Saturday, July 21, 2012

Free MS WORD Template for Manuscripts

Have you ever struggled with questions about how to format your manuscript for submission to literary agents?

Let me save you some time. Here are two free Word documents already formatted for submission to most literary agents. These templates are saved in both Word 2010 and Word 97 2003 formats.  Both formats may be requested through my author website at:

General formatting information:

Font - Times New Roman, 12 pitch
Spacing - double spaced
Margins - one inch all around
Header - Title/Author/Page number (note: page numbers are automatically added as your story grows.)
Cover page - Title/word count/author contact information
Chapter breaks - instructions are contained in the document for chapter breaks

Note:  If you cut and paste your existing manuscript into this document, be sure to delete all existing formatting before the transfer, or you might carry incorrect formatting from an old document into the new manuscript.

Feel free to contact me with questions if you have trouble with these formats. I can be reached through the comments section on this blog or by personal email at

Good luck getting published!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ten Basic Steps to Success – Does Your Manuscript Meet these Standards?

Here are my personal guidelines for building a story. I hope you find something of value in them.


1) Hook – How does my story begin? A strong hook should introduce a main character or initiate the plot, excite the reader and create interest in reading further.

Now, here's a strong hook!
2) Plot Clarity – A plot should be consistent from opening to denouement. Sub-plots are fine as long as they contribute to the storyline and advance the plot. Plausibility is critical to plot. My readers must be able to “believe” the story in order to connect with it emotionally. This even applies to the fantasy genre . . . readers want to know the “raison d’etre” for things that happen.

3) Voice/Tone/Mood - Voice, Tone and Mood derive from an author's unique literary style in telling the story. Most importantly, I should keep them consistent throughout and create the specific impact I intend.

4) Creativity/Uniqueness - Is my storyline unusual? Does it offer a fresh treatment of a common plot or even a new and unique theme?


5) SPAG - Spelling, punctuation and grammar. Occasional typos are to be expected in a manuscript, but very few such errors should be in the final version. In this day of spell/grammar check, significant SPAG may be interpreted as a lazy writer who did not bother to review the entire work.

6) Quality of description - Narrative imagery and descriptive dialog should exhibit high standards of writing and feature the concept of "Show; don't tell." Good balance between narration and dialog provides my readers with different perspectives and varying pace.

7) Character development - Vibrant characters drive stories. Are my main characters fleshed out and believable? There is a place for flat or static characters in a story, but main characters should be dynamic and compelling.

8) Pace - Pace enhances the reader's experience. It should rise and fall at critical points to generate energy in the story. Artists and advertisers have long known the value of “white space” for making their subject matter stand out. Pace serves that same purpose. Slowing pace allows readers to “rest” after fast-paced story elements and whets their appetite for more.

9) Genre clarity – Some authors mix genres successfully while others drift from one theme to another. I always try to stick to the main genre. I hate buying a mystery novel and discovering that the first half of the book is a romance story that the author thinks will build better reader-character connection.


10) Guidelines and Formatting - Did I follow submission guidelines? Submission guidelines are clear, and there is NO excuse for deviating from any requested manuscript formatting or submission requirements.

How does your WIP stack up in these critical areas?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Rattlesnake Bites – Building Tension

I escaped and rode hard, heading west to put as much distance as possible between me and the gunman Claire hired. Dillon Manley, notorious fast-draw killer, followed me . . . barely one day back.

The rapidly setting Colorado sun made travel too dangerous, so I set up a crude camp, only without a fire that might help Claire’s assassin find me.

Will Manley also bed down? I wondered as I tethered my horse for the night.

Probably not, I thought. Paid killers are usually pretty tough. He can’t track me in the dark, but he knows I’m heading west. He might continue along the trail under moonlight.

I laid back against my bedroll but could not sleep. I thought about my situation.

Three days ago, Claire announced our wedding plans, much to my surprise. Sure, her daddy owned most of the best cattle land in the territory, and marrying her promised a life of privilege and comfort, but that was not why I came west after college. Gold-rush fever had set in from reading all the stories about gold discovered at Sutter’s Mill in California. After selling all my possessions, I headed west to seek my fortune, until I met Claire.
Tired and hot, I had stopped to water my horse and bathe in a clear mountain stream. A rider approached at a full gallop. Claire reined her tall palomino to a dust-clouded stop. She was beautiful. Sitting straight-backed in the saddle, she demanded why I was trespassing on their ranch.

Her hard demeanor softened as she assessed me. Drips of water clung to my bare chest, and my hair must have been a mess, having already washed out the day’s travel grime, but she did not seem offended by my disheveled appearance.

An uncomfortable silence developed as she looked from my chest to my horse and back. I felt odd under her gaze.

Trying to break the tension, I said, “Thank God, I didn’t take off my pants to bathe.”

She smiled. “Nice roan. Saddle looks a bit decorative for a wrangler. You're no cowboy. Where are you from?”

She dismounted and approached with a noticeable air of superiority. Using a single finger, she traced between water droplets on my chest and abdomen. Lips parted and the tip of her wet finger touched her tongue. She smiled. No woman ever treated me like that before.

One thing led to another, and I ended up spending six months working the ranch for her father. Claire and I got real close, you know, in that special way. I thought it was just mutual enjoyment, until she surprised me by announcing “our” wedding plans.

Panic set in. I never discussed a long-term relationship with her. She became enraged when I told her so.

Loud neighing broke my thoughts. My horse reared up, pulling hard against her secure lead rope.

“Manley! He’s here,” I whispered to myself and rushed through the dark to settle my horse.

“Whoa, girl. It’s okay,” I said trying to calm her. It did not work.

She reared back, striking in the air with her forelegs. I ducked frantic hooves and reached to the base of the scrub brush to release the knot. A searing pain shot up my arm from my hand.


What happens when your carefully crafted main character faces conflict? Is slow building tension enough? What if the slowly rising suspense suddenly explodes into a crisis?

The story above is a tiny part of a western that I am currently writing. I was happy with the slow building tension of the killer pursuing my MC, but I decided to introduce a crisis--the rattlesnake bite--to see what happens next. A wanton killer is tracking my MC fully intending to kill him. The woman, who once loved him, now hates him. And, he’s just been bitten by a rattlesnake.

Cool. I think that is sufficient tension to keep most readers entertained and turning pages.

If your story gets too predictable, or drones on, slowly building the main plot, spice it up by introducing your own version of the rattlesnake--an abrupt introduction of an unexpected twist. Remember, a good story is really a series of small stories linked by an overall plot. Make each one of those small stories exciting. “Rattlesnakes” can make that happen.

By the way, if you want to know what happens to my neophyte cowboy, you will have to buy the book!