Friday December 15
Subscribe to RSS Feed

Overflow Comments for Post on Manuscript Format

July 25, 2013 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified July 25, 2013

My article on formatting a manuscript for submission gets a lot of traffic, both reads and comments. Because the comment section suddenly seems to not know what to do with so many comments, adding new comments in at odd places, I’m closing comments on that article and using this article for new comments regarding manuscript formatting.

If you have comments or questions about formatting a manuscript, please ask them here. But do look through the original article and the comments there. You’ll find a lot of information, some based on questions from writers.



Tags:     Posted in: Grammar & Punctuation, How to

73 Responses to “Overflow Comments for Post on Manuscript Format”

  1. This question was posted at the original article, but I’m answering it here.

    Amber Morris says:
    July 23, 2013 at 5:56 pm


    I just finished writing the first draft of my book last night, 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 divided 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 separate page with “Part 2″ and then the page after your text? And if so is this with or without header/page number?

    Thank you! :)

  2. Amber, just include the title of the current book on the title page of your manuscript. The focus at the submission stage is all about the one story. Your manuscript setup will not look like a book setup.

    As for including information about the number of books in a series, writers are typically discouraged from including such information in a query. Again, you are trying to attract attention from agent or publisher for the one book. Once you get past the initial contact, you and the agent or editor can talk about other books in a series.

    As for the part question, I’ll repeat what I told another writer–

    There’s no reason to separate parts. Simply write Part One (or whatever your part title is), skip a couple of lines and then write the chapter number (or title), skip another couple of lines 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.

  3. My chosen agent requires paragraph breaks to make it easier to read. Each of my paragraphs are indented but does it mean I have to leave double the amount of spacing between paragraphs than there are between each line?
    Also, when submitting online does one run new chapters on the same page as the previous one ends or go onto a new page?

  4. E, I’m not sure what the agent is looking for. The paragraph indent is sufficient for most everyone, but maybe that agent is looking for more. That would be unusual, however. We break paragraphs each time we hit the Enter key, and if you indent, that should be enough. You might want to check that requirement again, see if you can tell what the agent is getting at.

    As for online submissions, do you mean e-mail? You can’t format very well in most e-mail programs, but try this—

    Copy and paste your submission (three chapters or whatever they’ve asked for) into a new Word doc. Then replace paragraph breaks with manual line breaks. Depending on how you’ve set up your doc, you may need to replace a paragraph break with two manual line breaks. (You may also need to first change double paragraph breaks to single ones.)

    Paste the text into an e-mail and send it to yourself. See if the paragraph breaks show as you want them to.

    If chapter breaks are quirky, take them out of the Word doc, insert a manual line space, and begin the next chapter. Again, paste into an e-mail and send the file to yourself. You should be able to finesse a fairly decent-looking e-mail.

    For the most part, any kind of electronic submission will likely run the chapters back to back, without any kind of break. Just make sure you give the chapters at least a line space.

  5. Phil Chomak says:

    Hi Beth,

    First of all, I’d like to add my voice to the chorus of thanks for your very clear and helpful advice on standard manuscript form. It’s taken a lot of stress out of the process.
    I have converted my recently finished manuscript into standard form by following the guidelines you’ve laid out. I have a few questions, however.

    On the title page, I’ve used mixed caps for the title and mixed cases for the genre and author info, Times New Roman, size 12 throughout, nothing bold. I’ve done the same for each chapter title. Is that acceptable?

    On the title page, I’ve written that there are 82,975 words (using Microsoft Word’s counter). Is that preferable to writing “about 83,000 words,” as some recommend?

    Also, my book is non-fiction, a teacher’s memoir in the form of stories, and I have a title and a subtitle. I know that on a book cover the subtitle is generally below the title and smaller, which is what I’d want for the finished product, but on this manuscript, I assumed that both would go on the same line, separated by a colon. Do you agree?

    My manuscript, in its current form, is in the following order: Title page, dedication page, contents, a page with 2 epigraphs, Prologue, 35 chapters, Epilogue. I know, from reading your letter (2/9/13) to Mary Ann Eiler, that you recommend omitting the Table of Contents from the manuscript, since some things might change, certainly the pagination; however, I’d really like to leave it in since the titles of the stories are, if I say so myself, rather alluring; they give a good sense of the varying tones of the book, and the page numbers, though temporary, have their usual practical value in making it easy to find a specific chapter. I would hope its inclusion wouldn’t be a deal breaker. If I did leave it in, would you recommend single or double spacing between entries?

