care with formatting your manuscript will make your work easier to assess and eventually to typeset. This level of presentation will help with reader experience, and reduce distraction from the message of your writing.
By doing this, you will come across as having a professional attitude to your writing and help everyone concentrate on what you have written rather than how you have written it.
The final arbiter is you
The more people you get to read your manuscript, the more opinions and suggestions you will collect. Once two readers have seen your manuscript, but be prepared for them not to agree on everything. Professional editors are likely to back up their suggestions with reasoned explanations, but on reviewing their edits, if you feel that you need more explanation or are unclear, you should ask for clarification. Whoever you get to check your writing before it moves to the next stage, always remember that you will be the one attaching your name to it and as author you are the final arbiter.
Illustration courtesy of sketchrobin.com
To let me know about your fiction or creative nonfiction writing do get in touch, perhaps we can collaborate.