Standard Manuscript Format

In submitting your work, nothing is more important than the story itself. But editors and agents also pay attention to the presentation. The quality of the presentation reflects your professionalism as a writer. If the manuscript is formatted according to standard publishing practice and printed out well, editors and agents will take this as a sign that you know what you’re doing. They will begin reading your work with the belief that it may possibly be good. If the manuscript is not formatted correctly, editors and agents will assume you are an amateur. They’ll begin reading with the belief that your manuscript probably isn’t worth their time, and they’ll be looking for a reason to reject the manuscript as quickly as possible.

If the editor or agent to whom you are submitting has formatting guidelines, follow them.  If not, below are guidelines used by many publishing professionals that will serve you well.  These guidelines generate manuscripts that leave sufficient room for editing and are easy on an editor’s or agent’s tired eyes.  These guidelines are sometimes referred to as “classic” formatting.  You can find a description of the differences between two popular types of formatting, “classic” and “modern,” here.

Manuscript Formatting Guidelines

  1. Use standard 1″ to 1.25″ margins all around.
  2. Put your name, address, e-mail, and phone in the upper left corner, single spaced.
  3. Put estimated word count in upper right corner, rounded off to the nearest hundred words.
  4. About halfway down the first page, put your title, centered, and one double space below it, “by [your name].” Do not do anything fancy with the title, like put it in larger or different type, capitalize the whole thing, underline it, put in quotations, bold, or anything else. Do the same with your name. (If you use a pseudonym, the pseudonym goes on the line below the title. Your real name goes in the upper left corner.)
  5. Double space your text.
  6. The first line of a story is not indented. The beginning of each paragraph after that should be indented, approximately 5 spaces.
  7. In the top right corner of each page after the first page, put your last name, a slash, and the page number. Don’t do anything too fancy or long, because it will distract the editor each time she scrolls to a new page.
  8. If you have a scene break, hit return 4 times at the end of the scene. This will create 3 double-spaced blank lines. On the second blank line, center a pound sign (#). Leave the first and third blank lines blank. The first line of a new scene is not indented.
  9. Use type of a reasonable size. Editors read a lot and don’t want eyestrain. Ten characters per inch is the preferable size. This translates to a “font size” of twelve on your computer for Courier New, the recommended font.
  10. Use a simple serif typeface, the best being Courier. Serifs are the little lines that extend from a letter. For example, in a serif typeface, the letter i has a horizontal serif at its base and another at the top. This article is written in a typeface without serifs. Such typefaces are called sans serif and are disliked by editors. Do not use fancy typefaces under any circumstances.
  11. Use a typeface in which each letter takes the same amount of space (mono-spaced). Do not use a proportional-spaced typeface, such as Times New Roman.
  12. Do not justify your right margin.
  13. Do not break words with hyphens at the ends of lines.
  14. A good indication that your margins and typeface are about right is that your manuscript has approximately 250 words per page.
  15. To be sure not to lose your work, save it on your hard drive, on the cloud, and on a USB or external backup (and printing out a copy can’t hurt).
  16. If you are going to submit a hard copy manuscript, use white paper, plain and simple. Photocopy-type paper is preferable to fancy bond. Print on only one side of each page. Make sure your printer produces a clean, dark copy using black ink only.  Do not handwrite any corrections into your manuscript. Print out a corrected version instead.  Paperclip the sheets together.
  17. Don’t get tied up in knots over this. You should be spending time on your story, not the formatting. Follow these simple guidelines, and you should be okay.