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'Standard Manuscript Format'
Marshall R Maresca
Posted: Sunday, June 12, 2011 10:25 PM
Joined: 3/7/2011
Posts: 56

Over on my book "Thorn of Dentonhill", I've had more than one person comment on how some words were underlined when they probably should have been italicized.  And they are COMPLETELY correct on that. 
See, for some reason, in "standard manuscript format" you underline when something is supposed to be italicized.  (I'm totally not making this up: see page 5 of this: http://www.shunn.net/format/story.html)
At the time I had last formatted Thorn, I was working with a group who were total sticklers about that sort of thing.  In uploading, I didn't change it back.  Which clearly confused some people, and probably rightly so.

I think it's a holdover from back when typewriters couldn't do italics. Now the reason behind doing it is completely obsolete, but there are people who still on insist upon it.  Or at least, insist that the industry insists on it.

I would like to think, however, that's one bit of "standard manuscript format" where the industry could care less. (Maybe someone who's more of an expert can answer that?)

So here's the thing: while a degree of standardization is important, especially in making one's manuscript look clean and professional... aren't some of the aspects of the "standard" obsolete?  Especially given that most aspects of formatting can be altered with just a few clicks?

Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 12:47 AM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356

When I was an agent, I did ask for underlining instead of italics, but this is because I was turning manuscripts into readable files for my Sony Reader, and italics don't always render well on e-readers in .rtf format. But I'm pretty sure that plain italics are fine these days for most people.
Danielle Bowers
Posted: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 1:25 AM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 280

Plain italics work with most ebook formats these days, they show up in the ported manuscript just fine. .azw .pdf .mobi and .epub are the formats I've used.

Now I'm curious if I convert a manuscript with underlined words instead of italicized, if it will show up on my kindle as italics. I think I'll put my geek hat on and find out.
Posted: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 12:46 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 157

Hi Marshall,

You are right. A great deal of "standard" manuscript formatting is no longer standard or necessary. Unfortunately, the entire industry hasn't moved away from it or decided what the new version of standard is. That's made things more complicated for writers since we now have to search out guidelines and sometimes tailor the manuscript for each agent or publisher. Some changes you may or may not find

- Times New Roman or Arial being requested instead of Courier for font. But 12 point and double space lines are still usually requested.

- no need to double space after a period

- italics can remain italics instead of underlined. But bold and other format options are usually out.

Now, most agents and publishers I know won't reject a good manuscript simply because went with Courier and they wanted Times New Roman. But if they provide specific formatting instructions, they do tend to notice who pays enough attention to follow them.
Posted: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 9:14 PM
Joined: 5/4/2011
Posts: 11

Good to hear, thanks Marshall. I know I'm a writing nub, didn't want to look even more so if I submit somewhere. Thanks to Colleen for clearing that up for us.

Robert C Roman
Posted: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 5:43 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383

My first thought on seeing the words "Standard Manuscript Format" is "The Cake is a Lie".

When I started submitting, I had *no* idea what standard manuscript format was, so I looked it up. Being paranoid, I checked on the first agent's site I sent to. They wanted something different than the 'standard' I'd looked up. No problem. Then I looked at another agent, and saw another format. And another. And another.

I've come to a realization: I need to write in the format that lets me write. When I submit, I reformat as requested by the Agent or Publisher. Also, I reformat to make sure it's in a format that's easy to read, so if I slip up on some detail, it's not a deal breaker. Of course, easy to read formats are usually hard for me to write in, so I have to completely reformat to submit, but...

So be it. Just be sure of *two* things before you submit.

1 - Make it easy to read. NOTE - 'Easy to read' and 'Cool to look at' are almost entirely opposite things. Easy to read things are standardized; simple formats, simple fonts, etcetera.

2 - Follow every guideline the Agent / Publisher gives you. If they have formatting requests that are too odd for you to deal with, they might not be the right Agent or House for you.

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