Saturday, May 21, 2011

How to Prepare a Non-Fiction Manuscript for Publication

While talking about manuscript preparation with a fellow writer, it was brought to my attention how difficult it is to find any useful web pages concerning this topic that showed actual examples from manuscripts in their original format. I hope these web pages will benefit up-and-coming authors in figuring out the submission process as regards to formatting. I'm going to post scanned pages from one of my book submissions from the cover letter all the way to the endnotes. While some people may do things slightly different, most submissions will look very similar to mine. Every publisher has their own guidelines to the submission process, especially regarding the way footnotes/endnotes are handled, so always contact them to find this out beforehand. They will often have this information published somewhere on their website. Of course, if you're writing fiction, footnotes probably won't be a consideration. If you're a teacher, feel free to copy the images from these formatting examples to show your students.

The Cover Letter

Your cover letter should be in block format like this one. What is block format? It's similar to what you usually see on Internet web sites where a line separation is used instead of an indentation at the start of new paragraphs. Notice that everything is left-aligned and that the right margin is left ragged rather than using "paragraph justification." Use single-line spaced paragraphs rather than the double-line spacing you'll use in your manuscript. You can use any font for your cover letter that has serifs. I'm real partial to Georgia. Many people use Times New Roman. Some people may place their name/address info on the right side, but the overwhelming majority of cover letters are formatted exactly like mine is here. Use 1" margins all around. It's okay to use italics and bold type in the cover letter. You can use a dash too instead of two hyphens. I usually stick to two hyphens since I've noticed that most editors use them in their own correspondences. I'm not going to tell you what to say in your cover letter; there are several web sites out there that already do that pretty well. I'm just going to show you the formatting involved; that is, what it should look like. The formatting for cover letters is the same whether submitting a proposal for a book or for a magazine.

(Click to enlarge all photos in this post.)

Title Page

Obviously if you're only submitting a book proposal, then you'll probably only be sending in a chapter or two when asked for it and not an entire manuscript. But should you be asked for the manuscript in its entirety, this is how the title page ought to look. Some people will place the title a third of the way down the page, but most will place it dead center. Place your name/address information on the upper left side and the word count on the upper right. This is the only place in the manuscript where this information should appear, and it should be single-spaced. Everything else on this page, like every other page in your manuscript, should be double-line spaced, and a proportional font should be used. You can never go wrong using Courier. (In MS Word, this is referred to as "Courier New"). Almost everyone uses Courier. This may look a little odd to you at first, but if you print out a few pages of double-spaced Courier text you'll soon get very accustomed to it. It's very easy to read, and it leaves sufficient room for the editor to make correction marks between the lines.

The Preface or Foreword

If your book has a preface or foreword, it should come next after the title page. One of the many rather impractical notions that's been taught in American schools for the past couple of decades has been that, books should not have a preface. A phrase English teachers will often say is, "Just start at the beginning", as though the preface is somehow not the beginning. This is one of several reasons why Americans have a reputation for producing bad literature. If you look through the best written books, you'll quickly find that the majority of them do indeed have a preface. In the past hundred or so years, forewords have been replaced by prefaces. They serve essentially the same purpose and should not be confused with an introduction, which is usually written by someone other than the book's author, and generally as an introduction to the author. A preface is often very important to non-fiction books for explaining the author's criterion for using various writing methods, such as why he felt the need to use one translation of a phrase or word over another during an exegesis of some information within the book. Or he may need to let his readers know why certain editions of texts are, in his opinion, unreliable and so forth. There are any number of things that may need explaining at the forefront. Conversely, fiction writer—Arthur C Clarke—is well-known for the postscripts he often writes for many of his novels. Never let conventions get in the way of a good book. It's nearly impossible to find a book on Dante or Shakespeare that does not have some kind of preface—usually a lengthy and necessary one.

Like chapter headings, the preface should start about a third of the way down the page. I usually hit the space bar six times from the top of the page, type the word "Preface," and then hit the space bar four more times to start my first line of text. The header should contain the page number, your last name, and something pertaining to the book's title so that the editor can easily see where the page came from in case he misplaces it. Keep it short and simple; there's no need to type in the entire name of your book. Also, even though the title page came first, make sure that there is no page number, nor anything else, in the header of the title page. Most word processors will ask you if you want the page number to appear in the first page (the title page is always first), so just answer "no" to that. One last comment here: never use italics or bold type in your manuscript. If you want something to be in italics, place an underline beneath it instead. The typesetter will recognize it as needing to be italicized. If you want something to be in bold letters, put a _hash mark_ on each side of the word or phrase you want in bold and write the word—bold—off to one side in the margins. If you want something underlined, do the _same_. Better yet, stay away from bold and underlined text if you can. The typesetter will of course take care of the bold text in the chapter headings and so forth, so there's no need to mention the obvious to him. Also, don't use any dashes. Instead use two hyphens in conjunction--like this. Again the typesetter will recognize this as a signal to insert a dash.

Preface Part Two

Notice that indentations should be about 5-spaces.


I've nothing new to add here. This is formatted like the other pages with it's heading about a third of the way down the page. You'll notice that I added an extra space between chapters here. That's because I wrote a short book with only six chapters, and I wanted to spread them out a little over the page. I didn't need to do this, and there's no hard and fast rule about it that I'm aware of. If you're wondering why I have the chapters titled Lilith and Phantastes underlined (a signal for the typesetter to italicize them), it's because these are the names of novels, and these chapters are dedicated to a critical interpretation of each of them.


The chapters are handled exactly like the Preface was.

Chapters Part Two

Notice the footnote at the very end of this page . Footnotes should be in superscript. If your word processor has a special function for inserting footnotes, I would advise against it. It can be very hard to undo certain kinds of formatting in word processing applications, and this is especially true of footnotes. Besides, an editor will want to see endnotes, not footnotes. It's much easier just to keep a separate file open for your endnotes, and you'll generally want to have endnotes separated according to chapter so that the first footnote for each chapter will be number 1. Your editor may very well use footnotes rather than endnotes for your published book, but it's endnotes he'll want to see in the manuscript you send him.


This is the way your endnotes should be prepared.

Endnotes Part Two

When quoting from published books, the author's name should come first, followed by the book's title; the name of the publishing company; the city and state of publication; the date of publication; and finally, the page number(s). Notice that I give all this information in footnote number 9, but on footnote number 14, I simplified things by only giving the author; book title; and page number. Once you've given the complete information for a quoted source in your footnotes, there will be no need to give the complete information a second time when further quoting the same source.

This should have the vast majority of you covered. I won't go into Afterwards or Indexes (or Indices if you prefer). Most will never make good use of an Afterwards, and Indexes are easy to make these days, but they're very software dependant. As usual, consult your word processor's help files.


  1. Egads. All the more reason I'm never going to publish. Not to discourage anyone reading this and hoping to publish! Great advice here.

  2. Oh, it's not so bad as all that really. And remember, if you're writing something like fiction or poetry, you probably won't have to deal with footnotes.

    Actually, the hardest part is getting your word processor to format the headings correctly. Word 2000 was miserable at it. I don't know about the newer editions though, and I've never worked with another word processor application. There may be a better one for this.