How to Format a Manuscript

As a freelance editor, I’ve seen all kinds of manuscript formatting. While it’s fine to write and edit your manuscript using whatever formatting style you’d like, when it comes to sending your work to an editor, agent, or publisher, please follow the industry norm.

Take a look:

-Font size: twelve point, font style: Times New Roman or Courier (although many prefer TNR)
-one-inch margins, all four of them
-Half-inch paragraph indentations
-Double space, no extra lines between paragraphs, unless this is to show a passage of time
-Align left. Do NOT justify the text.
-Add page numbers, starting with the first page of the story, not the title page
-Indicate scene breaks with a blank line, then centering one of the following: #, ###, *, or ***, followed by another blank line.
-The page header should look like this: Last name/title/page number, for example: Labelle/Deadly Contract/1. Some people like to use all caps for their last name, which is fine, too. LABELLE/Deadly Contract/12
-At the end of a chapter, insert a page break, and start the next chapter on a new page.
-Center the chapter title (even if it’s just Chapter One or Chapter 1), 1/3 of the way down the page, then skip two spaces, and continue with the story.
-There are two ways of ending a manuscript. Hit return, then center a number sign # at the end of the work or simply write The End. This is important because you don’t want the editor/agent/publisher to wonder if they read all the pages or not. Sound silly? Believe me. It’s not always obvious when you’ve reached the end of a story. LOL
-If you want to show internal dialogue or emphasis on a word, use italics. It’s no longer necessary to underline this.
-Another big change over the years is one space after periods instead of two. If you have a hard time with this, you can always do a search and replace later. While you won’t get rejected over this, most agents and editors will make you change to single spaces before they start the publishing process, so you might as well do it before you first submit to them.

What about the title page?

-Near the top of the page, include your contact information. Align to the left and include: your real name (legal name), address, phone number, e-mail address, and word count. Or you can add the word count to the right side of the title page. Add the genre or sub-genre either above or below the word count.
-Halfway down the page, center the manuscript title in either all caps or mixed caps. Skip a line, type “by” or “a novel by”, then skip a line, and add your pen name, or your real name with your pen name for example: Janice Hopper writing as J.B. Collins.
-Don’t include the header or page count on your title page. That starts on the next page, which is your manuscript’s first page.

The first thing you need to do is check the agent or publisher’s guidelines. They may slightly vary. If in doubt, use the guidelines listed above. You want to appear professional, so don’t use strange fonts, different sizes or colors. Don’t use graphics or anything else that will make your submission look any different from the rest. Trust me. This is one part of the process where you don’t want to stand out.

Lynnette Labelle

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