Friday, October 8, 2010

20 Formatting Essentials For Your Manuscript

Photo by Dave Heuts

Guest post by KJ Hutchings

When submitting manuscripts to literary agents and publishers, you will generally need to use what is known as the "standard manuscript format". For many writers, this term is often unclear and can jeopardise their work being taken seriously. So, let's look at the twenty essentials for formatting your manuscript correctly:

  1. Always type your document - handwritten work is not acceptable.
  2. Make sure you use a single, clear serif font such as Courier or Courier New rather than Arial.
  3. The font size should be 12 point - not smaller or larger.
  4. Use double spacing - size two.
  5. Use only black text on a white background. Any other colours will make your text harder to read and will also look unprofessional.
  6. Many people submit their work electronically via email, but if you are printing out your manuscript, ensure you use good quality paper and only print on one side of each sheet.
  7. Make sure your name and contact details are at the top of the first page on the left hand side. Include the word count also (make sure this is accurate) at the top right hand side and put the title of your work half-way down the page in the centre. You need to write your name underneath the title. Then commence the document.
  8. If you use a pseudonym, write it beneath the title but keep your real name in the top left hand side of the first page.
  9. Ensure that your name, the document's title and page number (in that order) are on each subsequent page as right-justified headers. If the title of your work is long, you can usually just use a key word or two from the title instead of repeating it in full.
  10. All paragraphs must be left-justified and all right margins must remain unjustified.
  11. There needs to be a least a two centimetre margin all the way around your text. This is so that annotations can be written on the printed out copy.
  12. Do not insert any extra lines between your paragraphs - you want your text to be clear and easy to read.
  13. Indent the first line of each paragraph by one centimetre.
  14. If you wish to indicate a blank line in your text, insert the blank line and then add a further line with the # (hash) character in the middle. Then follow this with another blank line.
  15. Do not use any bold or italic fonts. To emphasise a piece of text you should underline it instead. Do not use any other unusual formatting.
  16. Insert the word "End" after your text. Place it centred on a separate line.
  17. Do not staple your pages together if you are submitting your work on paper. Ensure you package your work sufficiently so that it doesn't arrive at the agents or publishers crumpled and damaged.
  18. Agents and publishers receive many manuscripts each week. Competition is high and can be made worse if you send your work to an agent or publisher that does not handle your niche of writing. For example, you would not send a science fiction or romance story to a publishing house well known for its historical publications. Make sure you research agents and publishers thoroughly.
  19. Once you have selected your potential agent or publisher, check whether there are any specific formatting requirements for manuscripts for their particular market. If they state "standard manuscript format", this guideline can be followed.
  20. Always, always, proofread your work before submitting it! Spelling errors and unnoticed word omissions or sloppy grammar could seriously hinder your literary ambitions.
KJ Hutchings is the founder of KJ Language Services, offering editing, writing and proofreading services and advice on how you can make your English language documents the very best they can be. For more information, visit

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  1. I always thought postings on this topic were redundant. After all, people can read and the submission guidelines are clear.

    Then I became an e-publisher and my innocence was revealed. We have very few requirements, but some authors don't follow them. In fact, some authors seem to have made up their own guidelines.

    Thanks for posting this

  2. How do you get a header like that?

    Is it like this:


    or like this:

    Title Name Page#

    Word doesn't support the first one, and if you try to type it in yourself you can't get the page numbers to show properly.

    Also, can the title be larger than 12pt or is it a blanket 12pt throughout?

  3. Simon,

    I believe either will work.

    It should be 12pt throughout. Using bold for emphasis is acceptable.

  4. I've tried putting the headers in, but the page numbers do not work - how do you do it without having to guess the margins just to put a header in?

  5. Simon,

    I would recommend searching You Tube for tutorials. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to explain how to use Word.


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