By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy
You'd be surprised how much anguish can go into what font to use when you send your manuscript out. (or maybe not if you're one of the many who worry about this)
Courier or Times Roman?
10 or 12 point?
Double or single spaced?
Many writers worry that if they don't get their manuscript formatted exactly right, their book is doomed to rejection. This is so not true. As long as your manuscript is readable and follows some very simple guides, you'll be fine. (Well, your story still has to wow them, but they won't reject you for a formatting issue)
Basic Manuscript Formatting
12 point font, Times Roman or Courier, flush left, double spaced, with one-inch margins all around, half-inch paragraph indents, no spaces between paragraphs. Chapters start halfway down the page (In Word, I use 276pt before the header, and 85pt after to center it nicely on the page without all those extra returns) with chapter header in all caps, centered. Text starts a few lines below that. Scene breaks are denoted by something graphic like *** or ## or even a blank line. One space after a period. (thanks to Shayda for reminding me abut this one)
But what if you used Palatino instead of Times? Don't worry about it. Both are still readable serif fonts. (Serif is a font with those little tails at the ends. A san serif font is one that's blocky, like Arial) The goal of any manuscript (besides being really good) is to be readable. As long as the pages are professional looking and easy to read, no one will care if they're a little different from the standard.
A .25 indent instead of a .5 isn't going to get you a rejection. However, using 5 point type will, because it's too tiny to easily read the pages. Making it 16 point type is just as bad, as this can strain the eyes too.
Starting your chapters two-thirds down -- no problem. Single spacing vs double -- problem, because it's hard to read. (See the trend? Reading ease matters)
If you have special formatting in there, like an e-mail or text message style, just choose a style that makes it clear that part is different, and be consistent. It's fine to indent if you want, or use Courier when the rest is Times. When you sell the novel, there are book designers who are going to do the final design anyway, so all that will change.As long as it's easy for those designers to tell what parts need that special look, it's good.
Italics or Underline?
Underlining is the most common, as there as tons of books, guides and sites that back this up. But this comes from the days when you couldn't click a button and change your text to italics. But today, using a serif font with a clear italic version is available to everyone. So if you want to use italics, go right ahead.
I used to use underlines because that's what the books said. I submitted my novel to agents, then later to editors, with all my italics denoted by underlines. I asked my editor which she preferred. She told me to use italics, so now I do that. But the fact that I used underlines to submit to her didn't bother her one bit. She still bought the book.
No one is going to look at your pages and shout "Eeek! They used italics (or underlines) REJECT REJECT REJECT!" They're going to read your work and judge it on how good that work is. As long as you use a readable serif font, and it's consistent and clear what your italics are, they won't care.
ETA: In the comments, C.A. brought up a really fantastic point about this. E-readers can have trouble with italics, and underline shows up better. Since more and more agents are reading on e-readers, underlines might start to make a comeback. I'm going to see if I can get some agent thoughts on this since my agent happens to read her submissions on an e-reader. So if you happen to know the agent you're submitting to uses an e-reader, it might be worth it to change to underlines.
What matters most is making your manuscript easy to read. Remember, if agents can't read it, they can't fall in love with it.