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Format Your Novel for Submission

January 5, 2011 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified May 1, 2016

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.

To help prepare your manuscript for submission—Read The Magic of Fiction.


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).



Tags: , ,     Posted in: How to, Writing Tips

198 Responses to “Format Your Novel for Submission”

  1. PaigeK says:

    Hi Beth,

    So glad I found this post! It has been saved for future use!



  2. Paige, I hope it will be very helpful for that future use. Here’s hoping you write many manuscripts.

  3. Paige K says:

    Hi Beth,

    I have a quick question. I’m formatting a title page and doing my best to go by your guidelines. My book isn’t really a novel or a story. Rather, each chapter is it’s own humorous story/ essay. In that case, where you suggest putting “story by”, or “novel by”…what would I put? Probably a silly question, but I’m trying to be as professional as possible. Your help is greatly appreciated.



  4. Paige, you could simply put by on that line. Or, if they were all essays, you could say a collection of essays by.

    Or, if the title of the manuscript already contains the word essay, you could say a collection by.

    Or, if the collection is all short stories, you could say, a collection of stories by

    But by on its own is perfectly fine.

    • Tim Stiller says:

      Hi Beth,

      Thank you for your informative article. It helps to simplify the process in a good way!

      I had 3 questions pertaining to a short story collection. I’m hoping to prepare such a collection soon.
      (1) Is it okay to create a separate title page for the collection?
      (2) Should the stories be numbered continuously (ie start at page 1 and keep going) or should each story have its own numbering.
      (3) Should each individual story have my name/address listed in the upper left or is this redundant/irritating to an editor?
      I ‘d greatly appreciate any insights you could offer! I’ve tried but I can’t find the answers on the internet.
      Thank you!

      • Amber Morris says:


        I’ve just finished writing the first draft of my book lastnight, and today I started rewriting and formatting it as a manuscript. However, I ran into a little hiccup.

        My book is the first of a 6 part fantasy series and each book is devided into three parts. On the title page, do you add (“Title” first of however many books) and what genre, or is this something left for the query letter? And for the beginning of each part of the book, do you have a seperate page with “Part 2” and then the page after your text? And if so is this with or without header/page number?

        Thank you! :)

  5. PaigeK says:

    Thanks Beth! Greatly appreciated!

  6. Beth,

    Nice, succinct article. I have an post on this subject on my blog. I’m going to insert your advice on adapting your submissions to each agent or publishers recommendations – and link back to your article.


  7. Newbie, thanks for the link. Your post looks good.

  8. GerrileenR says:

    My dilemma is word count! And let me tell you, I’m stressing – BIG TIME! Do I calculate by pages (250 words/pp) or by actual computer word count? Some agents don’t specify which method they prefer.
    Here’s my problem:
    My actual word count (by computer) for my historical romance is 133,500. I’ve trimmed it down, since it’s been brought to my attention that few new authors are accepted with a word count over 100,000 – 120,000.

    If I use the 250 words pp calculation, there’s a significant difference, depending the type of font. As you will see, I’ve tried several of the recommended fonts. 😉
    12pt TNR, 109,250.
    12pt Arial – 113,500
    Change that font to 12pt Courier New and it’s a whomping 144,250 (Yikes!)

    I don’t want it to seem as though I’m playing “Fool the Agent” by using fonts to manipulate the word count. How significant is this? And do I need to mention how I came up with the word count?

    It’s silly really! I’ve polished the manuscript, written the query letter, have 5 different synopses of varying lengths to satisfy any number of discriminating agents and I get stuck on word count! :::SIGH:::
    Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

  9. GerrileenR, just use the word count from Word for most submissions. You would typically round the number, but yours already is a number that needs no rounding. Check the specs for each agent or publisher before you submit, since one might advise you to calculate your word count a certain way.

    Historicals typically have more words than some other categories of romance, but 133,000 is a lot of words, especially for a new writer. All those pages cost a publisher money; they’re going to wonder if they can make that money back on a new author.

    Is there no way you can reduce your word count even more? You may have to consider eliminating a sub-plot.

    While it’s true that some writers have sold stories with higher word counts, it’s also true that some agents or publishers might not look beyond the word count and reject your manuscript because of that.

    My advice? Keep cutting.

  10. My pleasure, GerrileenR. Remember to hang on to the sections you cut out; you may have the chance to add them back in.

  11. Alice says:

    This article saved me!!! I’m a new author about to get ready to publish a five-book series and I’m looking for any help I can! Thanks a million! This solves all my questions on formatting!

  12. Alice, congratulations on the series. What a great achievement. I’m glad this article proved useful.

  13. Alice says:

    Thanks. I am only 15, so it’s hard to know where to find things.

  14. Alice, there’s so much good information available online. My advice is to always check with several sources.

    You might also want to join a writing group. Most take writers of all ages and genres, so you’ll be exposed to a variety of writers at different skill levels and with different interests. Many groups keep a library of resources so you should be able to get most of your questions answered.

    I wish you great success.

  15. Alice says:

    Thanks again!

  16. Tish says:

    I’m so glad I came across your information Beth. It has been so helpful with my first novel. Although I’ve researched I can not seem to find information about inserting letters, like love letters, within a chapter. Do you change the font and indentions or keep it the same font, TNR 12 pt., indenting the standard five spaces? Can you help?


  17. Tish, each publisher may have specific rules for making such items as letters and other text stand out in a book, but for the writer working on a manuscript, one clear method is to indent both the left and right sides of the letter. This shows that the letter is from a different source than the rest of the text without the writer having to resort to a fancy font or other method.

    Do not use all caps; caps make the text difficult to read. Some would recommend italics, but a long section of italics may be hard to read as well. All you need to do is show that the text is different from the surrounding text; a publisher will decide how it will ultimately look.

    Be consistent. If you’ll include several letters, make sure they have the same indentions. And don’t forget the indention on the right side. Half-inch indentions should be adequate, though you might have to play with the right indention to make it noticeable.

    The half-inch indention on the left side is in addition to the paragraph indention.. That is, the paragraph tab is a half inch. You’ll indent another half inch and then begin your letter.

    I hope this is helpful..

  18. Tara says:

    Thanks for the helpful post. I’m hoping you can clear something up for me. While trying to determine the proper format to submit a manuscript to an AGENT, I keep encountering advice on how to format a manuscript to submit to a PUBLISHER. I see in your article you write “when you are ready to submit to an agent OR publisher follow these guidelines”. This obviously leads me to believe the guidelines are the same for submission to either. However, I read somewhere that the following guideline is for submissions to publishers only:
    “Indicate scene breaks by inserting a blank line and centering the number sign # in the center of the line”.
    Is this true? Or should I go ahead and insert a blank line with # for scene breaks in the manuscript I plan to send to agents during the query stage?
    Please advise. Thanks so much!

  19. Tara, you can use the blank line with # for both agents and publishers, unless one in particular requires something else. They’ll all understand the # indicates a scene break. It’s not likely that marking a scene break in another way will hurt your chances with either an agent or a publisher. Just don’t try something crazy, like a row of red hearts stretching across the page.

  20. Tara says:

    Thanks very much for the feedback. Can I ask, why is it so frowned upon to hit return more than twice to indicate a scene break? Im assuming its a space thing? Thanks again. It is wonderful to have professional advice.

  21. Tara, I’m guessing you’re right that it’s a space issue. Why put the extra space when it’s not necessary? But I’ve never actually heard anyone say anything about it one way or the other. Manuscript formatting is set up the way it is to make the pages easy to read and to make notes on. Anything writers can do to help agents and editors is a good thing.

    So, if someone says they don’t like extra spaces, I wouldn’t put in more than two returns for that reader. In general, there wouldn’t be a reason to put in too many anyway.

  22. Nick says:

    Outstanding website for first-timers like me! One question regarding manuscript format: I have one inch margins all around. Is it okay to have the header information at the half-inch mark and the story text at the one inch mark? Thanks.

  23. Nick, that’s pretty much standard, so you’re good. Any lower on your header and you risk running it into the text or it just getting in the way. Any higher and you risk it being cut off if the printer jams.

    Your goals are to make the manuscript easy to read and to identify yourself and the story. Agents and publishers aren’t going to penalize you for your personal choices as long as those choices aren’t contrary to their stated policy or to basic standards.

    Glad you like the site.

