Your grammarian has recently edited two manuscripts. One was a horrible piece, wooden characters, “said bookisms,” all sorts of mistakes. The other was a wonderful story with good strong characters, an excellent plot, and an intriguing opening.
Unfortunately, thee two manuscripts had one thing in common. Neither of the authors seems to know how to format a manuscript.
Now, formatting a manuscript is not rocket science. I know that some of you are going to say that I shouldn’t be too hard on these writers, because I can’t expect new writers to know such things the way professional writers do. I don’t expect them to “know” it. I do expect that if they are serious about writing, they will pick up a book and learn it.
When I started writing for publication, I had no idea how to subit a manuscript, so I went to the library and photocopied the section from Writer’s Market on the standards for a manuscript. And I wore that photocopy out referring to it until I did learn.
It seems to me that one of the biggest problems today, especially when it comes to writing, is that people have forgotten that standards were developed to ease communications between people. They are not just a dead bunch of rules to learn by rote, no matter how silly some of the rules seem to those who are not writers.
Now I’m not saying rules don’t change. As I think I’ve noted, sometimes there are good reasons for changing rules, like the differences that technology made so that two spaces are no longer necessary after a period. Sometimes, the rules are merely stylistic, and will vary from publisher to publisher, like a preference for (or against) the Oxford comma.
Anyway, at some point when I am not in deadline Hell, I will probably do a column on how to format a manuscript. Until then, keep writing and if you need to learn how to format a manuscript, please either obtain a copy of the current Writers Market, or borrow one from the library, or check the various resources available online.