    I know that the title page doesn’t get a header. Would page 1 be whatever came immediately after the title page?

    Thank you,
    Phil Chomak

  6. Phil, you’ve asked some great questions. If I miss one in my answer, please let me know.

    When you submit to agents and publishers, they typically want to see only the text. They need a title page for the information it contains, but if they ask to see the first three chapters or the first thirty (or fifty) pages, what they’re looking for is the text.

    Everything else, until a manuscript becomes a book, is filler. And the filler is definitely subject to change. Don’t include it.

    Don’t include a table of contents—including the titles with the chapters is enough.

    Don’t include the dedication page. I’d suggest that unless they’re critical to the story that you don’t include the epigraphs either if they are on pages other than a page with story text. Agents and publishers don’t want someone else’s words, they want yours. Don’t waste a page of your submission on something that doesn’t factor toward their decision-making.

    Your submission is about your story, not the supporting pages and elements you’d find in a published book. An agent or an editor at a publishing house wants to know about the story, not about the extras. Not at your first or second contact. Give them the meat, not the filler.

    If you only get 30 pages in a submission, don’t you want to include as many pages of the text as you can? That’s what agents and editors are looking for.

    I would even suggest that you consider not including the prologue. Does the prologue explain itself within the first pages? Does it add to or detract from those early chapters? Would it be more beneficial to include more of the text of the story and drop the prologue from your submission package?

    Only the writer can decide whether or not the prologue should be included with a submission package. If you only get thirty pages, you want the pages that make the greatest impact—does your prologue make an impact? Is it written in the same style as the rest of the story?

    That first contact is agent or editor deciding on the story—do they like the plot, the characters, the writing style, the genre? Do they want to see more based on what you’ve given them? Do the first pages intrigue? For them to make a decision, they need a certain amount of material. If the first seven to ten pages of a thirty-page submission are not story text, they don’t get enough of what they’re looking for.

    And they may wonder why you’re taking so long to get to the point. May wonder if you do the same with the story, start with fluff rather than diving into story events. Not every agent or editor would think this, of course, but it is a possibility.

    Always keep in mind that you’re not sending them a book or anything that looks like a book. They want story, just the story. And they want it in manuscript form, the format they read day and night as they study and weigh and check out submission after submission.

    Don’t give them more than they want. But do give them everything they need.

    That said, whatever you include, make it easy to follow and read. So yes, a colon between title and subtitle is a valid option. And were you to include a TOC (but please don’t), double-space the entries. Make them easy to read. Easy to mark on.

    I hope these suggestions help.

  7. Phil, I see that I missed a couple of topics that you mentioned.

    The use of mixed caps is correct. And round up to 83,000 words. You don’t even need to include about. Agents and publishers expect you to round the word count.

    Rounding to the nearest 100 words is probably sufficient.

  8. Phil Chomak says:

    Hi Beth,
    Sorry I’ve taken so long to get back to you and to thank you for your clear and very helpful guidance. I certainly will follow your advice when submitting a partial manuscript. I had been thinking (wrongly, apparently) that many publishers would want to see the full manuscript (clearly, that’s what I would like), but, yes, if they only want to see 30 or so pages, I should give them as much “meat” as possible. I’ve just finished printing the full manuscript for a few trusted first readers to check out; for that, I included all the front matter—they asked for it…
    Thanks again. It’s great to know you’re out there.

  9. Ian Huyton says:

    Hi Beth,

    Firstly, thanks for a great article – my ms is looking a lot closer to ready now. I apologise if this has been asked before, but should I indent the first line of a chapter or scene, given that it is also a new paragraph? In my novel I’ve indented first lines of chapters and scenes only if they are dialogue, which looks right to my eyes, but as you have said to others it is a manuscript not a book so I’m trying to learn the rules.


  10. Ian, indent every paragraph. As you probably guessed, first paragraphs aren’t indented in books because of style decisions. But for manuscripts, indent them all.

    That’s a good question. Thanks for asking it.

  11. Some Body says:

    I apologise in advance in my question was answered on the original page.