  24. Thank you so much for this article. I have read many books and swam through the Internet and there are so many different things I have read. A big point of contention for me, was underline versus italics. Since my protagonist develops telepathy, this is a biggie for me.

    Also, I like using veranda for me as a font, but will change it to TNR. (that seems to be the font poll winner, or courier, which, for me, is harder to read. Probably why resumes are not in courier. :)

    What are your thoughts on query submission formatting?

    Thanks again,


  25. Deb, it’s my pleasure. Courier is hard for me to read too, especially on hard copy.

    A query is a business letter, so you wouldn’t go wrong approaching it as such. Think single spacing but add a line space between paragraphs. Use 1 1/2 inch side margins if you can still get all your text on a single page. If not, try 1 1/4 inch. Smaller margins, such as one inch, combined with single spacing will make the query look cramped.

    Don’t indent. Use a basic font such as Times New Roman and a normal-size font. You don’t want to make the agent or publisher squint to read your letter. And you want the words, not the format, to stand out.

    I hope that helps.

  26. Nancy says:

    Beth, thank you for this article. I have spent several hours searching for formatting advice and yours is the most comprehensive and concise out there. One thing I can’t find — how to format segments? I have written a book of insights where segments can range from one line to five pages. I have separated each segment with the same graphic taken from MS Word. Is this acceptable formatting for manuscript submission, or should I remove these graphics and replace them with asterisks, or a solid line running between margins?

    Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Many thanks,

  27. Nancy, I’m glad you found what you needed.

    For segments, which I’m guessing you are likening to scenes, you just want to show the break. Be consistent and go with the basics. I wouldn’t use a graphic or a line. Asterisk or hash mark (number sign or pound sign) are good choices. Using three of either—*** or ###—allows them to be noticeable without being overwhelming.

    Let the publisher decide what kind of visual break they want between sections when they publish. You just need to show that there are sections.

    If you have something cool you’d like to use to set off sections, you can talk about that with the publisher after they buy the manuscript.

    Also, since some of your segments are long, consider beginning each on a new page, as if they were new chapters. That might seem odd for some of the shorter ones, but you’ll want to be consistent with your formatting. All segments, no matter the length, should be formatted the same way.

    Can your single-line segments stand alone as a chapter? That is one legitimate approach. Decide how you want those segments to be viewed. Again, you might not have the final say-so, but for your submission, you just want to make clear what you’ve got and the way you see the sections breaking.

    Does that help?

    • Nancy says:

      Beth, thank you so much for your quick response and helpful suggestions. There are 12 chapters and each segment pertains to its particular chapter, so I will use the ### as the separator.

      As I wrote my book, I had fun creating it in a way I envisioned it to be once in hard cover. Now that I’m preparing the manuscript for submission, reality sets in and it’s time to conform to submission rules. I created more work for myself and learned in the process.

      Thanks again for your help!


  28. My pleasure, Nancy. Good luck with the submission.

  29. Telly says:

    Beth —

    LOVE this guide to formatting a manuscript. Thank you very much. I have one question though: my novel has several instances where the narrative includes excerpts from the main character’s writing — he’s a screenwriter and I feel very strongly about showing what he is writing at times. How do I format these ‘excerpts’? I’ve been indenting the entire chunk of “character writing” five spaces (1/2 inch) on both sides. Is this proper or is there a better way to do this? Thanks!


  30. Telly, glad to hear you can use the info. Yes, indenting 1/2 inch on both sides is great. And that means not the 1/2 tab indention on the left, but another half inch. You want the text to stand out as something “other” but not be fancy. You can use the same setup for letters and e-mails. You could also change the paragraph line spacing to 1 1/2. This too makes the section stand out, but readers still have room to make notes if necessary.

    If these excerpts are long, keep to double spacing. You want agents and publishers to note the different sections without making them hard to work with.

    And don’t change the font; the publisher will take care of that.

    A good question for everyone. Thanks for asking it.

    • Joy Noe says:

      Thank you for this valuable information! I have two questions about punctuation:

      1. My character is reading excerpts from her dad’s diary. Would I format these the same as a letter (ie: 1/2″ indent on each side) or just put the excerpts in italics and leave them in the paragraph?

      2. What is the proper punctuation for other things the character sees/reads, such as a sign or instructions- italics?

  31. Tim says:

    Hi Beth,

    I’ve seen differing advice on whether I should print on both sides or only one side of each page in submitting a novel manuscript to agents.

    What’s your take on this? Should my manuscript submission be printed on only one side of each page, or is printing on both sides preferable?

    Thanks in advance for your help.


  32. One side only, Tim. That’s definitely the standard. I’ve never once heard a recommendation to print on both sides. And you’ll find that a lot of agents and publishers now use electronic submissions, so you don’t actually have to send hard copy at all.

    Another good question and one others might have been wondering about—thanks for putting it out there so we could discuss it.

  33. Tim says:

    Thanks so much for your quick reply, Beth. You’re very kind to take the time.

    If you don’t mind me extending the question, does this also apply to a novel synopsis submitted to an agent? One side only?

    Thanks again.


  34. Tim, use one side only for the synopsis and any other communication with agents or publishers, such as your query letter. It might seem a waste of paper, but that’s how it’s done.

    Keep your query to a single page if at all possible. For the synopsis, there are different lengths; follow submission guidelines of the agent or publisher.

  35. Thank you very much for this comprehensive information, Beth. A few questions: I have used the double double space method to show a change of scenes (same character’s POV). But if there is a change of POV within the same chapter, I have used the *** in the first double space row following the previous scene/POV. Will this method not be acceptable? Does a change of POV require a new chapter, especially if that changed scene/POV is relatively short?

  36. A change of POV does not require a new chapter but yes, it would be a new scene.

    Use your asterisks or hash marks to show that scene change. Use the same asterisks or hash marks to show a scene change even if there is no change in POV. If the publisher wants to show a difference between a scene change with a POV change and one without, let that be the publisher’s call. For a manuscript you intend to submit, let your scene changes be consistent—whatever you use for one scene change, use also for another.

    Some publishers may not show a scene break with a change in POV alone, one without a change in place or time—that is their choice. What you want to do is show that you realize there is a change in scene and/or a change in POV or viewpoint character, so go ahead and visually mark that scene change in your manuscript.

    I hope that answers your questions. If not, please let me know.

  37. Misti says:

    This might be a mundane question. But is it okay to bold the title on the title page or is it better to not.

  38. Misti, while it might make no difference at all, I see no reason to bold the title. Bold is used to make text stand out among other text, but there’s not a whole lot of other text on the title page. And everyone knows they’re looking at the title. As I said, it may meaning absolutely nothing to agents and publishers, but since someone might be bothered by it, why not just leave it normal?

    • Misti says:

      Okay thank you so much! Also I know there is a limit to words agents and editors will look at for new writes, but is there a minimum word count? Right now I am still editing my manuscript and the word count according to Word is 46,459 this number may grow but most likely not by much.
      Thanks again this blog is great!

  39. I’m so lucky to have found your site and much appreciate the information. One question apropos the page header. If in the corner
    one puts Smith/Blue Moon/1 does one also put the page number
    at the top, centered?? and if so how far down from the top?
    Thanks so much and may your spring be a merry one!

  40. Lally, the page number in the header is all you need for page numbering. You’ll have a correct page number on every page, so even if your pages went flying, they could be put back into order.

    I’m glad you’re finding the blog useful. If you have other questions, please ask.

  41. So many thanks for such a quick reply. My problem is solved!

  42. Hay Lock says:

    I’ve noticed agents now want sample pages sent in the body of the email, not as an attachment. How do I format the pages so that my work will read as if it were printed and sent snail mail? I’ve tried emailing myself pages from my manuscript (via cut and paste) and it never seems to be right. It’s either single-spaced (when the original word doc is double) or the tabs marking a new paragraph vanish. I’ve tried saving as RTF and emailing…still problems. Yikes, galore!

  43. Yikes indeed, Hay. But those who request samples via e-mail are aware of formatting issues.

    Your e-mail program may not allow for double spacing or other “proper” manuscript formatting. So don’t sweat that. Make sure you do have paragraph breaks, correct spelling, and visual scene and chapter breaks. That may be the best you can do given the limits of e-mail programs. Some allow you to italicize while others don’t, so you might not have that ability either.

    Again, those who request partial submissions in the body of an e-mail are aware of what they’ll see. It’s when they request that longer submission that you’ll want to have the formatting just right.

