Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
On July 25, 2013, I closed this article to new comments because the volume of comments and their length was causing problems for the page’s setup. If you have comments or questions about manuscript formatting that are
not answered here, please link through to this article—
Overflow Comments for Manuscript Formatting.
You can format your novel manuscript any way you want as you’re writing and editing. If you want a purple font on a pink background, have at it. If you have a font you just love looking at, use it while you’re writing.
But when you’re ready to submit your novel to an agent or publisher, follow the guidelines. Please. Let your creativity shine through your story, not your manuscript format. There really is a time to blend in with others, to be just one of the crowd, and this is that time.
No fancy fonts or colors. No odd sizes in fonts or margins. No illustrations or graphics such as your five-year-old son’s artwork for a suggested cover.
You want an agent or editor talking about your submission, but for the right reasons. Don’t be the joke of the week at your favorite publishing house.
Don’t give harried agents and editors an excuse to toss your manuscript before they’ve read the first word.
So how do you format a novel manuscript an acceptable way?
Find out what the agent or publisher recommends.
Yes, many publish their specs and formatting requirements right on their websites. Checking out the specs should be your first step.
Adapt your manuscript for each agent or publisher (most will be remarkably similar).
For any agent or publisher without a specific format, follow an accepted format for novel manuscripts, such as this one—
font: Twelve point, Times New Roman (or Courier New, if you insist), black
margins: One-inch margins on all four sides
indent: Half-inch paragraph indentations (this tab is pre-set in MS Word) for the first line of each paragraph (even the first paragraph of a chapter)
space: Double space; no extra line spaces between paragraphs
align: Align left (not justified). The right edges will not be uniform or even.
page numbering: Number pages beginning with the actual story (don’t count or put page numbers on the title page)
scene breaks: Indicate scene breaks by inserting a blank line and centering the number sign # in the center of the line
page header: Include your last name, your title (or keywords from the title), and the page number in the page header of every page except for the title page. Align the header to the right, so the information doesn’t interfere with the text of the manuscript. (Jones/Taming the Monster/1)
chapters: Begin chapters on new pages (insert a page break or format using styles). Center the chapter title, even if it’s only Chapter One (or Chapter 1), about 1/3 of the way down the page. Skip a couple of spaces and begin the text of the chapter.
end: Center a number sign # on an otherwise blank line one double-spaced line down from the final line of text of the final chapter or epilogue at the end of the manuscript. Or simply write The End. You want agents and editors to know they’ve reached the end.
italics: Use italics for italicized words. (A former practice was to underline to show italicized words, but that’s no longer necessary unless an agent or publisher requests underlining.)
character spacing: Use a single character space only, not two spaces, between sentences. If you forget this one, nobody’s going to turn down your manuscript because of it. It’s just a good habit to get into, especially for those of us who learned on typewriters and always added two spaces between sentences.
Include a title page—
contact info: Aligned left and single spaced, near the top of the page, include contact information: Your real/legal name, address, phone number, e-mail address. Follow with the word count. Alternatively, you can set word count apart by listing it at the top of the right side of the title page.
title and author: About 1/2 the way down the page, centered, enter the full manuscript title (all caps or mixed caps); on the next double-spaced line, type by or a novel by or a story by; on the next double-spaced line, add your pen name or your real name plus your pen name—Alexis Chesterfield writing as Billie Thomas
agent: If you have an agent, include the agent’s contact name and information beneath your name (yes, skip a line)
page header: Header information is not included on the title page. The title page is not included in page numbering.
subgenre: For some genres, including romance and sci-fi, you can include the subgenre, such as suspense or Regency. Include this information either above or below the word count.
That’s it, a basic format for novels.
Do you have leeway with some of these items? Yes. For example, your header could be aligned left. But since the agent’s or editor’s eye will first look to the top left of every page, a header on the left side could be distracting.
Can you add an asterisk instead of the number sign for scene breaks? Sure. Just don’t get too fancy. You don’t want to distract the person deciding on your story, you simply want to show a break. (You could also use three number signs instead of a single one.)
You can use dashes rather than a slash between items in your header.
Some recommend beginning chapter one on the title page while others insist on the title page standing alone. This one’s up to you. I like the less cluttered look when chapter one begins on its own page, and this seems to be the more accepted practice these days.
Remember . . . Always, always, always check the recommended format for each agent and publishing house you submit to.
Never send more than they request.
When you submit, submit professionally.
On a personal note, I always change manuscript fonts to Times New Roman for manuscripts submitted to me since the serif font is easier to read on a print copy (and I always edit from hard copy).