Yes, I know: I was going to move on to writing about polishing up those first 50 pages of your submission. However, before I do, I want to spend a day talking about the very first thing an agent or editor will see in your submission: the title page.
And yes, Virginia, your submission needs one. Even if you are sending the second 50 pages, your manuscript is simply undressed if it goes out without a title page. Why? Because, contrary to popular belief amongst writers, it is not just a billboard for your book’s title and your chosen pen name. It’s both the proper place to announce how you may best be reached and a fairly sure indicator of how much experience you have dealing with the publishing industry.
(And no, for those of you who have been asking about it, Anne Mini is not a nom de plume, but the name on my birth certificate, believe it or not. My parents were so literarily-oriented that my father demanded to be led to a typewriter before they settled on a name, to see how each of the top contenders would look in print. The better to grace future dust jackets, my dear.)
Thought I was just going to leave that startling earlier statement hanging in the air, didn’t you? 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. Why? Well, 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 manuscript I see has a non-standard title page, so it is literally the first thing I, or any editor, will correct in a manuscript.
I find this trend sad, because for every ms. I can correct before they are sent to agents and editors, there must be hundreds of thousands that make similar mistakes. Even sadder, the 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 once again, I do not, alas, run the universe, nor do I make the rules that I report to you. If I set up the industry’s norms, I would decree that every improperly-formatted title page would be greeted with a very kind letter, explaining what was done wrong, and saying that it just doesn’t count this time. Perhaps, in the worst cases, the letter could be sent along with a coupon for free ice cream.
But I digress.
The single most common mistake: 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 for a submission, since these are the standards for the industry. (The logic is complicated here, but in essence, it boils down to an affection for the bygone days of the typewriter: Times is the equivalent of the old elite typeface; Courier is pica.)
Therefore, your title page should be in 12-point Times, Times New Roman, or Courier. All of it, even the title. No exceptions. DEFINITELY do not make the title larger than the rest of the text. It may look cool to you, but to professional eyes – and I hate to tell you this — it looks rather like a child’s picture book.
Do I hear disgruntled voices out there? “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 choice pales in comparison to these crucial elements?”
You’re right, of course — it does, PROVIDED you can get an agent or editor to sit down and read your entire submission. Unfortunately, though, this is a business of snap decisions, where impressions are often formed, well, within seconds. 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 seem be silly — in fact, I would go so far as to say that it IS silly — but it’s true, nevertheless.
Even queries in the proper typefaces tend to be better received. If you are feeling adventurous, go ahead and experiment, sending out one set of queries in Times New Roman and one in Helvetica. As any agency screener will tell you after you have bought him a few drinks (hey, I try to leave no stone left unturned in my quest to find out what these people want to see in submissions), the Times New Roman queries are more likely to strike agents (and agents’ assistants, once they sober up again) as coming from a well-prepared writer, one who will not need to be walked through every nuance of the publication process to come.
That being said, as in so many aspects of the 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, your agent will tell you which one she prefers.) The unfortunate technical restrictions of a blog render it impossible for me to show it to you exactly as it should be, but I shall a new page on this site as soon as I can figure out how to do it, to show you what a title page should look like. I shall describe them here, though, first:
I like to call Format #1 the Me First, because it renders it as easy as possible for an agent to contact you after falling in love with your work. In the upper left-hand corner, you list:
Your phone number
Your e-mail address.
In the upper right-hand corner, you list:
The book category (see how important it is to be up front about it? It’s the very top of the title page!)
Estimated word count.
Skip down 10 lines, then add, centered on the page:
(Skip a line)
(Skip a line)
Your name (or your nom de plume)
There should be NO other information on the title page in Format #1.
Why, you may be wondering, does the author’s name appear twice on the page? 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.
As I have mentioned before, approximate word count appear more professional to agents and editors’ eyes than exact ones. 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 possibly 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. If you want to use a quote at the opening of the book, center it on a separate page that follows the title page.
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 these days. It most closely replicates what most agents want their authors’ ultimate manuscript title pages to look like. In the upper right corner:
(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:)
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 and lots of pretty, pretty white space. After you sign with an agency, your agent’s contact information will appear where your contact information does.
That’s it, my friends – the only two options you have, if you want your title page to look like the bigwigs’ do. And believe me, you do. Try formatting yours accordingly, and see if your work is not treated with greater respect!
Keep up the good work!