    Thanks for the heads-up for those who might not have submitted via e-mail.

  44. Misti, there are typical word counts, but they are for genre and type of book, not necessarily a count for agents or publishers. Yet you’re right that first-time novelists don’t often get the option of offering long novels. Publishers are less likely to take a chance on an extra-long story by a new author than they would on an established author who is known to deliver the audience and the sales.

    I’ll try to write up an article for common word counts to give you an idea of typical standards.

  45. Kim says:

    If an agent asks that I include my submission in the email does that mean I should attach it or literally include the copy into the body of the email?

  46. Kim, in the e-mail it most likely means to include it in the body of the e-mail. They need to be wary of attachments with viruses and that kind of thing. I’m guessing the submission is only a limited number of pages, not the full manuscript? You could always ask for clarification, but if you’re talking blurb or synopsis or first pages, they’re probably looking for it to be in the e-mail itself.

  47. Maddy says:

    For reasons to complicated to bore you with, I’ve temporarily had to abandon Scrivener [and all it’s magnificent formatting features] and instead I have my manuscript in a word document. Now I find that if I flip between Times New Roman and Courier, there is a 15,000 word count difference. I’ve checked it several times and cannot fathom why this should be so. Has anyone else come across this, or is it just my poor weary computer going on strike?

  48. Maddy, are you figuring word count per page with the two fonts or are you talking about Word’s word count feature? There should be no difference between fonts using the word count feature. As for figuring total word count based on words per page, then yes, there could be a difference if you use different fonts.

    With Courier—assuming one-inch margins all around—you’ll get fewer words to the page than with Times New Roman. So if you change the font, the number of words per page changes, as does the total number of pages, and if you’re figuring word count manually based on 250 words per page, the totals will be different.

    While Courier might average 250 words per page, Times New Roman could have 300 or more. If you don’t take that difference into account, totals will be off. Or if you don’t consider that the number of pages is different, that might also account for the difference.

    So a 370-page manuscript in Courier becomes a 320-pager in TNR. If you figure 250 words to the page (which is correct for Courier, incorrect for TNR), then your totals are 92,500 and 80,000. A big difference.

    I hope that’s the simple answer for the differences in your word counts.

    For most submissions, and unless the agent or publisher says otherwise, use the Word count feature in Word.

  49. Beth – thank you for all your useful information. I have a genre question: my story is a true story, but written as a novel. I am unsure as to how to market it. The family members’ names are real; the ancillary characters’ names are fictional.
    Note: I can change the names and market it as a novel if necessary, but the title character has a certain limited amount of name recognition – fame? – and I would like to keep that.

  50. Marilyn, I admit I have no counsel for you on your question. But I do have other questions whose answers might be helpful.

    Would the people care that you’ve written about them and used their names? Did you secure permission to write about the lives of real people? People have the right to control the commercial use of their names and likenesses. You probably need permission from all and not simply from the famous individual.

    You also need to consider libel. Even if the events you’ve written about are true, one of the people might not have the same take on an event and may consider your words libel. Have you gotten information from all parties? Do they agree that your portrayal is accurate?

    Would you find more readers with a novel than with a work of non-fiction? That is, is that one person’s fame enough to capture an audience or would you find more readers with a novel?

    Stories about the lives of real people can be uplifting and exciting and wonderful. But the writer needs to know the laws that speak to the issue. Even novels purporting to be fiction but which feature identifiable people can cause problems for a writer. My advice is to check out information about writing about identifiable individuals, see what the pitfalls and special needs are.

    I would love to hear what you decide to do.

    • Beth –

      Thank you for your valuable input. I do not yet have permission from my siblings, but now that my MS is finished, I will send it to them right away and ask for permission.

  51. Beth – a note regarding formatting manuscripts. Microsoft Word version 2010 has a template that is made specifically for mss. It’s a wonderful timesaver. If you open your document in that template from the beginning, it keeps everything right for you.
    It’s a little more complicated if you’ve written your first drafts on an older version of Word, but I think it probably can be done.

  52. Marilyn, thanks for the tip on the Word template. You can also create your own templates.

  53. Misti says:

    Hi Beth you have been such a big help already thank you so much! I have two questions. The first is I have a large paragraph in my novel that a character is reading from a website. I have centered the text signal spaced it and turned the front to Courier New. Is this a good way to do this? Also I am writing a series of novels. There are three books I have finished the first one and I will be sending it out shortly to literary agents. I was wondering for my query letter if I should mention that it is a series of three books. I have started on the 2nd book and I am almost finished with it and the third book I have written down how the plot will unfold. Thanks again!

  54. Misti, there’s no need to change the font. You can indent both left and right another half inch if you want, to show that a character is reading something, but nothing else is necessary. You want an agent or publisher to note the text is something different without having her slow down to take in a new font. The publisher will decide on the ultimate formatting.

    As for mentioning the series, yes, do. “Popcorn Road is book one in the Midnight Snacker series.”

    Be sure to note book one is complete (and include the word count of it) without implying that the entire series is complete.

  55. Cadie says:

    Wow thanks for the help. I’m writing five books at a time and finding a good site with a decent description of what a manuscript should look like has been on the top of my “To do” list. My novel looks professonal can’t wait to send it in!!!!

    • Nick says:

      My manuscript really popped when I followed the guidelines on this site. What I would like to know now are the guidelines for a synopsis. Thanks.

  56. Five at a time, Cadie? That’s a feat. Here’s hoping each is wonderful and appealing to readers. I’m glad the tips here have made your life a little easier.

    • Cadie says:

      “little easier” is an understatement it made it a lot easier ;D and yes it is a little hard at times but hey when I get an idea in my head it just has to go on paper (or on my computer)
      I’m hoping that people will like my books too!!!!

  57. Nick, I’ve had several requests for guidelines for a synopsis, so I guess I need to write one up.

    I’m glad your manuscript is looking good. Good luck with it.

  58. Cass says:

    Hi. Thank you a lot for this website. I am a twelve year old who is starting on my first book. This was very useful but I have a non-related question: Is it true that you must have an editor edit your book before you submit it to the publisher? Also, I am writing a series. Should I write more than one book before I submit it to the publisher?
    Thanks in advance,

  59. Cass says:

    Sorry to bother you again but are there any tips you could give a new writer?

    Thanks a lot!

  60. Cass, I’m glad you found the blog. I hope you’ll find answers to your questions here.

    No, you don’t have to have a manuscript professionally edited before you submit to agents or publishers. Do make it the best you can make it. Self-edit. Have a critique partner read it. Learn what makes good fiction and be sure to include those elements in your stories and with your writing.

    As for a series, you don’t have to wait to finish the second book before approaching a publisher. But you may want to. If they like what you give them, they may start moving and may want book two rather quickly. On the other hand, even if they buy, they may suggest changes or a new direction for book two and if you’ve written it already, you may have to make major changes.

    But wherever you are in the process of submitting, start or continue working on the next story. There’s no guarantee that your first or second or tenth story will sell. So keep writing.

    Tips for a new writer? I’ve got lots of them. There are over 150 articles on this blog and most deal directly with craft issues. There are articles for encouragement too, for when it feels as if nothing’s going right.

    My short list of advice?

    Learn the mechanics of writing—grammar and punctuation—and learn how to work with the elements of fiction—plot, dialogue, character, setting, and so forth.

    Read. Read novels and newspapers and magazines.

    Write. Try something new—a new genre or era or character type.

    Learn to self-edit.

    Get a critique partner or joint a writing group.

    Don’t expect to sell your first manuscript. Don’t give up when you don’t sell the first 10 manuscripts.

    Have realistic expectations. The first manuscript is like a first painting or the first steps of a child—exciting and worth celebrating but messy and incomplete and immature. Your writing will get better. But the first efforts may be only something that you (the parent) could love. Don’t expect to sell your first or second or third manuscript. The truth is, that first effort will most likely be your worst.

    Hope this helps. I wish you great success in your writing career.

  61. Cass says:

    Thank you so much! I looked through most of your site today and it will really come in handy! I did not know that publishers might not accept your story. Your article on where to start also was very helpful because I always have trouble starting at the beginning. Do you have an article on what exactly a publisher looks for?


  62. Jane says:

    This is very helpful, thank you. What format do you suggest using for the file name? I am vacillating between [author surname]-[title] and the other way around.
    Thank you!

