People often ask me for tips on how to format a work they're preparing to submit to a publisher. The answer, once you understand the rationale behind it, is quite simple. The time-tested most optimal formatting for submitting anything other than poetry to a print publication is this:
- Use 1-inch margins all the way around (top, bottom, left, and right)
- Use Times New Roman type face only (never Arial, which is far more difficult and tiring for the human eye to read)
- Use 12-point type size
- Use double-spaced lines throughout for the main body of your work
- Use .5-inch (one-half inch) paragraph indentations
As for pagination, put the page numbers in the Running Head always (never in the Running Foot) and include the BOOK TITLE and author's name on all pages except the first, or cover, page. A typical running head would look something like this: "THE OX BOW INCIDENT/Herda, Page 12." Set the numbering of pages to automatically paginate beginning on the second page so you don't have to change each page number manually and run the risk of getting something wrong.
The cover page should include the author's name and contact info in the upper left corner (single spaced) and the approximate total word count in the upper right corner. In the case of magazine submissions, you should also list in the upper right corner the rights you're offering for sale, as in "First NAS Rights" (meaning First North American Serial Rights, which means you're authorizing the first-ever publication of that work by the publisher for one time only, with all rights reverting back to you after that). With newspapers, you can often sell One-Time Rights, since papers don't generally have national readerships and aren't insistent upon being the first to publish something. (By selling one-time rights instead of first rights, you can sell the same piece to anyone else at any time, before or after your sale to the newspaper.)
Somewhere down around the middle of the page, center the story's TITLE, and center your Blurb (if any) and your by-line (look it up if you don't know what it means) beneath that. Double-double space, and begin your story, continuing it on as many subsequent pages as necessary.
All of this should be done in MS Word or in some generic version of Word that can save your file in the .doc or .docx format, which is the publishing industry standard. Never submit in PDF, and don't bother telling the editor that the story is copyrighted, because he or she already knows that.
Now, with all that said, let me explain that you don't have to follow this advice. But failing to adhere to proper formatting will quickly mark you as an amateur or a maverick, and professional editors don't crave to deal with either. In other words, get used to following these formatting suggestions, and you won't get shot down before the editor has a chance to read even the first paragraph! Ignore this advice on formatting, using some other settings, and your piece might never get a read at all.
Oh, and if you'd like to see a visual example of a properly formatted submission to a publisher, check out the one on my Website here. Just click on "SAMPLE FORMATTED DOCUMENT" on the left for the download and open it from your browser.
In time, formatting will become second nature--so much so that you'll never have to think twice before doing it. And you can trust me on that one. In the meantime ...
Smoke if you've got 'em.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his column, "The Author-Ethicist," which runs weekly at Substack. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he's only human!)