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 Web sites. 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
Include a title page
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 be looking to the top left of the page first, 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 instead of the slash between items in your header.
Some recommend beginning chapter one on the title page, 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 since the serif font is easier to read on a print copy (and I always edit from hard copy).