  63. Jane, I’ve not heard any preferences for the file name. For myself, I prefer the title first or the title alone—The Blue Horse or The Blue Horse by Annie Jones. As soon as I start working on the manuscript, I save it with a new file name—The Blue Horse with edit by Beth, A Novel Edit, so when I return it, there’s no chance it can rewrite any of the writer’s files.

    A good question. Go with title first, unless you’re directed to do something different.

  64. Vanessa says:

    To show a person’s thoughts, do you italicize them or underline them or use “she thought” or just leave them alone?

    Ex. …shovelling snow is not generally a part of a manager’s job description. Except when that manager is a pushover like me.

    Thanks so much for your site and all your advice I’ve found here.

    • Vanessa, you have options for a character’s thoughts. Check out Writing Character Thoughts

      Definitely don’t underline. That was once necessary to show italics, but it’s typically not used anymore.

      From what I can tell of your example, you wouldn’t need to do anything. That is, you wouldn’t need anything else if this is first-person narration. If your story is actually in third person and only the thoughts are in first person, italics are a great way to show the thought.

      I’m glad the site’s been helpful for you.

  65. Thanks for your prior advice months ago — invaluable. Now I have another question. I have several scenes that, thanks to the advent of the cell phone, have two characters having extended phone conversations. Should I be treating the phone person’s dialogue differently (italics perhaps) or just leave as-is?

  66. While I have your attention, Beth, here’s another one that’s quite prevalent in my manuscript: When quoting someone within a piece of dialogue, what do I do?

    She crashed against him, burying her wet face in his shirt. “Because
    he said it.”
    “Said ‘it’?”

    Do I keep it as is or should “it” be in itallicacs? Thanks so much!!!

    • Either quotation marks or italics. If you mean to imply the character is quoting her, use quotation marks. If you mean to imply a snotty attitude or disbelief or it as the word it, try italics.

  67. Tricia says:


    I have scoured the Internet in search of the best possible advice for formatting and submitting my forthcoming manuscript. I would like to express my sincere gratitude for your blog as it has proven to be the most comprehensive and informative of all that I have discovered. I am a transgendered woman… male-to-female… and I am endeavoring to share my story in hopes of inspiring others who are living their own version of the transgendered lifestyle. My writing will be non-fiction, though I will be changing a few names to circumvent any backlash from the not-so-innocent. Given that what I have read in your blog thus far primarily coaches those who are writing fiction novels, do you have any words of wisdom for me that could negate or change any of the aforementioned advice?

    Thank you.

  68. Tricia, for the most part your non-fiction submission will be similar to what you’d use for a fiction manuscript. If you’ve got charts or graphics or an index, those might need a different approach. But the setup for regular text and headers and your title page will be the same. Good luck with your project.

  69. Wonderful web site, thank you for the effort of maintining it so very well. I have been told several times recently that, because of e-book formatting and e-submissions, we should no longer have indents at the beginning of a chapter or first paragraph after a break. I have three mss using that format, but I see nothing in this web-site referring to that. Am I doing the wrong thing?
    I am in the process of gathering names of agents and publishers so I can (one of these days) submit my novel. I have seen no place where a specific format is required, only what to submit in a e-submission. Can I, therefore, assume that traditional, generally-accepted, used-to-be-hard-copy formats apply? Except for the non-indent thing, of course.
    Many thanks for your response.

  70. Lee, if you’ll be submitting your manuscript to someone else, do indent. Publishers can format the book in the manner that suits them, but there’s no reason not to indent paragraphs in a ms. That is, you’re not formatting a book, you’re submitting a ms. for someone to read in manuscript form.

    If you’re publishing for yourself, then you have to make some adjustments in format, but not only in first paragraph indents.

    Always check submission guidelines, but if they ask for nothing special, use a standard submission, as referenced here.

    With some e-submissions, you’ll be pasting directly into an e-mail rather than using an attachment. Your formatting choices at that point are limited. But the person who requested that format understands what he or she will be getting, so don’t worry too much about what your pasted-in text looks like. Make it as clear and as neat as you can and then send it. It won’t look as good as formatted text in Word.

    With other e-submissions, you’ll be asked for an attachment, so regular formatting is essential.

    The most recent recommendation I read was that you still indent all paragraphs for ms. submissions, keeping in mind that doing so might be impossible for e-submissions pasted into an e-mail. In that case, you may have no indents for any paragraph.

    I hope this helps. Best of success with your novel.

  71. John says:

    One small point that I did not see come up in the blog. If a hard copy is submitted should it be bound or unbound? Thank you for your thoughts.

  72. John, that’s a great question. Manuscripts are not books and should not be bound in any way (unless an agent or publisher indicates something different, which would be rare). No staples, no rubber bands, no fancy hooks or clips or folders. This is one of the reasons pages should be numbered, and author name and story title identified in the header. I’ll have to add this up in the body of the article. Thanks for the reminder, John.

  73. Jessica says:

    Hi there!

    This site really helped decrease my stress level about formatting so thank you! I also have a quick question. In my novel the characters sometimes send a text message to each other and I am wondering how to depict that it is a text message conversation taking place on their cell phones opposed to a face to face interaction?

  74. deborah says:

    Hi there. I was wondering about the actual holding-together-of-the-manuscript. For instance, in the screenwriting world, your script should be three-hole punched with brads holding the whole megillah together. No staples I know and no paper clips (neither are large enough to fit around a novel anyway) but do you send the manuscript pages without any binder? Do they get a large rubberband around them? Are they also three hole punched with brads? Thanks!

  75. Jessica, for text messages you have a few options. Keep in mind that a publisher will have a style guide and do what they want, so you just need to indicate when the text is something other than narrative or dialogue. The setup will also depend on how many text messages you’re presenting at one time. So if you’re just reporting one person’s message, you could simply say—Sam texted me this outrageous claim: I didn’t kill your husband.

    If you want to show messages that go back and forth between characters, you could first introduce the texts and then show them—Since Sam had resorted to texts rather than face-to-face conversations, I joined him. An example of our scintillating messages?

    Sam: I told you I didn’t kill your husband.

    Me: And I should believe you why?

    Sam: Because I didn’t do it!

    Me: Prove it.

    Sam: Janet, I may not have killed John, but right now I’m tempted to strangle you.

    This naming of the character who is texting, in the style of screenplays, can get old real fast and will keep reminding readers of the mechanics of the story, so I don’t recommend this method for long stretches of messages, but it is an option. You wouldn’t need italics or a special font or special indentation for this.

    Or this is one time when you might use quotation marks for something that’s not spoken. Again, first make sure you’ve noted that what will follow are text messages.

    My basic advice is that you make clear that you’re reporting text messages and not presenting dialogue. The format is up to the publisher. If you’re self-publishing, you might want to indent or use a slightly different font. But you don’t need to recreate the look of text messages; you only need to show what the messages say.

    I hope this helps. If anyone’s got other ideas, we’d love to hear them.

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks Beth! I use texts sparingly and have two (four line) text conversations in the entire novel. I think I will use the sentence introduction if it is one text and the messaging conversation style with the names at the beginning for the slightly larger messages. Thanks again for your help! :)

    • Liva says:

      I’ve got a similar dilemma. I’m barely starting the query letter adventure and I’m hip-deep in formatting woes. I have a number of communications in my book that originated via specific media, such as BBS messages, emails, and newspaper articles, as well as fiddly little things like a word painted on a sidewalk and a note scrawled in a margin. Right now, I have them in the font and style of my Grand Vision (insert sarcasm here). For example, I’ve attempted to re-create the look of a BBS posting by using a different font, including computer header info, etc. I’ve submitted research manuscripts and I understand the need for consistency in formatting, but I cringe at losing the “feel” of these…inserts, I guess you’d call them. Would your suggestion be to stick with the standard format and use italics to offset these items? Maybe take out the extraneous info like the To: and From: and Subject: (the header stuff) in the emails and hope there’s some wiggle room for design if/when it gets from agent to publisher?

  76. Deborah, manuscripts are simple—no binders, no rubber bands, no clips, no nothing. They are always presented loose. Thus the great importance for page numbers and identifying information on every page.

    If an agent or editor wants to bind the manuscript, she’ll do it in a way that works for her. The best thing you can do for her is to send it without a binding.