    How do you format a part of a manuscript that isn’t written in prose? My novel is going to include special documents, like newspaper articles and job application forms.

  12. Phil Chomak says:

    Hi again, Beth,

    There’s an agent who may be interested in seeing my complete manuscript. I understand that an unpublished work is automatically copyrighted in the name of the author, but some think it’s a good idea to include the copyright information in the manuscript. Do you agree? If so, would I put it at the bottom of the title page or somewhere else?
    Phil Chomak

    • Phil, there is no need to include anything about copyright—the work is yours. Agents and publishers know that, so there’s no need to point it out to them. Plus your story will likely change by the time it’s published and that’s the version that you’ll want the copyright registered for (and the publisher will handle that).

      Agents and publishers aren’t going to try to steal your work—just submit to legitimate professionals.

  13. Shannon says:

    Hi there. Thanks for all the info! I’m formatting a dual-perspective novel that indicates the POV changes with a scene break symbol (#) and also the character’s name whose POV we’re about to enter. (So it goes: line break, next line #, next line the character name, next line the start of the scene.) My question is in regards to when circumstances cause the # and character name to be all the way at the bottom of the page, causing the beginning of that scene to be on the following page. Should I move the # and name to the following page to keep it with the start of the scene, or keep the line breaking consistent for typesetting purposes? (To move the # and name to the following page would cause there to be an empty space of white at the bottom of the preceding page.) This also applies if it’s just a regular scene break with no POV switch — put the # on the preceding page at the bottom, or move to the top of the following?

    Thank you!

    • Great questions, Shannon.

      Do not add any extra line spaces and do not add a page break between scenes. The whole purpose of the # is to show where the scene break is, no matter what the reason for the scene break. While the # may look like it’s getting lost at the bottom of the page, you don’t know where it will actually end up once you (or others) play with the manuscript; it may actually fall on the next page or even farther up the same page you see it on. Don’t do anything unusual for scenes breaks at the bottoms of pages.

      Remember that the # is a signpost for those reading a manuscript. In books, typically only a line space marks the break between scenes. A graphic or # usually only marks scene breaks at the bottoms of pages in books, where a line space would be lost or overlooked. But it’s the typesetter who takes care of this once the text of the story is complete. (For those self-publishing, I recommend hiring someone to format your books or learning the proper formatting techniques.)

      Also, I would suggest you not include the name of the viewpoint character (like a header or title) at scene breaks. You do include the name early in the text of the new scene so readers know you’ve changed viewpoint characters, but not as part of the format of the scene break. If both your viewpoint characters are using first-person POV, you may have to use methods other than naming the character in the text to indicate the change in viewpoint character. So if one character whistles or sings or snaps her fingers, you could use those habits to indicate the change of viewpoint character. Or you have another character say her name. Use a variety of methods throughout the story to alert readers to the change in viewpoint character. So line break, next line with the #, line break, and then the first line of the next scene. You don’t want the kind of interruptions between scenes that inserting the name would create—just let the scenes flow. (Including the names as headers at the beginnings of chapters would work—readers are used to seeing titles and subheadings at chapter breaks.)

      I’m guessing that some books have included viewpoint character names at scene (rather than) chapter breaks. But see if you can’t make the viewpoint character clear within your story text instead.


      For flashbacks, you have options. You could start one at a scene break—always use the same symbol for scene breaks throughout your manuscript. Or you could use the ellipsis to ease into a flashback, going from a character’s thoughts straight into the flashback. Or you could jump into the flashback without an ellipsis, letting your viewpoint character introduce the flashback by thinking about it. Or you could even introduce a flashback at the end of one chapter and then open the next inside the flashback. It all depends on the setup and the effect and the kind of flow you want. Even the length of the flashback can effect how you open and end it. The publisher will have their own ideas of how they want to format flashbacks—for the manuscript, you just have to be consistent and clear and smooth.

      Italics for flashbacks? Yes, that’s also an option. But long sections of italics are difficult to read. You wouldn’t want an entire chapter—and not even a long scene—in italics. Short flashbacks in italics can work, but if you’ve set up the flashback clearly and you clearly show where it ends, italics are unnecessary. Again, the publisher will have the ultimate say for how flashbacks appear in the book.

      Does that help?

