Writer Tips: Formatting Your Manuscript

For the next handful of posts I’m going to be offering tips for writers, from the most basic elements to the most advanced. In today’s post, a pretty basic tip but clearly one that needs updating from time to time.

Not long ago I was helping a writer with a manuscript, and they sent me a handful of single-spaced pages with no paragraph indentations and no extra space between paragraphs. It was super frustrating for me to read. And recently a colleague said that she’d faced the same with a submission, and that the author of that piece insisted that “writer’s advice has told me to format it this way.”

I’m going to give you a template for your submissions because the last thing you want to do is annoy an editor or agent with an incorrectly-formatted manuscript.

So here’s what you need:

  • A Word document if you are attaching to an email or printing to send as a hard copy.
  • Twelve-point Times New Roman font.
  • One-inch margins all around.
  • Double-spaced.
  • Half-inch indents on the first line of every paragraph.

Now, the first page of a manuscript (whether novel, picture book, non-fiction – whatever) is formatted a little differently from the rest of the manuscript. Here’s how it looks:

 

For novels, it’s easier to follow if you insert a page break between chapters. For picture books, you should leave extra space between page turns; in other words, each page or double-page spread is a set of lines grouped (and double-spaced) with an extra double-space to indicate the page turn.

As a slight aside, if you are writing a novel in multiple points of view, it helps to tag each chapter with the name of the point of view character. More on POV in a future post.

Some editors want you to paste your text into the body of an email rather than sending as a Word doc attachment. In that case (only) you can single-space your document, especially since the submission will be a limited word count and obviously will not be paginated. But I would still indent your first line paragraph return if you can, or add an extra space between paragraphs, and use a medium-sized font (not too large or too small but just right.)

Many, if not most, editors and agents read submissions on electronic devices. When you submit something that’s difficult to read you dim your chance of acceptance, no matter how beautiful your work. If something is hard for you or your critique partner to read, it’s hard for an editor.

Questions? Comments?

4 Responses to “Writer Tips: Formatting Your Manuscript”

    • Janet

      Thanks so much, Mark! I’ll be providing lots more tips in the next few months. Cheers!

      Reply
  1. mariann a sterling

    For electronic submissions, do I single space, left alignment?
    What’s the current format for fiction?

    Reply
    • Janet

      Always double space with indents at paragraph returns, which is the format for fiction.

      If you are submitting in the body of the email (as opposed to an attachment – it will depend on the editor/house so check what they want) you can single space, left justified, with double spacing between paragraphs.

      Reply

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