  77. Deborah and Jessica, you are most welcome. I wish you great success with your projects.

  78. I have been doing a lot of research regarding manuscript format over the last few weeks. So many websites give conflicting advice. Is there one source in particular that has the best, most common suggestions? Thanks.

  79. Brian, while you may find some variety in options (most often for items that can go a number of ways), you should be seeing consistency for the basics. What in particular have you found that conflicts? My reason for writing this article was to cover those basics; you shouldn’t have any problem if you follow these guidelines.

    But always check with the agent or publisher. While none is trying to be different just to see writers jump through hoops, someone might have a legitimate reason for a different guideline.

    • Thanks for the response. Your list is very helpful and it is the only one I printed and tacked to my wall for use during my final draft. The conflicts i found around the internet were mostly little things: headers, spacing of chapter beginnings, number sign vs. “the end” at the end of the manuscript, and a few minor title page things. I just wanted a resource that covered the basics and most common formatting expectations. The odd and random differences just kinda freaked me out. Thanks again. One last question: what’s the deal the number sign? I think you mentioned scene breaks. Does the number sign sit inside the blank line for all scene breaks within chapters?

  80. Brian, yes, put a number sign in the center of the blank line for scene breaks. That way agents and publishers know you’re indicating a scene break. Publishers will format it as they see fit, maybe simply with a blank line, but you need to mark scene breaks so they know you’d intended one and hadn’t just inadvertently skipped a line space. That’s also why it’s a good idea to point out that the end is indeed the end; let them know that nothing else will follow.

    I’ll take this opportunity to remind readers that agents and publishers are looking for professionalism from writers, not necessarily perfection. They probably wouldn’t blink at manuscript chapters that started near the top of the page, but they’d no doubt reject a manuscript outright, unread, if chapter titles were written in Algerian font, body text was red and written in Goudy Stout, and cute graphics opened every chapter.

    They just want a manuscript they can read easily, one that looks pretty much like other manuscripts. The standards have developed over time as ways that work for them, so it’s to a writer’s benefit, and a courtesy to agents and editors, to make the read as easy as possible.

    Brian, I wish you success with your project. I hope the submission process is as stress-free as possible.

  81. Brian, you are most welcome. And thanks. I’m glad you’ve found some info and advice you can use.

  82. Brian, just at the end of the final chapter (or include the end). Chapter titles serve as the marker between chapters, so nothing else is needed.

  83. Liva, the short answer is that you don’t change the font and you don’t format any of those items to make them look like what they are. That’s all for the publisher to handle. You just have to convey what was revealed in the messages. Writers don’t get to be designers, not if someone else is publishing.

    For short words and phrases, treat notes and e-mails like dialogue or indirect quoting—

    A word was chalked into the sidewalk. Murder. I caught my breath.


    I read his e-mail quickly and then once again, searching for that one word.

    “I can’t be there. I hope you weren’t counting on me. Freeman called a meeting and we’ll be here till midnight or later. No need to save me anything—they’ll bring food in.”

    Not one word about love.


    I read his e-mail quickly and then once again, searching for that one word.

    He said his boss called a late meeting and that he wouldn’t be able to meet me for dinner. He didn’t even want me to save him any food.

    Not one word about love.


    For longer e-mails or letters, for diary entries or articles, change the indentions (both sides) to indicate where such materials begin and end. Use headers for newspaper or Internet articles if that information (date, author, publication) is important and if you can’t include it in the regular narrative.

    For letters or e-mails that are pages long, consider putting the letter in a chapter of its own.

    As for e-mail headers or subject lines and the like, include them only if they’re necessary. If they contain common or unimportant info, don’t include them.

    The thing to remember is that you’re not formatting a book, just the manuscript. And the formatting for the two isn’t the same. If you want to offer suggestions for book design and format, do so after the book’s been accepted.

    As you wouldn’t use all caps for the word big or use a blue font each time you included the word blue, you don’t have to portray the look of other story elements. Readers can imagine the look of these items.

    I hope that helps. Just give them the words.

  84. Liva says:

    Thanks – this helps immensely. It’s a bit of a terrifying process, bringing something to life and remaining half-convinced it should never have been conceived. I appreciate the input!

  85. Liva, I wish you success with the manuscript and the whole process. While it might be terrifying, it’s also exhilirating. Enjoy it.

  86. Anything in the archives (advice similar to this) on query letters or a synopsis ? Thanks

  87. Brian, I’ve got one for the synopsis—Clear the Dread from the Dreaded Synopsis.

    I haven’t done one for the query letter, but the down and dirty on that is one page, business format. Include word count and the fact that the manuscript is indeed finished. Give a paragraph or two of a blurb to entice and you’re done. If you’ve been published, you can include that information. If not, say nothing.

    I guess I’ll have to do a query letter soon.

  88. Dear Beth

    Your comments on manuscript format are the best I have seen. But I have still a couple of questions. How do I format a Table of Contents, a Preface, and an Introduction to my novel? Do I continue the header with author info on these pages, too? Does the spacing continue the same as for the text of the novel? Thanks in advance.

    Mary Ann Eiler

  89. Mary Ann, I’m sorry to have been so long—I’ve enjoyed a wonderful and nearly Internet-free vacation. To answer your questions—

    Don’t include either a table of contents or a preface in your manuscript submission. That information will no doubt change before publication and is not needed for a submission to agent or editor at a publishing house. They want to read the story; don’t give them anything else. The time for the extras is after they’ve signed you.

    For an introduction that is truly part of the story, yes, use a header and page numbers and spacing as you would with the manuscript. The first page of the introduction is page 1 of the manuscript.

    However, make sure the introduction is necessary for the story and that it’s truly an introduction. Why are you including it? Do you really need/want to delay the reader’s entry into your story world?

    You’ve introduced some great questions—thank you. I think it’s time for an article on what not to include.

    • Dear Beth

      Thanks so much for your directions regarding format of front matter for my childrens novel. It makes sense and I will follow through. So many books on submission packages require a lot of front matter etc. thanks for setting me straight.

      Mary Ann Eiler

  90. Brian says:

    Hi Beth, quick question about ALL CAPS. If a character in a 3rd person pov story reads something short (just a handful of words) like a sign, is ALL CAPS acceptable? I read some comments above and I guess I could use italics but I am trying to reserve that for character thoughts. Just wanted to get your opinion. Thanks.

  91. Brian, that’s a good question to address here.

    There are few, if any, reasons for all caps in a manuscript. You’re presenting the text, not the visual of what the words should look like, so even if the sign’s wording was in all caps, you wouldn’t have to show that. Especially not in a manuscript. The printed book, however, might be a different matter. (Many times small caps are used for such text in books.) The publisher will have a style sheet for just those kinds of issues. You just need to be clear and consistent on your end. You could use either italics or quotation marks, and those are probably your best choices.

    Would a manuscript be rejected because you used all caps for a word or a line or two, especially for a reason such as this? Never, so don’t let me scare you away from the practice. But if you used them all the time, for emphasis or something, then that would be a different story. And you definitely wouldn’t want a character’s dialogue in all caps.

    Publishers have been around a long time; they know how to handle these odd lines of text. But that’s an element to consider when printing. When they read your manuscript, they want it to be clear and they don’t want to be distracted by extra visuals. Make the flow easy and don’t make words stand out by virtue of how they look on the page. Make them stand out by the way you use them.

    • Brian says:

      Thanks Beth. So do you think it is ok that I use italics for what my main character reads and what he thinks? Can italics serve a dual role like that? Thanks.

  92. Brian, you don’t want to go overboard with italics either. You do have options, especially for characters’ thoughts. See if this article can give you a few ideas—Inner Dialogue: Writing Character Thoughts

    But, yes, italics can be used for a couple of purposes.

    At the same time, too much italicized text, without a break, becomes hard to read. If you can use italics sparingly, that’s best.

  93. Lisa says:

    Dear Beth,
    This is my first novel, and I have know idea what to do with it. I
    wrote it the old school way (pen&paper) I’m not good at the computer
    thing either. So, what should I do?

  94. Lisa, you’re wondering what to do in terms of getting the manuscript ready for submission? You’re going to have to get it in the right format, and that means MS Word. No one today is going to read a handwritten manuscript. If you can’t type, the next choice is to hire someone to do it for you. If you can’t afford to have it done, arrange to barter some service.

    And while that someone—it could be a high school or college student looking for a little extra cash—is typing the manuscript, get yourself to a computer and start learning how to type and use MS Word yourself. You are at a true disadvantage if you can’t change your manuscript with the click of a key.