  14. Shannon says:

    I also have a second question that I meant to include in my previous post. I have a number of flashback/reminiscent scenes in the story and would like to mark them somehow. Do I use the same symbol as a scene break, or a different one? Should I use multiple ### for the flashbacks? Or instead, should I write them in italics? Thanks!

  15. Deepak Gupta says:

    Hi Beth,

    Firstly thank you for all the information you have put up here. Its very useful for new writers like me.

    Now, my publication house has asked to submit 3 sample chapters along with a detailed synopsis. Should its title page contain the word count of the whole manuscript? Mine is 33,000. Is that less for a romantic comedy?

  16. Deepak Gupta says:

    Hello Beth,

    Firstly thank you for all the information you have put up here. Its very useful for new writers like me.

    Now, my publication house has asked to submit 3 sample chapters along with a detailed synopsis. Should its title page contain the word count of the whole manuscript? Mine is 33,000. Is that less for a romantic comedy?

    • Deepak, you do want to include your word count on the title page. That’s a helpful bit of info you can easily provide.

      That word count is novella length rather than novel length—was writing a novella your intention?

  17. Saul Gritz says:

    Would a publisher format a novel aligned left only, as a Mss is?

    • Saul, I had to do a bit of research on this one, but the answer is yes, some publishers have aligned left, at least for some projects. Yet the great majority of novels are justified.

      Are you self-publishing? Asking regarding a particular format? You may want to check with the many sites that format for e-books. But here’s an article (The Justification for Justification) that might be helpful. It’s from 2011, so there may have been changes since then.

  18. Gretchen says:

    My manuscript has been formatted into a template from Create Space. I am using MSWord 2010. My text is in Garamond. It has all transferred beautifully. Now I want to add a drop cap as the beginning letter of each chapter. For that I am using Vivaldi. It gives a very elegant look, BUT, as I scroll up and down my ms. to proof, many of the drop caps have moved. Some to the left – perhaps as much as 1/2″. Some to the right where they encroach on the word. I go up to drop cap to make the correction and you can see the drop cap snap back to the proper spot. However it may not stay there and furthermore, as I continue to check the other drop caps, some of them have now moved again. I was instructed by Create Space to go into options and embed them, which I have done – to no avail. Can you help?

    Thank you, Gretchen Meyer

    • Gretchen, are you looking at your text in either outline or draft view? If so, the dropped cap only looks out of place. Use print layout view unless you’re checking for something in particular and need to use one of the other options. But if you do have to use one of the other views for a particular purpose, ignore the dropped cap looking like it’s out of place. (If you need help changing views, let me know.)

      If that’s not what the problem is, keep in mind that dropped caps are actually graphics, not simply text. And that means the graphics box can move. You can also format the dropped cap by deciding how much space you want between the cap and the rest of the text—maybe you specified too much of a distance for some of them?

      You can also specify if the cap is actually dropped or put into the margin, which might account for the move to the left.

      I hope one of these options is the answer for you. Let us know if it is.

      • Thank you for responding so quickly. I am looking at my text in print layout and when I print, it does print incorrectly. And when I upload it to Create Space they inform me that I have many errors and that I have not embedded my fonts. They gave explicit instructions on how to do that – going to options, etc.- which I have followed and rechecked several times. Then they tell me to go back to my original manuscript and make corrections there. However, when I do make the corrections, some will not stay put and then some others move. It’s a no-win situation and I have not been able to get an answer from anyone. I am tired of paying technicians who claim they can fix it and then after an hour, say what I do – “I don’t understand it.” Thank you for attempting to assist. I’ll just keep on keeping on. Someone must have an answer. Thanks again for trying.

        Gretchen Meyer

        • Gretchen, I’m sorry there’s no easy answer for this.

          I checked a bit more on embedding fonts—they must be True Type fonts. In my version of Word, Vivaldi is not a True Type font, though it looks like you can download versions of it that are True Type. Is your Vivaldi a True Type?

  19. Gretchen, I hope that solves your issue.

    • Gretchen says:

      I’m sorry to say that it didn’t solve it. All my fonts in Word 2010 are ttf. fonts but I downloaded a new Vivaldi ttf font anyway to replace the one I had. It still didn’t work. Create Space suggested saving my file as a pdf. which I did – still no go. I have two more options. I have a call in to an instructor of MSWord at our Tech school. She may call me back???? Another is to someone who may be able to format for me at a reasonable price. He has done other kinds of computer work for me so I will hope. Thanks again for your suggestions. I wanted to let you know what was happening. Should I find a solution, I will let you know. Gretchen

  20. Lisa Gates says:

    Formatting rules for UK are different. What are they, if you can help.

