Manuscript Dos and Don’ts: Lightning Round

Here are some down-and-dirty dos and don’ts for setting up a manuscript. (Keep in mind that you should always follow the specific guidelines set forth by the agent, publisher, or magazine.) I’ll start out with the general, big-ticket items and work my way down to crazy-editor pet peeves.

DO: use Microsoft Word

DON’T: use Pages, Google Docs, Word Perfect, or other programs for word processing

DO: conform to Chicago Manual of Style guidelines and Merriam-Webster spellings whenever applicable

DON’T: forget to run a spell check before submitting your manuscript 

DO: double space your manuscript

DON’T: double space between sentences

DO: use 1″ margins

DON’T: use 1.25″ margins (or really any other margins)

DO: use a typical font, such as Times New Roman

DON’T: use Comic Sans or Courier New (unless otherwise directed)

DO: have the text of the manuscript in the same font, spacing, and size

DON’T: copy and paste paragraphs in various fonts and sizes

DO: use italics

DON’T: use underline or bold (except in special circumstances)

DO: have a title page with the book title, your name, and your contact info

DON’T: include your dedication, about the author, and acknowledgements on a first draft, unless requested or somehow relevant to the story

DO: put a header at the top of each page with your name, book title, and page number

DON’T: use a header and a footer (unless the footer contains footnotes)

DO: use page breaks at the end of chapters

DON’T: use a bunch of returns in place of a page break

DO: use the automatic tab function for new paragraphs

DON’T: use five spaces or the tab character for new paragraphs

DO: use *** or ### to indicate a section break

DON’T: only add an extra return to indicate a section break

DO: use the Oxford (serial) comma

DON’T: send me a manuscript without serial commas 🙂

DO: use em dashes and en dashes appropriately

DON’T: use a hyphen where you should have a dash

DO: use double quotes ” to denote dialogue

DON’T: use single quotes ‘ to denote dialogue (alas, we are not British!)

DO: use smart quotes

DON’T: use straight quotes

That’s all for now folks! Stay tuned for posts about how to properly use an em dash and an en dash, how to tell a straight quote from a smart quote, and more!

2 thoughts on “Manuscript Dos and Don’ts: Lightning Round

  1. Sara says:

    Are you suggesting these for book or short story manuscripts? They make sense; however, I have submitted to several literary magazines that specifically ask writers to use Courier or Courier New.


    • lillianjaine says:

      Hi, Sara. If a house or magazine has specific guidelines, always follow those. These are general suggestions for novels and short stories, especially if you are submitting to a literary agency or publisher. Thanks!


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