    Or be willing to keep paying others to do the typing for you. You can always work from hard copy and give your editing notes to your typist so he or she can make changes. Remind your typist to save major changes to a new file, in case you need to go back to an earlier version.

    Good luck. You’ve got an extra step that most writers don’t have to go through these days. It shouldn’t stop you, but it might slow your trip to publication.

  95. Brian says:

    Hi Beth, any advice regarding the content of a query letter? Resources that I have found mention specific numbers of paragraphs and a distinct purpose for each. As usual, there’s a lot of conflicting information. Also, just wanted to say thanks again for this manuscript formatting post. I am wrapping up my final draft, should be done within a few weeks, and your post has been very helpful. My manuscript looks great.

  96. Tina says:


    I was wondering if I can submit my novel via disc and if so, gow do I go about it? Any advice is much appreciated.


  97. Brian, I’m glad your manuscript is coming along. I’ll wish you luck now for your upcoming submissions.

    I’m working on an article for the query letter—I hope to have it up tomorrow or Saturday.

  98. Tina, you’d only submit on disk if the agent or editor requested it. I can’t see why anyone would make such a request but if someone did, he or she would no doubt also provide the particulars.

    Submit only in the requested format. Typically that’s through email, with the first three chapters embedded in the email, or via hard copy through the mail. Once negotiations reach a certain stage, you may be exchanging email attachments with agents and publishers.

    A smart rule to follow is to never send anything other than what is requested.

  99. Tina says:

    Beth, thanks for replying. I found the information extremely helpful. I’ve booked marked this page for other tips. Thanks again.

  100. Thanks Beth. Great job. I’ve also read all the comments. I will pass your website link to other writers in a group we are forming for better exchange of ideas and information (in Pleasant Grove, UT). Blessings, WFR

  101. Emma Church says:

    Dear Beth.

    I don’t have a printer but I do have an electronic typewriter. Do puplishers/agents ever accept an ms in this format if I follow all other rules submission rules?

    Thank you for taking time to read.

  102. Warren, thanks for passing on the link. Let me know if there’s anything in particular you and your group are looking for.

  103. Emma, it’s probably time to get a computer of some kind. If agents or publishers accept hard copy, you’ll be okay. But to submit electronically, you’re going to need a file from which you can cut and paste. You’ll typically get a request to include pages with an email and if you don’t have those pages in a Word doc or other file, you’ll have to type them into your email. That will get old quickly. You can ask if you can overnight hard copy, but you really don’t want to do anything to make the process harder on the agent or publisher.

    I say these things to give you the best shot with those who’ll read your work, but I don’t want to discourage you. If all you have is a hard copy, printed from a typewriter, that’s what you work with. Don’t not submit simply because you don’t have the story on a computer file.

    But I highly suggest you get the story typed up in MS Word. Pay someone to type it for you if you have to. What we can do with word processing is stages beyond what can be done with a typewriter. Get someone—a teenager who needs some money, someone out of work—to help you out.

    Best of luck to you.

  104. Emma Church says:

    Thank you, Beth.

    Not exactly the answer I was hoping for but appreciated all the same. It’s a challenge for me and I really don’t understand computer speak. But as this is something I really want to do, I’ll persevere.

    Thank you again for reading and taking time to give welcome advice.


  105. Tamzin says:

    Beth, I’d like to congratulate on a great informative blog thingy. Before I found this site I was really struggling, despairing while I sat staring at my computer and achieving nothing but a tension headache and falling asleep.

    Thanks to you there isn’t a question I’ve asked myself about writing a novel that you haven’t already answered!

    Now my whole attitude has changed. I’ve managed to complete my novel and I’m so proud of myself!

    Thanks Beth. I hope more struggling writers find this site. It’s become my Writer’s Bible.

    Best wishes to you, Beth, you do a wonderful job.

    Now I just have to write THAT dreaded synopsis. . .

  106. Tamzin, congratulations on finishing! You deserve to feel proud. And thank you for letting me know the blog has helped. I love seeing writers succeed.

  107. Fiona says:

    Beth, hello.

    Have you got a page especially for tities for novels?

    What do you think make the best titles? One word or more drawn out ones?

    The thriller genre for example? My novel is called Karma.

    Can I ask you what you think of it and what feelings does it evoke within you?

    It’d be nice to have a professional opinion instead of bias family and friends.

    And also, please. When do I use this punctuation mark? ;

    Much appreciated.

  108. Fiona, I don’t have an article for titles (though I’ve got a chapter on titles in a book I’m working on).

    Use a title that fits genre and character and the age group of your readers. Understand what the title can evoke in readers. Titles can be long or short, though I think that short titles probably have an advantage in that they’re easier to remember.

    Titles can be evocative or descriptive or mysterious.

    If you’re pursuing traditional publication, be aware that your working title may not be the one that ends up on the cover. Publishers may have ideas of their own.

    As for Karma, it can work. The first word that comes to mind for me is payback, which is more the slangy definition of the word. Absent other words or a description of the book, I wouldn’t know what to think beyond that.

    Others might think immediately of Hinduism or Buddhism and any of the topics associated with them. Do you intend to evoke an Eastern flavor? If not, if you’re just using the word without reference to other elements of Hinduism or Eastern traditions, consider adding another word or two, something that points out the title isn’t referring to Eastern religions but to karma as something independent of them.

    I don’t know your story, but I’ll throw out a couple of other titles to show you how you could adapt yours. Consider other elements of your story and see if you can combine a word or two from those elements with the word Karma. You said it was a thriller, so I considered words you might find in a thriller.

    Undoing Karma
    Defeating Karma
    Chasing Karma
    Karma Interrupted
    Testing Karma
    Killing Karma
    Exploding Karma
    Racing Karma
    Catching Karma
    Karma Unleashed
    Taming Karma
    Fooling Karma
    Murdering Karma
    As for the semicolon, let me point you to an article I have on that topic—Don’t Fear the Semicolon.

    Here’s to great success with your writing projects and career.

  109. Fiona says:

    Hey Beth. Thanks so much for your feedback.

    The theme of my book IS payback (a great title in itself)! It was originally going to be called, What Goes Around Comes Around, but I figured it a bit long so chose the one short sharp word instead.

    Also, thank you for the alternative list of titles you gave me. I’m leaning towards Karma Unleashed it’s exactly my book in two great words.

    And I may be overcoming my fear of the semicolon thanks to you.

    Thanks again! :)

  110. My pleasure, Fiona. I’m happy to have helped.

    I had been going to suggest Karma is a Bitch, a wordplay on payback is a bitch, but I found at least two books by that title.

    Adjust and finesse until your title sounds just right. Do you actually use the word karma in the story? If so, check out the words prededing and following any uses of it. You may find a surprisingly creative and appropriate phrase for a title right in your text.

    I’m glad the semicolon tips were useful.

  111. Fiona says:

    Beth, thank you for looking into other titles for me and for the additional advice. I thought I was being clever and original (!) with my book title.

    Karma appears just once but is the most important word in the story.

    I didn’t think that choosing a title would be so difficult. But I’ll mull over it some more and with fingers crossed I’ll end up with the perfect one to match the story.

    Still leaning towards Karma Unleashed though. . .

    Thanks for all your help.

  112. Fiona, if Karma Unleashed works for you, don’t sweat it any more. You can always change it later if some other great idea comes to you. Once again, it was my pleasure.

  113. Fiona says:

    Beth, looks like I’ve got me a title!

    Thank you.

  114. Tim, I hope you find this reply.

    If I understand what you’re asking, you want to know what to do to submit a collection of short stories? If they’re intended to remain together, I’d definitely send them as a unit, as if they were one manuscript. Yes, I’d include a title page for the collection—I assume you have a title for the group of stories. And yes, I’d number the pages sequentially—no need to start over for each story. Treat the short stories as chapters of a larger book. And no, you don’t need all the contact information multiple times. Again, you’re submitting one manuscript, so there’s no reason to duplicate info.

    If you were submitting separate stories one at a time, that would be a different issue. But a collection belongs together and can be treated like a manuscript.

    Good luck with your submissions.

