Unbound Manuscript

I am nearly to the point of finally starting to put words onto paper, and therefore wanted to know the best format for the manuscript. I’m using Scrivener for holding the research and my notes, and probably Word for the text. To do this as efficiently as possible, I started to research different publishers to prevent unnecessary rework after completing the novel.

Some publishers accept only hard-copy submittals and require an “unbound manuscript.”

What exactly does that mean? Loose pages in a large envelope? Three-hole punched with studs or in a loose-leaf binder? Huge bull-dog clip holding it together? Something else altogether?

Thanks in advance for any assistance,

Loose pages in a large envelope (and a self-addressed, postage-paid envelope included within if you expect to have the manuscript returned). No bull-dog clips, no perforations, no studs or loose-leaf binders. Maybe a discrete rubber band. All pages numbered, your name and contact info on the cover page. A one-page cover letter that describes a bit about the manuscript and a bit about you. It helps if you know the editor’s name you’re sending the submission to. And unbelievably important that you spell it correctly.

And even more important that you find the right editor. Pick a recent book that you really like, note the publishing house, ring them up and ask for the name of the editor who published it. Don’t ask to speak to the editor; editors don’t have time to talk with aspirants. Just get the name, and the spelling, and the address; send it along and be prepared to wait six weeks or longer for an answer.

But . . . if it’s a first novel, shouldn’t you be looking first for an agent? Top houses rarely read unsolicited manuscripts. But for finding an agent the same rules apply–and most will want a brief query that explains the project and perhaps a sample chapter rather than the whole manuscript. If you hook them with your query, they’ll ask to see the rest.

Speaking as an acquiring editor for 30 years before my recent retirement.

Thank you very much for the reply. As I’m an unpublished author, I was hoping to do my first book without an agent. I have about 7K followers on a web site (not related to my book genre). I’ve web-published some stories in the past that were well-received. I was hoping to leverage these to develop an initial following for my novel.

As well, different publishers seem to have different formatting requirements and different submission requirements. The “unbound manuscript” people need the book on paper. Another publisher wants a synopsis, four or five chapters, and a two-page outline, but specifically requests no full-length manuscript. Another wants the submission in electronic RTF format. My problem was with the definition of “unbound.” It seemed to be as you described, but I am inherently adverse to such a random submission.

I’ll be certain to review and adhere to any submission guidelines. By trade, I am an engineer, so we’re pretty good at doing things exactly as required. If we don’t, things tend to explode or collapse, and kill people. This makes us very good at following rules.

I’m very thankful for your reply. Once I’m done with my book, and I have sent it through a couple of grammar and spelling checkers, I’ll most likely hire a copy editor to do a final check before I submit it. My grammar, diction, and spelling are much better than average, but I always think of the “Paris in the Spring” triangle to caution myself about unseen errors. A second or third party check is never out of order.

Thank you very much for your time and your reply. Your direction and advice are very well-received on my part.

Best regards,

Since you’re unlikely to be technically challenged by Scrivener’s compile process, I’d also suggest that you use it to write your manuscript. By using the various settings of Compile, you can tweak it to output something very close, if not exactly, to the specifications of any given submissions department of an agent or publishing house without having to modify the source text.

Also, since you’re going to be attempting to directly negotiate with the publisher, please take advantage of resources like Writer Beware*, and be prepared to have a lawyer conversant with the publishing industry examine any contracts you are presented with.

As RDale suggested, I have been reading Writer Beware, as well as the “Turkey City” lexicon article on the same site. Both are very informative. As I am not reliant upon my writing skills for my livelihood, I doubt I become desperate enough to go to a vanity press. After all, if I can’t get a publisher or agent who might make money from my book to read it, what chance do I have of getting someone who has to pay for the book to read it?

As to the agent, I was under the impression - as stated and negated on the SFWA site - that one had to have an already-published book for an agent to take an interest. I was toying with getting some short stories published to prove my bona fides before approaching an agent. I am cautious by nature, so I wanted to have my ducks in a row before attempting to get any assistance.

I’ll research agents and agencies a bit more now that I’ve read the SFWA link. As to the contract, if I were to be offered one, I’m certain I’ll read the entire document myself before consulting a lawyer. If at that time I don’t already have an agent, I’ll almost certainly get one. If for nothing else, I’ll get an agent to get a recommendation for a lawyer, as well as to get the agent’s view of the contract clauses.