    • Lisa, I laughed when I read this last night because I was actually researching this very topic at that moment for another purpose.

      As far as formatting is concerned, the only difference I could ever find was to use A4 paper rather than 8 1/2 x 11. And that was true for any European publisher. Also, the margins are 1 inch, which means 2.5cm.

      There are other rules for punctuation—double vs. single quotation marks, spaces or no spaces with dashes—but the manuscript formatting itself is the same except for the paper size. But if you’re asking me about those other issues as well, I can let you know how they work.

  21. Rob says:

    Hi Beth,

    Your blog is incredibly helpful. Thanks for putting it together for all of us out here in the wild. :-)

    There are many questions about fonts and your answer is almost always to not change it, but I haven’t seen this question, so here goes: Is it acceptable to change a font for a flashback? I’d prefer to distinguish the flashbacks (which take place hundreds of years prior) and capture the mood with a different font.

    Also, is it acceptable to substitute a chapter number with the year of the flashback? (Such as Chapter 1, 1845, Chapter 3…) Each flashback is its own chapter.

    And finally, what is the acceptable format for when a character is supposed to be speaking a foreign language, but it’s written in English? Should the dialogue be italicized?

    Thank you!

    • Rob, I’m sure others are wondering about some of the same issues.

      #1 Don’t change the font, not even for a flashback. Manuscripts are different from books, and they don’t need to look like a book or have any visuals to point out different elements. Agents and editors at publishing houses want text they can easily read; give it to them.

      #2 Regarding the year versus a chapter designation—you’re saying chapter one will be called Chapter 1, but chapter two will be called 1845, with no reference to the chapter number itself? That’s going to be confusing. If you want to include years, try something like—

      Chapter 1 – Present (or Present Day or the year of the story’s present action) (centered as usual)

      Chapter 1 (centered)

      Present Day (or current year) (aligned left as a subheader)

      Then do the same setup for the years in the flashback.

      Use this method if you show a lot of chapters in the past, as in a parallel story that flips from present to past, spending about the same amount of time in both past and present.

      And by the way, are we talking flashbacks, with someone remembering these events, or are we saying part of this story is actually set in the past? The two are different and require different treatment. For example, in a true flashback, you could end the flashback chapter with the character who’s been flashing back returning to the present with some commentary on the past. For a chapter that’s actually set in the past, that would not happen and you would need some other way to show that the story has returned to the present.

      If you’re only showing one or two chapters in the past, you could simply number the chapters as usual (no reference to the current year) and then add the year in the past as a subheader at the left, just above the chapter text, for those chapters that go back to the past. Yet readers might need a visual reminder that they’re coming back to the present at the time they return to the story’s present. They might be so caught up in the past that when a new chapter begins, they may assume they’re still in 1845. If so, they’d be shocked at a jet flying overhead. Therefore, including the years for all chapters might be necessary. You want to head off reader confusion whenever you can.

      Definitely don’t skip chapter numbers if you number some chapters—you don’t want readers searching for chapters two and seven and twelve.

      Publishers may change your setup for publication, but you’re just looking for a way to indicate the years in a way that’s clear to agents and editors.

      #3 No need to italicize the words in English. I assume characters are simply speaking to one another—no one’s listening in and having to translate?

      If you put two characters on a Paris street in 1789 and have them talk, you simply show what they’re saying. You use English because that’s what your readers speak, but using English doesn’t imply that the characters are speaking English. Readers will assume that Pierre and Francois are speaking French.

      If you have something different in mind regarding this issue, let me know.

      I think I got at your intentions, but if not, let me know. And thanks for letting me know you’ve found the info useful.

      • Rob says:

        Hi Beth,

        Thank you so much for your incredibly quick and helpful reply. I truly appreciate it and I hope your other readers do to.