  115. Cameron says:


    Thanks for providing the helpful information. My situation is somewhat unique and I’m having a hard time finding answers. I’m a professional screenwriter who has just finished my first novel. I am the author (“novel by Cameron R.”) working with a co-author (“With John Smith”), and the material is based on a screenplay of mine (my original story) that was co-written with a different co-writer. Assuming legal chain-of-title is squared away with the original co-writer, I am not sure how to credit him on the title page (or acknowledge the original screenplay) when presenting my manuscript to lit agents/publishers. Is it required that I list all names on the title page, and if so, how should I list the original co-writer of this source material, or reference the original screenplay? (I’m assuming publishers are turned off by the word “screenplay” and I’d love to not have to include that word! Can I call it “material”??)

    Also, my co-author typically represents me as my producer and manager when dealing with film projects, and by design there will be crossover between both sides with this novel. So my second question is, am I *required* to list my personal information on the title page, or is it okay to just list my representative?

    Thank you!

  116. Cameron, you’ve certainly thought this one out. And brought up a couple of unusual questions. I’ll admit I have no absolute answers for you, but let’s look at what you asked.

    Since the novel is based on a screenplay, publishers are going to want to know that. They won’t want to be blindsided later. You’re not going to want to hide anything or look as if you’re hiding something. To me that means including that information. The title page would be a good place for that, as would the query letter. And note it just as you’ve noted other information—based on the screenplay [title] by Cameron R and Roger Jones.

    If you didn’t have a co-writer on the screenplay and if you’d never sold it, you might have leeway, but either of those conditions do make a difference. The co-writer of the screenplay needs to be acknowledged and publishers will want to know up front that they may have to deal with permissions and rights. That’s not something you want to spring on them later.
    As for not including your contact information and including only your agent’s, I’ve never heard that done. But an experienced literary agent would know for sure. If you’re relying on someone who typically helps you with film projects, I suggest you look into getting a literary agent. You’re going to want someone who knows publishing.

    Might some agents be able to submit to publishers without revealing their client’s name? Probably. But, again, you’d need an agent trusted by the publishers, one who could call in favors. But publishers want to know who they’re dealing with. They may wonder why you have something to hide and if it will in some way cause them problems.

    There’s an awful lot out there to choose from for a company to want to get caught up in a manuscript with problems. Be open up front is my recommendation.

    I’m not sure if that helps.

    Perhaps a writer or agent with personal experience with this issue can let us know the best option.

  117. Cindy says:

    With the header, would you start the page count at the Prologue or Chapter One?

  118. Cindy, start the page count with the prologue—it’s part of the story.

    A great question that others were probably asking too. Thanks.

  119. Rebecca says:


    Thanks for this post, I know it’s a couple of years old now but it’s very helpful :-)

    I have a question to do with the format of speech in a manuscript. I’m aware to drop to another line when another person starts speaking but is it acceptable to drop two lines, so there is a space between speech?

    Another question I have in regards to speech is if someone says something, for example, ‘how do you know that for sure?’ Helen says, wondering why she’d asked in the first place.

    And then I carry on writing for a few sentences and then Helen speaks again, should I drop a line for the next thing she says or can it carry on on the same sentence/line?

    I hope these questions make sense and am looking forward to a reply :-)

    Many thanks

  120. Rebecca, I’ve got an article on punctuating dialogue that should help. But to answer your questions—

    Don’t skip line spaces in a manuscript. Indent paragraphs to indicate when new paragraphs begin, including lines of dialogue. Your text won’t look like the text in this article or these comments. Instead it will look something like this (only with the lines of text double-spaced and without the leading dots)—

    …..Paddy was lost. He didn’t know where he was or how he got there. He focused on the store across the street with its twinkling lights and the customers rushing in and out. Those coming out were smiling. Paddy hadn’t smiled in such a long time.
    …..“I need to get in there.”
    …..“No way, man,” Jones said. “They don’t let your type through the door.”

    As for your second question—

    Yes, you can mix narrative and dialogue in the same paragraph, but there’s some judgment involved in choosing when to do it and when not to. You can always start a new paragraph with a line of dialogue, and often that’s the best choice. You wouldn’t want dialogue to get lost.

    There are some examples in the article I mentioned—see if they don’t give you a few ideas.

    I hope this helps, but let me know if it doesn’t.

    • Rebecca says:

      Hi Beth,

      Many thanks for your reply, that helped a lot. I looked at the article Punctuating Dialogue and that’s also very helpful; I’m going to save it for reference :-)

  121. This is the best advice on formatting I’ve found. I have one question I haven’t seen addressed. My novel is in five parts. Each part has its own title and an epigraph. Should these part title pages be separated from the rest of the text by page breaks? If so, should they be paginated?

  122. Joan, there’s no reason to separate parts. Simply write Part One (or whatever your part title is), skip a couple of line and then write your epigraph, skip another couple of lines and write the chapter number and begin the text for that chapter.

    The publisher may use extra pages for part titles (or may not), but there’s no reason to do so for a manuscript. You’re not trying to create the look of a book, just make it clear to agent or publisher what elements you have.

    A great question for others looking for the same info. Thanks for asking it.

  123. Rebecca says:

    Hi again Beth,

    Another quick question, not sure if it fits under this post. When writing titles of books in your novel how should you lay it out? Can you do a separate line for every book? Should they be italised? Or have quotation marks around them? To make it clearer, I have a character who is looking on a shelf full of books and they aren’t necessarily saying the titles out loud but I want to write some of the titles they’re looking at down.

    Appreciate your comments.

    • Rebecca, there’d be no reason to list the books on separate lines. Try something such as this—

      Ruth ran her fingers along the spines. A History of the Rhine . . . Molly and Dolly Learn to Dance . . . Rome Before the Christians . . . Matthew certainly had an eclectic collection. She stopped, pulled out a slim volume. The Ostrich Connection. Bingo. Where else would a man prone to hiding from the truth hide a list of his contacts?

      Book titles are italicized, so that’s taken care of here. Plus the ellipses indicate that there might be other titles as well, just not mentioned.

  124. Joy, I hope you don’t mind that I copied your comment here.

    Joy Noe says:
    June 10, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    Thank you for this valuable information! I have two questions about punctuation:

    1. My character is reading excerpts from her dad’s diary. Would I format these the same as a letter (ie: 1/2″ indent on each side) or just put the excerpts in italics and leave them in the paragraph?

    2. What is the proper punctuation for other things the character sees/reads, such as a sign or instructions- italics?

    • Joy, there are several ways to format diary entries, depending on their length and how often you’ll show them. You could indent as you would letters, with no italics. Use that method if you intend to show long excerpts. Or, as you mentioned, you could use italics. But I would only use italics if you’re showing only a few lines at a time. You wouldn’t want paragraph after paragraph of italics.

      If you’re including only a single line or so and then commenting on it, you could combine those elements into a single paragraph, italicizing only the diary entry. If you’re quoting several lines from the diary, say three or more, separate those lines into a paragraph of their own, separate from a character’s commentary or other references to the diary entry. That is, consider letting the diary entry stand alone. But this isn’t a hard rule. Merely a suggestion.

      As for signs, there are options here as well and nothing set in stone. How you set up the text depends on how you introduce that text.

      ~ John laughed. Did they really expect him to obey that silly sign that said share the road? He was driving the dump truck. Anybody on a skinny little bike had best move on out of the way.


      What had that last sign said? Low-flying planes? What they needed to warn about were planes careening down the highway.

      What had that last sign said—low-flying planes?

      What had that last sign said, low-flying planes?

      What had that last sign said—low-flying planes?


      “The sign said, and I quote, ‘Woe to all who enter these cursed grounds. Death to them and their progeny through all eternity.’ ”


      “Hey, that sign back there said stop at the guard shack before advancing into the park.”

      “Oh, I didn’t see it. What did it say exactly?”

      “It said stop at the guard shack before advancing into the park.”

      “It said, ‘Stop at the guard shack before advancing into the park.’ ”

      “It said: stop at the guard shack before advancing into the park.”

      Since there are options, determine which is least intrusive and makes the text easy to understand. And then be consistent throughout the manuscript.

      The trend these days is away from extra punctuation, so if you don’t need it, don’t include it. But you still want readers to be able to understand. And you don’t want them stopping to figure out what you’ve done.

      I hope this helps.

  125. Dennis, I’m adding your comment in here so it doesn’t get lost up in the comment thread.

    Beth, I’ve had other editors/authors/instructors say that your manuscript needs more work if you have to put “The End” at the end. They should be able to tell the story is over. Your opinion?

