Finalizing Your Novel For Query

June 24, 2022

If you’re writing and editing your novel and plan to submit it to an agent or a publisher, there are a few more small things you can do to make sure your manuscript is polished and as professional as possible. Before you begin, note that most publishers only accept submissions through an agent, though there are exceptions, so if you're sending your manuscript directly to a publisher, make sure they accepts non-agented manuscripts before you start.

Whether you're submitting to an agent or to a publisher, always read their submission guidelines first. If they request specific typeset, formats or list any other requirements, always follow their guidelines first. For everything else, the following formatting practices are common practice:

Consistency

Go through your manuscript and ensure that every small detail, especially the ones pertaining to your characters, are consistent throughout the manuscript.

For example, check that your characters names are always spelled the same way, that their eye colour hasn’t shifted, and that they’re not picking up an object four times in one scene but never putting it down.

Margins and Pages

Generally, the pre-set margins in whatever document editing program you’re working with are just fine, but if you want to play it by the book, industry standard sets them at 1” on all four sides.

Start a new page with each new chapter, and use the “page break/new page” option in your editor to do so. Don’t keep hitting your enter or space keys to push your chapter header to a new page because you don’t know what size of screen someone will be reading on, and extra spacing could make the formatting wacky.

Header

In the header of your manuscript, you should include your surname, the title of the novel, and a page number. Exclude a Header from your Title Page. (I generally write it as: FREY | TITLE OF NOVEL | ##). Most writing software programs provide you with pre-loaded header templates to choose from.

Font

Any easy-on-the-eyes font is usually acceptable. Courier New is traditional but not necessary, unless you prefer it. Times New Roman, Arial and Calibri are all frequently used, and they're easy to read. Make sure the font is black, and the kerning (the space between the letters) is set to standard. Font sizes should be no smaller than 11pt and no bigger than 13pt. Basically, whatever your writing software defaults to is usually acceptable.

The idea here is to make reading your manuscript the least fatiguing possible. Don't try to be tricky or fancy. When in doubt, stick to the basic fonts we just mentioned.

Line spacing

Some agents or acquisitions editors prefer double spacing (2.0) and some prefer one-and-a-half (1.5). It’s rare to see a request for single spacing (1.0). If the submission guidelines don't specify, choose 2.0 or 1.5.

Excess Spacing

Don’t add extra spaces between paragraphs. You'll see extra line spaces in blog posts or emails, but agents and publishers don't like them. And, though some of us older folks may cringe to hear it, it’s now industry standard to add just one space after a full stop or period. No need for two. Double spacing used to be necessary to make typewritten text easier to read. Now it's considered messy and old-fashioned.

Paragraphs

Paragraphs should each start with a first line indent of 0.5. Use tabs; do not use the space bar. You can set your tab indents in the paragraph settings on most document editors.

Smart quotes

Do a global find-and-replace to shift smart quotes to straight quotes. Smart quotes angle in toward the text. Straight quotes, as the name suggests, are simple, have no extra decoration, and don't tilt. 

Front matter

There’s no need to include copyright information, dedications, or any other notes or maps or epithets in the submission draft of a manuscript. Just start with a title page and jump straight into the first chapter.

Title Page

The top left corner of your title page holds your: name, postal address, email address, phone number (and if you have one, your agent’s name and email address and phone number). In the top right corner, provide your approximate word count. Round to the closest 100 to keep the word count easy to read. 

In the middle of the title page (centered and halfway down the page), place the full title of the novel. Your name goes underneath the title. No need to get fancy with fonts or formatting for the title, though making it stand out with bolding, or full caps, is appreciated. If you publish under a pseudonym or alias, use that name under the title instead of your real name, but be sure to use your real name in the top left corner with your contact information.

US Spelling

American Spelling is industry standard in North America. Sorry, Canada. If you’re sending your story to agent/acquisitions editors in this territory, change your spellings. Bah.

Nothing Extra

Don’t include photos, illustrations, sample covers, or any sort of “extra” bonus content on first submission, unless the guidelines explicitly request it. For now, your prose itself should be in the spotlight. Don’t do or add anything to detract from your words.