        Regarding the foreign language question, in the example that you gave, what do you do if there’s an American who doesn’t understand French standing next to Pierre and Francois, and the Frenchmen switch between English and French during the conversation? (So they say stuff the American can’t understand, but the reader does.) My story is about an American in Europe, so this happens quite a bit, but then he starts to learn the language. This concept is important to the story, so I need to be able to distinguish which language is being spoken. What I’m doing now is italicizing the non-English. However, I also have many entire chapters with only Europeans in the scenes. They’re supposed to be speaking their native tongue. I want to be consistent, but I also don’t want italics overload.

        Thanks again!

  22. Rob, let me ask a question—what POV are you using for this story? And who is the viewpoint character in these scenes?

  23. Rob says:


    It’s third-person omniscient narrative/POV. The viewpoint character is the narrator (third-person subjective).

    Thanks again!

    • Okay, thanks. That info helps. I’ve got to run out, but I’ll get back to this later tonight.

    • Rob,

      You definitely don’t want to use italics. Their use would grow annoying and might also prove confusing. So . . .

      Treat dialogue as you always do when the reader is supposed to understand it. With a first- or third-person viewpoint character, you’d show, in English, what they understand of a conversation. If the characters understood other languages, they and the writer would make that clear to the reader.

      You do the same thing with your omniscient narrator, except he knows every language.

      So when our two Frenchmen are there, you report their dialogue in English. You might let the reader know they’re speaking French, but you wouldn’t need to dwell on that fact—you’d just let them talk, with the narrator reporting what they say. And you wouldn’t need to point out that they’re speaking French every time they spoke.

      When a character who doesn’t understand the spoken language enters the picture, that’s when you have to explain a bit. But you don’t have to go overboard (maybe provide a few more details the first time it happens), and you don’t have to differentiate the languages through a visual, not with italics or anything else. An example—

      Francois had just asked Pierre about the group’s plans when a voice, Texas twang strong in the vowels, called out from behind him. He turned.

      Giselle’s cousin John lunged the final few steps down the Rue des Rosiers, joining him and a suddenly nervous Pierre on their rainy corner near the empty alley.

      John stepped close, pulling his cold hand—no gloves—from his pocket, but Francois held out his own hand, stopping him.

      John frowned, but he turned his back and walked a few yards up the rain-drenched avenue..

      “Who is he?” Pierre whispered to Francois.

      Watching John over his shoulder, Francois laughed. “Giselle’s cousin a couple of times removed. But no need to whisper—his French is worse than your Russian.”

      Pierre nodded, but still he drew Francois deeper into the shadowed alley.

      “I was saying that we need you to get . . .”


      With different groups moving in and out, you make adjustments to the surrounding setup and not to the dialogue itself. So we would always hear the dialogue in English, no italics. You could show a second or third language in its own words if you had to, but if readers need to understand, put it in English. So you wouldn’t report long paragraphs in French, but for the character just learning the language, you might report what he thought he was hearing—

      It sounded like the other man said, “Les fleurs rouges dansaient dans la rue,” but John guessed that couldn’t be right. He doubted the men were speaking about dancing flowers.

      If the other characters are speaking in a mix of English and another language, you can show that through a third character’s reactions or through their own—

      John watched as the men finished speaking, not understanding a fancy-sounding word until the bearded man said, “A pleasure to meet you.” He’d pivoted and headed down the street before John determined the man had been speaking to him.


      Your approach will depend on whether the narrator is reporting something or if he’s offering insight into a character’s thoughts about something.

      Keep the dialogue understandable and normal—just make sure the surrounding text fills in the gaps. And if you’re allowing us insight into the mind of one character, make sure you portray his understanding or lack of it. Also, be clear about whether the narrator is reporting his own opinion or reflecting the opinion and knowledge of a character, which he can easily do.

      Does that make sense, to keep the dialogue the same and just make sure the setup and surrounding text identifies what’s happening?

  24. Rob says:


    Wow! Thank you so much for this incredible answer. It explains it perfectly. You have my undying gratitude.

    Have a wonderful weekend,

  25. Sheogorath says:

    Twelve point, Times New Roman
    Hate, hate, hate. Couldn’t I just use ten point Bookman Old Style? It’s the same size, looks slightly friendlier, and I don’t have to mess around with the font size before I begin.

  26. Talia says:

    Would my manuscript be rejected if I used fonts like Calibri, Bookman Old Style, Garamond, Palatino, or Cambria? If I listed anything that would/would not work, please list it. I really would like to know because I get tortured to death with Times New Roman. I would really like to avoid seeing it as much as possible.