    I’ve heard the same comment. And while I agree in part—last lines should resonate and clearly identify the end—sometimes a final zinger could follow the true ending, a line or two that opens a story for a sequel or that points to the next book in a series or that creates a hint of ambiguity. Such a line could easily get lost at the top of an otherwise blank page and make readers think the story ended at the bottom of the previous page.

    If you find an agent or editor who’s said you don’t need to include “the end,” be sure to not include those words in your submission to him or her. But let me suggest other reasons to include them.

    For all of a writer’s efforts, some manuscripts don’t yet have a complete or satisfying ending when they reach agent or publisher, and agent or publisher may not be able to tell whether or not she’s reached the end. Yes, she can guess. But why should she have to? And, if agent or editor or anyone else reads that far and loves the story, they aren’t going to ding the writer simply because he finishes his manuscript with “the end.”

    Also, those who offer such comments and advice may be assuming that readers will simply be reading a manuscript from beginning to end and thus should be able to tell they’ve reached the story’s conclusion. But what of those who might be looking through the pages searching for something and not reading? If I’ve got a stack of pages in front of me (I read from hard copy), and I want to identify the last page, I expect to see something there to identify that page. I can’t be sure I’ve printed every page or pulled all the pages from my printer; I want proof there’s no more story beyond the final period on that last piece of paper.

    Or I may want to compare the opening pages with the final ones. Again, it’s easier to find the last page when I see the words “the end.” I may also want to compare the last page of every chapter, see what they have in common. Again, I want to be able to do this easily. In this case I’m relying on a visual, not the words.

    The same would be true if I read from a screen—show me the ending in a visual way; don’t make me guess. And don’t make me have to read the full manuscript to identify that end.

    I sometimes read a few chapters at the opening of a manuscript and then skip to the end to see how the writer has linked these two parts of the story. I don’t want to wonder if I’m missing something. I want to see how the last line compares to the first, how the last paragraph compares to the first paragraph. Knowing exactly where the story ends is helpful and not a hindrance.

    And what of stories with multiple endings? If a story is complex and deals with several issues, the end may also be complex. A reader could easily stop after what seems to be the ending, only to find more text dealing with other story issues. This would be rare, admittedly, but a writer definitely wouldn’t want an agent or publisher or editor to miss the final pages.

    Readers should have no doubt they’re reading the final page of the manuscript. Help them out with the visual no matter how they reach that final page or what they intend to use it for.

    I’d love to hear what others have to say on the topic.

  126. Oops, it didn’t come out the way I intended. Please imagine that all the dots (….) don’t exist. Microsoft Word does not work correctly because it spreads out words too much so they might look like……… this..………. at.………… the……….… end…………. of………..… a………….. paragraph.
    Which program should I use? And I forgot about my second question. Should a good query email to a literary agent contain cover art for the novel?
    Thank you very much!

    • Brian says:

      Charles, regarding your second question, no cover art with the query, just the words that describe your book.

  127. I do not understand any of the stuff I’ve read here. What is the deal with using # signs? I have never read a book that has these. And why do you talk about scenes at all? A book is made out of chapters and paragraphs and that’s it. It sound like you’re talking about screen plays.

  128. Brian says:

    The # signs are for scene breaks within chapters. They are for the manuscript. The # signs won’t be published. A book is made up of chapters that consist of a scene or chapters that are split into scenes.

  129. Charles, Brian was spot on with his explanation of the use of the number symbol (or hashtag or pound sign). You don’t see it in published books, but you do use it in manuscripts to indicate scene breaks (it alerts agents and publishers to scene changes). What you see in published books is usually a line space instead (sometimes some fancy graphic). Only at the bottoms or tops of pages, where a blank line would be unnoticed, would you expect to see a symbol to indicate a scene break. And, yes, this happens in plenty of published books.

    As for your comment on scenes, I feel I’m being punked. Yet, in case you really have no idea what scenes are, a quick explanation—

    Scenes in novels are like scenes in movies. They’re the action events, separate from one another, that linked, make up the story. They occur in one location and last for a specific amount of time. They have identifiable beginnings, middles, and ends.

    In simplest terms, scenes are what happens when character or characters arrive at a physical location in your story (or are shown at that location), do something in that location for some length of time, and then finish doing that something. As soon as the story turns to another location or fast forwards through time in that same location or switches from one viewpoint character to another, the scene changes.

    And scene changes need to be marked in some way. As Brian noted, scenes within chapters are marked with a hashtag in manuscripts, a line space in books. When scenes change with the chapter, the break is already built in with the chapter heading.

    Of course there’s more to books than paragraphs and chapters.

    A chapter can hold several scenes. Look for line spaces in novels—that’s where you’ll see the scene changes. You might expect to find books with longer chapters to have more scene breaks, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Books with multiple viewpoint characters will probably have more scenes and more scene breaks within chapters.

    Scenes could last the length of an entire chapter, thus the only scene break would be at the chapter break. Or a scene could last for multiple chapters. Again, you wouldn’t see scene breaks within a chapter in this scenario.

    Beyond paragraphs and scenes and chapters, there are also parts. So a long novel might be divided into sections larger than chapters. Part one might cover chapters 1-10, part two, chapters 11-18, and part three, chapters 19-32. Parts could be different stages of a character’s life or might feature different characters.

    I hope this helps with your understanding of scenes.

  130. DENNIS says:

    Charles, I’d like to recommend an excellent book on writing called “Techniques of the Selling Writer,” by Dwight Swain. It’s an oldie (1982) but a goodie. The author has very good explanations and examples of “scenes” within a chapter (not a screenplay).

  131. Hi Brian, Beth, and Dennis… thank you for your well written responses. And especially you Beth, with your in depth description of what scenes are. And no, you are not being punked. Actually I think I just got on the wrong bus. Not to sound defensive, but I did ask “why do you talk about scenes?” and not “what is a scene?” or “how do you write scenes?” At the top of this blog I saw what I thought was the main point. “Format Your Novel for Submission.” If a person calls them self a novelist and they don’t know how to write then I’m sorry; take two Aspirin, learn how to write and call me in the morning. I thought we were talking about “formatting.” So let me rephrase my question. And I am being serious because I can’t seem to get a straight answer even from some friends of mine that are successful authors. Their publishers do all the “formatting” so they don’t have to know what programs are being used. Here’s my first question. Which program, in your experience, is the best one to use to line up the words correctly? See how these words look good on the left side, and discombobulated on the right. Microsoft Word does not work correctly because it spreads out words too much so that they might look like this at the end of a paragraph.
    Which program should I use?
    Thanks, and have a great day!

  132. Charles, I’m glad to know you and your questions are legit. Thanks for coming back and letting us know. Let’s look at your questions—

    In a manuscript (we’re talking what you send to agents and publishers and not the printed book that they produce), your text should be aligned left. That means you’ll have the text nicely lined up on the left and jagged on the right, just as it is in these comments. You do not want to justify text, which would give you a straight line down both sides. Doing so adds spaces to stretch out each line in order to make them line up on the right, which creates the problem you mentioned. That’s an arrangement for books, not for manuscripts.

    If you see this arrangement in your MS Word documents, that means the text is set to justify rather than to align left. It’s simple to change. Find the formatting and alignment tools (if you’ve got a newer version of Word, look for them on the Home toolbar in the paragraph section). Then highlight your text and click the left justify icon. That’s it.

    Unless an agent or publisher asks for something other than MS Word, that’s the best program for your manuscripts. You can write in Scrivener if you want, but convert your text to a Word doc before sending it. Scrivener is for writers, to help them stay organized, but for those reading your manuscript, use Word. And don’t send a PDF that looks like the book. Agents and publishers don’t want a book, they want a manuscript in a form they can easily read and write on.

    Brian answered your other question, and I’ll agree emphatically. Send nothing with your query except the query. Agents and publishers, at first contact, simply want to know about the story and whether or not you can write. Don’t give them anything else. Here’s a link to an article on the query letter. It’ll give you the important details.

    I hope we’ve covered your questions but if not, keep asking.

    P.S. If you’ll be e-publishing your own work and need to format e-book files yourself, that’s a different issue. Almost every e-book provider (Amazon, Barnes and Noble and so forth) has their own platform and format. Wikipedia has a comparison of formats that will help you get started. There are services that will format your Word doc in multiple platforms for a fee, but Amazon walks you through their formatting.