This is based on a Stephen King article I talked about in “Everything You Need to Know.”
King states that to be a successful writer, you must be neat. Specifically, “Type. Double-space. Use a nice heavy white paper, never that erasable onion-skin stuff. If you’ve marked up your manuscript a lot, do another draft.”
Does advice get more basic than this? If you want someone to take you serious when submitting a piece of writing, take the time and make the effort to present a clean, presentable manuscript. I want to delve into a few pieces from King’s statement.
Type-Unless the guidelines specifically ask for handwritten pages there’s no reason, in this day and age of computers, you should attempt to submit anything untyped. Pecking it out on an old Royal typewriter from the 1900s is preferable to handwriting.
Double-space-Again, unless the directions specifically state otherwise, double-spaced manuscripts are the way to go. This allows, maybe even encourages, the reader to make suggestions or edits. If you are trying to get published, any comment or tiny piece of feedback from an agent, publisher, or contest judge is valuable.
Use a nice heavy white paper-Right…don’t use the tissue thin stuff that can tear, smear, smudge, and be a basic pain to the reader. Don’t use decorative papers no matter how perfect the clouds or balloons fit the theme of your story. Plain. White. Heavy. Paper. It’s your manuscript not your scrapbook. (Unless you are publishing your scrapbook and then just follow the directions for the publisher/agent.)
What I would also add to is font. King’s original interview was in 1986/1988 and I’m sure the font options were somewhat limited at that point. However, in our wonderful computing age now, we can select fonts that look like a child’s handwriting, cursive writing, random symbols, and much more. I know those fonts are cute and might help you express your style or the fun theme of your work, but don’t use them. Use a nice clean font like Arial, Times New Roman, or Courier New at size 10-12. If you want to do stylized things like use a huge upper case letter to start each chapter or a fancy font for your chapter titles, save those things for the production discussions once you have an editor or publisher.
Overall, don’t dress up your work. Putting too much dressing on your work can look like an attempt to hide mediocre work. Present your manuscript in a clean, clear, concise way.