Manuscript formatting can be a pain—especially if you wait until your work is complete before bothering with it. This can be an appealing temptation, but preparing your document before you begin to write will save you time and headache later. More than this, agents and publishers will likely take you seriously if you present them queries and manuscripts that look professional. Brian Klems, at Writer’s Digest, points out that “editors generally prefer submissions of any kind to be neat and uniform…so they can find exactly what they want as easily as possible.”
Before you begin formatting you should research the literary agents or publishers that you plan to submit to. Many agents and publishers will list their formatting expectations somewhere on their website. You should follow this as closely as possible. If, however, you are self-publishing or cannot find formatting specifications, the following rules will ensure that your manuscript is uniform and professional in appearance.
Once you’ve established the format your manuscript should be typed in (either through an agent or publishing house website or based on the industry standard), it’s time to open your document. Before you begin to put word to page, you should set up the page formatting. This will carry over to each subsequent page of the document.
Standard page margins are 1 inch all around (or 3cm for UK/European manuscripts). Some publishers might accept 1.5 inch margins.
2. Tab Setting
Paragraph indentions should be at 0.5 inches (1.25cm). It can be tempting to hit “enter + tab” to start a new indented paragraph. However, this can cause hiccups in preparing the manuscript for publication—this is especially true for e-books. If you’ve ever purchased an self-published e-book from Amazon (or other e-book stores), you might have noticed that some have varying indentions at the beginning of chapters or paragraphs. Using the “enter + tab” method of inserting new paragraphs is, at least partially, to blame. Using your word processor’s ruler and tab setting (in Word this is the small upside-down triangle on the left-hand side of the ruler bar). Sliding it to the half-inch marker will automatically indent new paragraphs and establishes this indention in the document’s meta-data.
3. Font and Font-size
For manuscript submissions, 12-point Times New Roman is the industry standard (though Arial or Courier New might be acceptable). It is worth mentioning that agents and editors expect black font color. One note, pertinent to self-publishing authors: Times New Roman is a proprietary font. This means that it is illegal to use this font in works intended for sale. For submissions to agents and publishers this isn’t an issue (the submission isn’t being sold for profit) and publishing houses will have their own licenses for fonts. For the independent publisher, however, you will need to look for SIL open-source fonts in order to avoid legal issues (such as fontlibrary.org).
4. Spacing and Alignment
All manuscripts should be double-spaced with no spaces added between paragraphs. Following the end of a sentence, you should have only a single space.
Do not justify the text. Left-aligned is the way to go.
You should begin your header on the first page of the body of your text (either Chapter 1, Introduction, Prologue, etc.). In your header you should include your last name, a key word from the book’s title, and page number. Your pagination should begin with 1 on the first page of the first chapter. An example of your header might be: Hopeful Writer – First Novel – 1.
6. Chapter, Chapter Breaks and Scene Breaks
Chapters should begin on a new page and should start 1/3 to 1/2 of the way down the page. Center the chapter title, even if the chapter is only titled “Chapter 1” or “Chapter I”. When a chapter is complete, use a page break. Do not “enter” down to a blank page. This is important for final formatting, especially if self-publishing. Begin entering the body of the chapter’s text about 4 spaces down from the chapter title.
Scene breaks should be indicated by either three asterisks (***) or a single pound sign (#) centered on its own line. The end of the manuscript should be indicated by either the three asterisks or pound sign. Alternatively you may simply write “END” centered a space below the final line of the manuscript.
Verify your publisher/agent’s formatting expectations before beginning to format your manuscript. If you are writing previous to representation or querying, then these formatting tips will set you on the path to utilizing proper industry standards.