Unless you're writing a screenplay, you don't need fancy writing software to ensure that your book manuscript is properly formatted. As long as you abide by a few simple rules, agents and publishers won't take one look at it and decide to find it a good, loving home in the circular file. I already gave you ten tips to help you hook an agent's attention with a dy-no-mite query letter. Now that you've gotten that letter requesting your full manuscript (and finished weeping) I'll get to the dos and the don'ts of submitting the pages. Follow my advice and any agent or editor who reads your work will judge it based on the strength of its words, not superficial--and avoidable--screw-ups. Some may seem obvious, but as a literary agent, I saw these mistakes made over and over. So they're not obvious to everyone.
Double space. That doesn't mean 1.5 spaces. It doesn't even mean 1.75. If your manuscript is too long and you want to lessen the page count, edit it. Don't get tricky. Whomever you're trying to trick won't fall for it. And they won't read it. Double-spaced text is easier to read and easier to edit. Page numbers. Leaving them out results from carelessness, not trickiness--unless you really think a reader won't notice that your manuscript is 1000 pages long if you don't number them. (It'll still be just as heavy.) Why so important? Read on. No binding. Often more than one person at a literary agency or a publishing house will read the same manuscript, necessitating photocopying. Made difficult by staples, three-ring binders, and the dreaded spiral binding (shudder). Also, if the manuscript is bound together, Agent X can't take home the first 50 pages to read tonight, and you will have annoyed Agent X already. Use rubber bands. That's all. (Note: a lack of binding allows for the possibility of Agent X dropping the manuscript and watching a fan blow its pages throughout the office. Reason Tip #2 is important.) No double-sided copies. Again, makes photocopying complicated. And as in Tips #1 and #2, doing this to make your novel seem shorter won't fly. In fact, nothing will. Most agents and publishers will ask for a word count. Also, it can affect readability, since type often shows through to the other side. And if it's not bound, which it shouldn't be, type on both sides can get confusing (Did I read this side yet?) The reading experience should be like a visit to the spa, not a stint on Survivor. 12-point type. This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, since different fonts print at different sizes when set to 12-point size (am I the only one who doesn't understand that?). Just think readability. And forgive me for my broken-recordness, but printing your manuscript in tiny type won't fool anyone into thinking it's shorter. It'll only make them all squinty. Likewise, if you've written too few words, using 18-point Courier won't make your characters more well-developed. Avoid shrink-wrap. I've never received a manuscript that's been professionally shrink-wrapped and not thought of the writer as just a little weird. It's annoying to have to find scissors and figure out how to un-mummify your manuscript. Two Easy English Learning for Children : padded envelope. Don't worry, it'll be safe. A tiny tear might appear in the corner. That tear won't keep it from getting published. Name and/or title on each page. Befriend the Header/Footer tool in Microsoft Word. Not necessary--and don't make any header more than one line--but if a page gets adventurous and runs away to another part of the agent's office, it'll find its way home. Cover page. This one is necessary, and it must include your name (not only your nom de plume), mailing address, e-mail address, phone number, and, to protect yourself, a copyright date. Yes, your contact info should also be in your cover letter. But do you want an interested agent or publisher to not be able to contact you because they lost your cover letter? No pictures. Or colors. Or pictures. Your cover page should include the things mentioned in Tip #8, and only those things. Don't ask your friend Stella, the amateur cartoonist/illustrator, to draw your protagonist. Don't print your title in hot pink. Anything that isn't a word is a distraction and will look amateurish. Return postage. Want your manuscript back? Fine. Want the agency to package it up and pay for the postage? Not gonna happen. And don't assume it's because they're cheap bastards. Many agencies are very small operations, and they read a lot of manuscripts every week. Paying to send them all back would significantly impact their budgets. If you want it returned, enclose a padded envelope with stamps on it. (Don't use a postage machine; they aren't always accepted at a later date or in a different zip code.) Calling two weeks after you receive a rejection letter will prove less than fruitful: your manuscript will already have been recycled to make room for the next one.
Writing has no rules that can't be broken if you're good enough. But the presentation of your manuscript is about business, not writing, so don't break these rules, no matter how beautiful your spiral binding (shudder again). Note, though, that fancy-schmancy formatting software may be worthwhile for other forms of writing, such as screenplays, the proper formatting of which can lead to insanity.