As to using the different compile options, I am wary of the writing interface on Scrivener. I am already very familiar with Word, and simple font or layout changes are not difficult. I tend to shy from a lot of italics except for foreign words, so little formatting beyond submission requirements should be required. After reading some submission guidelines, it seems that every publisher has its own preferences, so every submission will need to be tailored to that house before submittal.

Thank you both for your input. I’m sure I’ll have more questions before I am ready for publication. :smiley:

Best regards,

With all due respect, the simplicity of layout and font changes is probably the worst possible reason to choose a word processor for a work of fiction. For complex non-fiction, maybe, but for fiction? It’s almost all going to be in the same font, the page layout is beyond basic, set it once and you’re done.

The most important advantages of Scrivener (and the most severe disadvantages of Word) affect the research, planning, drafting, and editing stages. Especially for fiction, these will account for the vast majority of the time investment.



One of the first things I read when researching or opening Scrivener was a warning that Scrivener was not meant to be a word processor. I can’t find the advice now. My memory of it was that it was from the Scrivener team itself. So, it was (I believe) from Scrivener itself that I got the idea not to use Scrivener for the actual text.

I wish I could find the reference… I think it might have been a complaint from a newbie user who only found the warning after purchasing the software.

I went through the tutorial with this advice in mind, so I’ll have to go back and revisit that part of the tutorial - or in the Take Control book - to see about using Scrivener as my text entry platform.

Thank you for taking the time to respond,

It’s not a word processor in the sense that if you think of it as a like for like replacement for Word or other traditional word processors, then you’ll both be disappointed and you’re making your life harder than it needs to be…

This is partly because it isn’t designed to do a lot of the things that Word does: e.g. producing letters, mail merge, fine control over the look and placement of images or tables or footnotes, and so on. If you want those sort of things, then Word may be necessary at some stage.

What Scrivener is designed to do — and it does it far better than Word or any other processor — is to enable you to plan and write your drafts more effectively and more efficiently than any other program. It’s essentially a tool kit to get from your initial idea to a final draft.

For example: one of the main advantages is that you can break your manuscript down into much smaller parts (chapters / sections / subsections / scenes – the choice is yours) and work on them individually: shuffling them around, writing them out of order, categorising them, annotating them and so on, in a way which just isn’t possible in Word. You can think of it as a stack of index cards with a synopsis on the front, but with the entire text of the scene/section and your notes / keywords contained within the card. You can shuffle the cards as much as you like and everything associated with a card (synopsis, notes, text etc) will always be available. Word’s outline feature is very, very limited in comparison.

Once you’ve got the structure right, and you’ve got the contents right in Scrivener – i.e. you’ve completed the final draft – then you compile it to its final form. Scrivener provides several compilation formats so that if you’re writing a novel or a simple non-fiction document, you may find that Scrivener’s output to PDF or .docx is ready for submission as it is. For other uses, you may need to import the .docx to Word for the final polishing (e.g. fine control over where footnotes or images are placed).

TLDR: it’s possible that you may need Word at the end of writing your document; but for most uses you’re making your life harder if you’re not using Scrivener to do (almost) everything else up to that point.

That’s an interesting perspective (not using Scrivener to enter text when your formatting needs are simple). :confused:

I’ve always thought of it as the ideal place to write your text unless your formatting needs are very intricate and cannot be accomplished easily in Scrivener. You could, if the whim struck, write in Comic Sans, or a different font in every chapter. You could alter the paragraph spacing and indentation in every document so they’re all slightly different. You could set the size of the font to change from 8 points to 24 points in the same document…

All that craziness, and you could still come out of the compile process with Time New Roman, 12 point, indented paragraphs, double-spaced, with 1" margins for one submission, and then with a tweak to the compile settings, change it to TNR 10 point with no paragraph indents and a 1.5 inter-paragraph spacing.

In other words, it really doesn’t matter what you do with font and paragraph settings inside Scrivener. The bonus is that you get snapshots and annotations and footnotes you can strip out at compile time and scrivener links to your research, and document notes, and the split editor for whatever purpose you need while writing, and… and … and …

Which is to say that’s why you’re getting push-back from more experience Scrivener users, because if you’re willing to adjust to a writing program that’s less about page layout, and much more about organizing your writing and research, then there are huge advantages to leaving Word for the final formatting tweaks that you might need at the very end of your process.

