Preparing a manuscript for book publication

“The submission process is like going to the DMV. It’s one of the great equalizers, and it tends to treat everybody like shit.” — Jess Mowry

Author Jess Mowry (Way Past Cool, Babylon Boyz, Ghost Train, Six Out Seven) has some helpful tips on preparing a manuscript for book publication. Let’s look at some of the things he says.

  • PAPER: Use 20-24 lb plain white paper.
  • COVER OR TITLE PAGE: “There is no cover or title page for a novel or story.”
    In my experience this doesn’t really matter, but I guess you might look a little more like an insider by omitting a cover page.

  • FIRST PAGE: “Your name, address, phone, fax, and/or email are single-spaced in the upper left-hand corner. The title of your novel or story is centered about a third of the way down, with your name as the author centered beneath it.”
    You don’t have to follow these guidelines, but they won’t hurt.
  • COPYRIGHT NOTICE: “If you want, you can add a copyright symbol (©) or just a “c” and the date your story or novel was completed…. Some editors feel it’s pretentious or amateurish to use the copyright © symbol…. I don’t use the copyright symbol (except to protect the work on this site) just the date I completed the novel or story. If you have a manuscript that is several years old, you might not want an editor to wonder why you are just now submitting it, so it’s okay change the date to the current year.”
    Fair enough.
  • LINE SPACING: “The text is always double-spaced … that’s double-spaced, not one-and- a-half spaced, not two-and-a-half spaced, but DOUBLE-SPACED! (Can you hear me now?)”
    I have been on panels with genre fiction publishers who sometimes have very rigorous formulas (although they usually don’t like to call them that) according to which published books in a certain line must all be an exact number of total pages. For this reason, genre publishers sometimes prefer ms. submissions to be very standardized (double-spaced Courier with set margins). If so, they will make clear their preferences.
    My experience is mainly in trade book literary publishing. In that world these issues are not so important. Because Courier is harder to read than a proportional face, I prefer to read mss in a nice old style font such as Bembo or one of the Garamonds, or even more modern drafted faces like Perpetua or Times. Because such faces vary in x-height and the shape of their descenders, the term “double-space” has little exact meaning.
    Basically you don’t want to make it difficult for the editor to estimate the length of the book, and you want to leave sufficient space for edit marks.

  • MARGINS: Mowry advises very specific margins. He also advises not to justify columns.
    See my comment above. Just leave some room for the editor’s fingers. When I prepare my own manuscripts (I’ve published many books of my own) I like to follow best design conventions for column measure.
    I wholeheartedly second the advice against justifying columns. As an editor I won’t read justified manuscripts unless I really have to. They just make the reading experience too difficult.

A final thought: None of this is anything for authors to obsess over. As long as a manuscript is readable an editor would be a fool to reject a potentially marketable work because it violates some arcane stricture of presentation.

Mowry’s intention is to help new and minority authors break into publishing. You won’t go wrong by following his advice. For more, check out the official Jess Mowry website.

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  1. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand why everyone continually refers to justified text as “too hard to read” given that all books are published with justified text and pretty much always have been. So, why is making your manuscript look like a finished product continually frowned upon?

  2. Gimme, the reason for this is that most authors are not typesetters, and they are not using typesetting programs to produce their manuscripts. Responsible publishers go to a lot of trouble to produce readable justified columns in printed books. It is extremely difficult to produce good justified columns with Word-processing programs, and few authors possess the skill to do so. The difficulty is compounded by the extra line spacing required for editing.