Properly Formatting Your Manuscript: Your First Impression

You only get one chance to make a first impression, right? And you want it to be a good one, right? You might think that your cover letter is what an editor reads first (well, besides the outside of your envelope), but that’s not always true. In the course of attending many SCBWI writing events, I’ve often heard editors say that they go straight to the manuscript then read the cover letter if they’re intrigued—which means that your first page is your first impression.

This is why properly formatting your manuscript is so important. Before reading a single word, an editor will get a first impression of you; will see your level of professionalism. You want to conform to industry standards because you want your writing to stand out, not your formatting. Editors receive hundreds of manuscripts a week and frankly, it can be annoying to read one that is not in accordance with what their trained eyes are accustomed to reading. Improper formatting screams “amateur/inexperience/newbie.” It might also scream, “Run, editor, run!”

So, what are you to do? Well, once again, the fabulous SCBWI has done the legwork. Go to their website and read their article called, “From Keyboard to Printed Page: Facts You Should Know.” When I first began writing for publication, I had no clue what to do, until I read this article. Trust me, it’s a gem!

What are some things to avoid when formatting your manuscript? How could you make a bad first impression? Here are a few things that I came up with:
1. use any other paper than plain white (no colors, scents, textures)
2. use cute, fancy fonts or clip art
3. use anything other than double-spacing for the body of your work
4. don’t give a word count
5. don’t number your pages
6. “cheat” with the margins so you can fit more text on a single page
7. send your envelope certified mail or any way that requires a signature

Please add a comment if you can think of anything else! I welcome funny or serious 😉

2 thoughts on “Properly Formatting Your Manuscript: Your First Impression

  1. Do you mean that everything is in the list are things that you should avoid? Or, is not leaving a page # or word count bad? I misunderstood. This is good info by the way.


  2. Sorry for the confusion, SmartMom. I “double-negatived” myself :-}. YES, you do want to give a word count (upper right hand corner of your first page– e.g., 235 Words) and YES, you do want to include page numbers (beginning on page 2, in the upper right hand corner–and one the same line on the left hand margin include your last name and keyword from the title). Thanks for asking for the clarification.Terry


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