But you do you. Sometimes it takes a while to adjust to new ways of doing things, and there is no One True Writing Program™ for everyone. Even Scrivener’s creator admits as much, and backs that admission up with links to number of competing and complimentary writing programs on the main website.

I think the issue here is the definition of “word processor.” Something like Word is really a system for producing presentation-quality documents. Letters, newsletters, resumes, corporate reports. It supplies an enormous number of layout tools, templates, formatting options, etc. to that end. But its tools for actually writing and editing large bodies of text are rudimentary.

Scrivener is the opposite. Perhaps it is best to call it a “text processor.” It is unsurpassed in the tools it offers for planning, writing, and editing text. But its layout tools are quite basic compared to something like Word, much less a full-featured layout package like InDesign. So no, you should not choose Scrivener if you are looking for a Word replacement. But that emphatically does NOT mean that you shouldn’t use Scrivener to create your text.


Thank you all for your replies.

I am right now going through the “Take Control” eBook. I’ll pay particular attention to the text editing and compiling sections, which I skimmed through on the tutorial because of my prior reading referenced above.

Apparently, I got one of the Elves’ writing programs instead of Sauron’s master editor. It’s better than becoming a Nazgul, anyway.

I am trying to use Scrivener to my best advantage. I am already sold on its ability to hold research and allow me to group, rearrange, and otherwise stuff it full of content. As well, I use it to keep notes on plots, characters, etc. I was only avoiding it as the text editor due to something I had read earlier. Since I’ve encountered enough opposition from long-time (or at least “longer-time”) users, I’m willing to give the editor a go.

Assuming this does not violate board rules, which it might, I’m going to ask another question here rather than starting a new thread. It is about text arrangement as I write. Having looked at submission guidelines, I’m nearly certain that cover pages, chapter headings, line spacing, output format… let’s just shorten the list to “everything…” from one publisher/agent to another is different. With an eye to have a manuscript I can easily change, would it not be in my best interest to keep “cover page,” “query,” and similar “submittee-specific” documents as separate documents within or prior to my “manuscript” section in Scrivener?

(Editor’s note: I needed the word “submittee” so I coined it. If there’s a better word, I’m all ears, or eyes, as the case may be.)

Thanks to everyone again for their time and thoughtful replies.

Best regards,



To add to that… look at the “Front Matter” feature in the manual. That should get you most of the way to what you need–which is pretty much Scrivener’s compile feature in a nutshell–getting you 95% of the way there, if not 100%.

This has been a most informative thread for one still adapting to the trial version. I have been a devotee of Write it Now, a clearly ‘budget’ version (I elected against ‘inferior’) of Scrivener.

Some of my main concerns have been answered within this thread, and that is the ‘exporting’ from Scrivener to Word. Write it Now has difficulties transferring tabs and hard breaks, with the consequence of my having to re-tab manually 250-plus A4 pages. (The ‘select all’ and other presets will not undo WiN’s default.)

I guess many newbies to Scrivener are told to ‘stick at it’ and read, read, read the manual. So that’s what I’ll do!

Just a slight amendment: you don’t need to ‘read, read, read the manual’ at the beginning – it’s very useful for advanced topics, but it’s really not necessary to get a working effective knowledge sufficient to write and compile standard documents in standard formats (e.g. standard manuscript formats for novels). The manual goes into great detail about features you may never need and it can give the impression that basic usage of Scrivener is more complicated than it actually is in day to day use.

Instead, do the Interactive Tutorial and understand the main concepts there. They’re actually quite simple for most use cases. If there are questions after that about specific aspects of what you want to do, then the manual is great, but the tutorial will get you a long way at the beginning, and it’s designed to get you up and running and productive quickly.


If you’re using tabs to indent paragraphs, that’s gone the way of the double-space-after-a-period. Which is to say, we’re not living in the world of typewriters, daisywheel printers, and fixed-width fonts anymore. Professionals who do interior book layout routinely have to strip out those extraneous invisible characters before publication–do them a favor and break that habit, if that’s what you were talking about.

You can write with indented paragraphs by using the ‘ruler’ in the editor, so visually, you get the same effect without hitting TAB.

Also, please be aware that Scrivener treats tabs and paragraph indents separately. Which means that if you use tabs while writing, then tell the Compile command to indent your paragraphs (or use a preset that does so), you’ll end up with double-indented paragraphs in your output document, and you will be sad.


Sorry guys, mislead you. I should have written re-indented, which still couldn’t be done globally after WiN formatted indents as spaces.

Thanks for your assistance.