As a follow-up to my sage advice on formatting you manuscript, I asked three agents about how much it matters in their determination on whether to ask to see more or simply hit the delete key. I might add that although there’s varying opinions on its importance, ambivalence aside you always want to make the best impression, so why play fast and loose? Make it the best it can be. But then again this is only my advice and the more you get rejected, the more publishing space that leaves for me. Just sayin’. Anyway, what they said, verbatim…
Marisa Corvisiero of The Corvisiero Literary Agency:
“We don’t put that much importance on the formatting in our decision making. Of course a clean well formatted easy to read manuscript is needed, but unless it makes it difficult to read or is clearly an issue with the authors aptitude, a ms. will not be declined because it isn’t well formatted. However, an agent might not continue reading if difficult to read. They may not even be aware that they don’t want to keep reading because figuring out the format is tiring them out. We prefer Times New Roman font size 12. 1 inch margins. Clear chapter headers.”
Lois Winston of the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency:
“Professionalism is very important. If a writer doesn’t take the time to present a professional query and manuscript, it says to the agent and/or editor that this is a person who will be a headache and take up far too much of the agent’s or editor’s time. There are too many good authors out there who are looking to get published and very few publishing slots in comparison.
“Agents and editors routinely and immediately weed out the unprofessional ones without giving more than a cursory look (if that) to the work. There just aren’t enough hours in the day for any agent or editor to devote to a writer who won’t bother to learn how to present a professional looking submission. There are plenty of books and articles on the Internet that tell writers how to do this. Nowadays, most agents and editors won’t even bother to send a form rejection letter. They immediately hit the delete key.
“MS Word is the standard. I don’t know of any houses that use a different word processing software at this point. The ms. should be formatted in 12-pt. serif font. Times New Roman is the standard, but others are acceptable. (I once had a writer submit a sci-fi ms. in 8-pt. “Star Trek” font. He probably thought he was being ingenious; he was ignorant and stupid. I couldn’t read beyond the first few sentences without getting a headache.)
“Mss. should always be double-spaced. Margins are 1” – 1-1/2”. Typos happen, and we all understand that. I doubt there’s a book that has ever been published that didn’t contain at least one typo, even after multiple proofing from various professional copy editors and proofreaders. However, a manuscript that is loaded with typos from the first page onward will be an instant rejection. Spell-check is a writer’s best friend—as long as you don’t use auto-correct.”
Margaret Bail of Fuse Literary:
“I don’t think there’s any “standard” requirements, but the expectation is definitely for a clean, professional-looking manuscript. It speaks a lot to the author’s seriousness about their career and profession. The decision of an agent and editor should be based on the story itself, not on the formatting (unless formatting is integral to the storytelling in some way), so fancy formatting really just gets in the way of reading the story. Besides, as an agent I’m going to have to clean up and “fix” any fancy stuff before I send it to an editor. And a side note–clean also means a well-edited manuscript. I don’t want to have to spend hours fixing an author’s grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. If I get that in my inbox I’m not going to request the ms, much less read it.”
So that’s it. Ignore this advice at your peril, or if not, well, you’ve been warned.