Dressing Up Your Contest Entry to Go Out

Hello, readers —

Crikey! You’re very lucky, my friends, that a client of mine alerted me yesterday to a SIGNIFICANT omission in my pre-contest pep talk: I hadn’t yet discussed how to format a title page for a contest entry, had I? Mea culpa.

Most contests do require submissions to include title pages; as I read the PNWA’s rules, they do not, but still, it’s a nice touch. Among other things, it minimizes the possibility of your entry’s being mixed up with the one directly on top of it in the stack (need I even say that I’ve seen this happen?), and honestly, after you’ve agonized for months over the perfect title, don’t you want to showcase it?

To maximize the usefulness of this post, I’m going to go through the basic title page first, then show you how to narrow it down for a contest entry. Yes, I know: title pages seem pretty straightforward, right? Surely, if there is an area where a writer new to submissions may safely proceed on simple common sense, it is the title page.


In any submission, the title page of a manuscript tells agents and editors quite a bit about both the book itself and the experience level of the writer. There is information that should be on the title page, and information that shouldn’t; speaking with my professional editing hat on for a moment, virtually every rough draft I see has a non-standard title page, so it is literally the first thing I will correct in a manuscript. I can only assume that for every ms. I can correct before they are sent to agents and editors, there must be hundreds of thousands that make similar mistakes.

Here again is an area where I feel that writers are under-informed. Writers who make mistakes are their title pages are very seldom TOLD what those mistakes are. Their manuscripts are merely rejected on the grounds of unprofessionalism, usually without any comment at all. I do not consider this fair to aspiring writers, but as I have been bemoaning all week, I do not make the rules, alas.

On the bright side, properly-formatted title pages are rare enough that a good one will make your manuscript (or your excerpt, if an agent asks to see the first chapter or two) shine preeminently competent, like the sole shined piece of silver amidst an otherwise tarnished display.

In the first place, the title page should be in the same font and point size as the rest of the manuscript — which, as I have pointed out before, should be in 12-point Times, Times New Roman, or Courier. Therefore, your title page should be in 12-point Times, Times New Roman, or Courier.

No exceptions, and DEFINITELY do not make the title larger than the rest of the text. It may look cool to you, but to professional eyes, it looks rather like a child’s picture book. You may use boldface, if you wish, but that is as fancy as you may legitimately get.

“Oh, come on,” I hear some of you saying, “the FONT matters that much? What about the content of the book? What about my platform? What about my brilliant writing? Surely, the typeface pales in comparison to these crucial elements?”

You’re right — it does, PROVIDED you can get an agent or editor to sit down and read your entire submission. (Or, in the case of a contest, provided that your entry is not disqualified on sight for using a different typeface than the one specified in the rules.) Unfortunately, this is a business of snap decisions, where impressions are formed very quickly. If the cosmetic elements of your manuscript imply a lack of knowledge of industry norms, your manuscript is entering its first professional once-over with one strike against it. It may be silly, but it’s true.

Most of my clients do not believe me about this until they after they switch, incidentally. Even queries in the proper typefaces tend to be better received. Go ahead and experiment, if you like, sending out one set of queries in Times New Roman and one in Helvetica. (But for heaven’s sake, don’t perform this experiment with your PNWA contest submission.) Any insider will tell you that the Times New Roman queries are more likely to strike agents (and agents’ assistants) as coming from a well-prepared writer, one who will not need to be walked through every nuance of the publication process to come.

Like so many aspects of the mysterious publishing industry, there is actually more than one way to structure a title page. Two formats are equally acceptable from an unagented writer. (After you sign with an agent, trust me, she will tell you how she wants you to format your title page.) The unfortunate technical restrictions of a blog render it impossible for me to show it to you exactly as it should be, but here is the closest approximation my structural limitations will allow:

Format one, which I like to call the Me First, because it renders it as easy as possible for an agent to contact you after falling in love with your work:

Upper left-hand corner:

Your name (real name, not pen name)

First line of your address

Second line of your address

Your phone number

Your e-mail address

Upper right-hand corner:
Book category
Word count (approximate)

(Skip down 10 lines, then add, centered on the page:)

Your title

(skip a line)


(skip a line)

Your name (or your nom de plume)

There should be NO other information on the title page.

Why, you may be wondering, does the author’s name appear twice on the page in this format? For two reasons: first, in case you are writing under a name other than your own, as many writers choose to do, and second, because the information in the top-left corner is the contact information that permits an agent or editor to acquire the book. Clean and easy.

If you are in doubt about which category your book falls within, read one of my last four postings.

Word count can be approximate — in fact, as I have mentioned before, it looks a bit more professional if it is. This is one of the advantages of working in Times New Roman: in 12-point type, everyone estimates a double-spaced page with one-inch margins in the business at 250 words. If you use this as a guideline, you can’t go wrong.

Do not, under ANY circumstances, include a quote on the title page. Many authors do this, because they have seen so many published authors use quotes at the openings of their books. Trust me: putting your favorite quote on the title page will not make your work look good; it will merely advertise that you are unfamiliar with the difference between manuscript format and book format.

While the Me First format is perfectly fine, the other standard format, which I like to call the Ultra-professional, is more common in the industry. It most closely replicates what most agents want their authors’ ultimate manuscript title pages to look like:

Upper right corner:

Book category

Word count

(Skip down 12 lines, then add, centered:)


(skip a line)


(skip a line)

Your name (or your nom de plume)

(Skip down 12 lines, then add in the lower right corner:)

Your real name

Line 1 of your address

Line 2 of your address

Your telephone number

Your e-mail address

Again, there should be NO other information, just lots of pretty white space. After you sign with an agency, your agent’s contact information will appear where your contact information does.

Obviously, such a wealth of information is not desirable for a contest title page; in fact, it might get your entry disqualified. The trick is to put all of the information the contest rules require on the title page, and leave out the rest. For instance, the PNWA contest’s rules specify that each entry should be clearly labeled with the category in which it is being entered. For the genre categories, you are also asked to list genre; for the nonfiction categories, market and readership. Piece o’ cake.

Let’s say you are entering a gothic thriller into the Adult Genre Novel category. Your title page should look like this, centered on the page in Times New Roman or Courier 12-point:


(skip a line)

(Gothic Thriller)

(skip 3 lines)

An entry in the Adult Genre Category of the 2006 PNWA Literary Contest

That’s it. Leave the rest of the page absolutely white.

For an entry where you also need to list market and readership, it might look something like this:


(skip a line)

A How-to book aimed at Gen Xers

(skip 3 lines)

An entry in the Nonfiction Book/Memoir Category of the 2006 PNWA Literary Contest

Yes, I know it’s simple, and even a little boring. But it looks professional — and for those of you who missed my December-January three-week series on how to better your chances in a literary contest already know, professionalism is the first criterion contest judges note.

Good luck, everybody. And keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

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