Here are some things that are usually considered best practices in the writing world. Some of these things will be obvious, and many of them are actually the default settings of most word processing programs, but they’re still good to know. Also, even if I mark something as usually being the default setting, please double-check your own settings. You might have changed them at some point and forgotten about it. Always read the publisher’s specific instructions, no matter what you’re submitting, as it may deviate from these suggestions.
Copies: If you are submitting a manuscript physically, do not send them your only copy. Keep a copy for yourself. If you are sending a manuscript digitally, make sure you have the file backed up. I’ve honestly started writing mostly in Google Drive, as it saves any changes you make automatically. And if my computer bites the dust, I can always log into my Google Chrome account on a different computer and retrieve my work. Even if you don’t want to use Google Drive, please backup your files on a flashdrive or on another online service regularly. The worst thing is losing months or years of work when it could have been prevented.
Printing: Print ONLY on one side of the page. Most publishers hate double-sided manuscripts.
Text: Make sure your text is aligned to the left of the page, except for chapter titles, which are centered. (All text is normally aligned to the left in default settings)
Font: Times New Roman or Courier New
Font Size: 12-Point
Font Color: Black (Usually Default)
Paper/Background Color: White (Usually Default)
Margins: One inch margins on all sides. (Usually Default)
Paragraphs: Indent half an inch from your normal margin line. (Usually Default)
File Types: If you are submitting a manuscript online, always make sure it is one of the file types the publisher accepts. If they only accept .rtf files, do not send them .doc files.
***Important Note on Fonts: Some publishers prefer Times New Roman, some prefer Courier New. Some will accept both. Read their instructions before you format font. If they will take both fonts, many actually prefer Courier New because the font is bigger and much easier on an editor’s eyes.
Scene Break Symbol: Usually a # is used for scene breaks, indented to look like the beginning of a paragraph or centered in the middle of the line.
Chapters: Chapters always start on a new page, with the title of the chapter at the top. Start a new chapter about one-third of the way down the page and put a few lines (2 or 3) between the centered chapter title and the chapter’s text.
Title Pages: Title pages tend to be done differently depending on the company. If you’re submitting your manuscript online, you might not even need one, as many publishers have an online form that takes the place of the traditional title page. As always, read the publisher’s specific instructions. Most title pages have the title of the work centered in the middle of the page, with the byline below that. A byline is the line that says By: Jane Smith, or whatever your pen name happens to be. If you want your work to be published under your name, then put your name in the byline. If you want it published under a pen name, put that in the byline. Your real name goes with your address, email, and sometimes phone number. I’ve seen this information put in the bottom right corner, but this isn’t always the case. Your word count could also be in the bottom corner with your personal information, or right below your byline. DO NOT put a fake pen name in your personal info section, unless you want your bank to be very confused when you try to deposit a check made out to someone who is not you. If you have an agent, often their information will also go on this page.
Headers: In manuscripts, the page number (not counting the title page) normally goes in the top right corner. Depending on the publisher, they might ask for the header to include your title and/or your last name as well, in a format like this: Smith/1. Sometimes it will be something similar to this, but not quite this. This is sometimes not required if your manuscript is submitted online. If it is, read that publisher’s specific instructions.