Looks Count

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works. –Steve Jobs

Would you want to read a book that is typeset in 18-point cyan bolded Comic Sans with all the "important" words (and sentences…and paragraphs) in all capital letters, underlined, and italicized? 

If you say "yes, I would indeed enjoy reading a book formatted that way," then I shall label you a spiteful teller of tall tales. Take that!

If you really want to tick off an editor or an agent and have them immediately toss your hard work into the recycle bin, submit an improperly formatted manuscript. What’s an improperly formatted manuscript? Anything that doesn’t fit the submission guidelines of the publication or agency to which you’re submitting. Always read the submission guidelines before you send a manuscript.

Barring that, an improperly formatted manuscript is anything that doesn’t fit within the generally accepted standards of manuscript format. Generically, a standard manuscript should have the following characteristics:

  1. one-inch margins all around
  2. an easy-to-read typeface, such as 12-point Times New Roman or 12-point Courier New
  3. left justification, not full and not center; the words on the right side of the page should form a ragged pattern as you scan down the page
  4. a half-inch indent on the first line of each paragraph
  5. double-spaced paragraphs, which means that the lines of text on your page are separated by a full blank line that is generated by your word processor’s paragraph formatting function (not the Enter key); it also does not mean that you should manually include a blank line between paragraphs
  6. your name, the shortened title of the story, and a page number in the upper right corner of every page except the first/title page
  7. your name, address, email address, and telephone number in the upper left corner of the first page of the manuscript
  8. the approximate number of words in your manuscript (your word processor’s word count rounded to the nearest 100) in the upper right corner of the first page of the manuscript

Admittedly, the above guidelines were created before we regularly communicated our thoughts as bits over global network media, so they probably seem dated. Editors stick with them because not everyone’s standard of "looks good and is easy to read" is the same. The guidelines ensure that writers do not try to become graphic designers and that the quality of the written work takes center stage in the mind of the agent or editor.

You’re a writer, after all. You should be painting pictures with the meanings of your words, not with fonts, italics, bolds, colors, justification, and other word processor magic.