Saturday, March 30, 2013

How to Format a Manuscript

How to Format A Manuscript

So you've written a beast of a novel and naturally you've taken the next step to write a query. Well, what happens several steps down the road when that agent asks to see your full manuscript? Or what if you're submitting to a publishing house? Do you have your manuscript all nice and pretty? Is it formatted properly?

I guarantee if it's single spaced, size 6 font, the people you are submitting to probably wont want to look at it. He or she will be annoyed they have to get out their magnifying glasses to even read it. So today, I want to talk to you a little bit about manuscript formatting.

Now, from what I've seen, there can be several different ways to format a manuscript. Some people argue over things such as the proper font (Time New Roman or Courier?) or the proper size of the margins (1 inch or 1.5 inches).  Honestly, you may find the publisher or agency preferences on the submission portion of their website. But there are a few standard manuscript formatting things people seem to universally agree on.

And for those of you whose legs get shaky at the mere thought of having to format your manuscript, have no fear. There's no need to panic. I'm here to help!


Format a Manuscript

  • Use a title page. This should contain vital information such as manuscript name, your name, your contact information (name, address, phone, and email address). If you have an agent, be sure to include this information as well. Your manuscript name should be centered and just above the middle of the page. Below it should be the word "by" and then below that should be your name. All should be centered.
  • Make sure your manuscript is left justified.
  • White background- part of me feels like I shouldn't need to say this but I found some crazy things on Google today. Let's just say that flowered backgrounds on a finished manuscript aren't one of your better ideas.
  • Double space your manuscript.
  • Size 12 font (Font is debated. Check submission guidelines for their preference. People tend to argue between Times New Roman and Courier the most).
  • Use only one space between words. I know several people who are used to their typewriting days where it was customary to use two spaces between everything. This is not the case for typing. Use one space between words and after periods.
  • Whenever you start a new paragraph, even if it's dialogue, a thought, a couple of lines, etc. always indent. Dialogue should be indented the same as a new paragraph.
  • You should have a header at the top right of every page (except your cover page) and it should include your name, your manuscript name, and page number. (Some people argue top left, but again, I would cater to the submission guidelines of wherever you're sending your work.)
  • Indent the first line of each paragraph, 5 pt (five spaces). You can set your document to automatically do this. If you're using Microsoft Word, this is the path. (Paragraph -> Indentation -> Special -> First line -> .5).
  • Start each new chapter about 1/3 way down the page. Many people say this is one to six double spaced lines down the page.
  • Do not use any font effects. Just say no.
  • Scene breaks- if you're at a point where there is a scene break, just drop down one line, center a # symbol, and start again a line below. Some people argue it should be two lines on either side.
  • Page break at the end of a chapter. The easiest way to do this instead of hitting the enter button a bunch of times, is to hit control (CTRL) then Enter. That will take you to the top of the next page.
  • Do not try and make your manuscript look like a book.


  • Seems to me like the smartest thing you can do is to format your story from the beginning. It will save you hours later. I spent hours upon hours today formatting just 30 pages of a friend's manuscript. Seriously, from now on I'm formatting everything I write, the correct way from page one.
  • If you have a finished manuscript and you are just starting to format it, if you hold the control (CTRL) button and click on the document, it will select everything in the doc. That way you can CTRL + click, then change the font to 12, times new roman, indent at .5, set your margins, etc., all at once.
Now go out there and knock 'em dead, tiger. I can't wait to see those shiny, perfect manuscripts. And just remember:

Let me know if you have any questions or if this helped, in the comments below! Or, if you've been in this rodeo and have some tips for fellow writers, I would love to hear them.

Have a nice day!


  1. This is really helpful! I have one question though. I have my MS divided into 3 parts and on each of the dividers there is an epithet that really contributes info to the story. How should I format that? Thanks!!

    1. Hi Cynthia! Sorry about the delay, I only just saw your comment today! I honestly haven't had to format parts in a book. That said, please don't take my word as an expert opinion on how to do that piece of formatting, but I will tell you how I would do it if you can't find the answer by googling. Oddly enough, I did a super quick search for the answer myself and didn't find it.

      Anywho, this is how I would do it: I would make a new page using Control + Enter, then I would go six or seven lines down the page, center the type and put your header. This includes, "Part One - The Lying Son"


      Part One
      The Lying Son

      However you want it formatted or however long it is. After you've put in the type, then go to your new page by hitting control + enter. Does that make sense?

  2. This is so helpful - I didn't know about starting chapters down the page, oops, I'll correct that!

    1. Hi Viki! So happy that you found it helpful! :)

  3. Thanks Jolene. I've saved the checklist.
    ~Just Jill