  27. Talia and Sheogorath, since you’ve asked about the same topic . . .

    Your choice of font may not be noticed by an agent or editor—that is, they may not care what you send. On the other hand, most will know that the recommendation is for Times New Roman (or Courier New) and expect you to have followed the recommendations. Always use what the agent or publisher requests, if they’ve stated a preference. If there is no preference, Times New Roman and Courier New are your best options.

    Keep in mind that you can always use whatever font you like while you’re writing and editing. It’s only the submission packet that needs to be TNR or Courier New.

    You may hate TNR or Courier, but what if your favorite agent or editor hates Bookman Old Style? Or maybe they don’t have Palatino loaded and the substitute font that shows instead is something ugly and unmanageable—do you want need to be happy with a font you’re not going to see, at the risk of making the recipient unhappy? For me, I’d much prefer to give an agent or publisher what they expect and a font I know they can work with.

    Plus, while you are only one writer, they may get submissions from hundreds of writers a month. Shouldn’t they be able to ask for some consistency from writers? What if several dozen manuscripts each week came in with unusual fonts, including Jester, Comic Sans, or Impact? You may prefer fonts closer to Times New Roman, but another writer might prefer something else—what’s to prevent them from sending a manuscript in their favorite fonts? In different fonts, the words will look different on the page, they may take up more or less line space, and the letters may be thick or thin when compared to TNR, with different spacing between words and letters. A standard font helps keep one element the same across the wide range of manuscripts.

    Also, an agent or editor who looks at the same fonts all day can get an idea of how many words to a page, the number of words in total, the amount of dialogue in comparison to narrative, and so forth. So having a standard allows them to have a quick understanding of some elements of a manuscript, even before they read it. Then when the read they can know the differences are based on true story differences and are not the result of incidental issues or the way the words look on the page.

    That’s a simplification, but you understand what I’m getting at. If the foundations are all of one sort, it’s the true differences, the story differences, that will stand out.

    Also, you don’t want to antagonize an agent or publisher. You certainly don’t want to declare that you’re a “problem client” before you even get on with an editor or publishing house. Yes, you are creative and have your own style, but you don’t want your style to prevent you from securing representation or a contract. Why not give the agent or publisher what they want concerning this issue? Again, if you simply change the font when you’re ready to send the submission, you don’t have to spend time looking at a font you don’t like.

    Following the rules on such a simple point could well make your story stand out on a day when an agent or publisher has received manuscripts that proved unacceptable for a variety of reasons. If you’ve taken the time to read their submission guidelines and/or general submission “rules,” it’s likely the recipient of your submission is already thinking of you favorably. And that’s a great plus.

    Is choosing a different font worth the possibility of having an agent or publisher think negatively of your submission from the outset? I don’t think so. And I don’t mean to suggest that agents or publishers are ogres who can’t overlook an odd font. But they know the information is out there, freely available. If a writer doesn’t do a little bit of legwork to discover a suitable submission format, that may tell the recipient that the writer doesn’t take his work seriously or maybe that he doesn’t care enough to offer his best.

    What does the ignoring of such a simple request say to an agent or publisher? That the writer doesn’t trust the agent or publisher to know what they really want? That the agent’s or publisher’s wishes concerning the simplest issue are unimportant? That the writer knows more than agent or publisher about the most basic of submission protocols?

    Many agents and publishers may not think such things, but some might. And on a tough day, more than some may be feeling less than charitable. Why not give yourself the best chance at getting someone to read your work? Why not give your manuscript a boost rather than a handicap? Why not give your work a positive rather than a negative? Especially concerning such a simple issue.

    I don’t know if any of these points convince you to use TNR, but if you have more questions, ask away.

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Beth, thanks so much for this wonderful blog. You have already answered so many questions. I do have one regarding the font in the header when inserting Name/Title/PN. Does this need to be TNR 12, or can it be slightly smaller so that it distracts less from the body text? If not, can it be greyed out slightly? Thanks

      • Sarah, that’s a great question. I definitely wouldn’t gray out the header—you don’t want to make it hard to see, and text that looks different from everything else on the page may actually draw the eye, which is counter to your intention. And while reducing the font size to 11 pt. might be okay, agents and publishers are used to getting 12 pt. from everyone, so I lean toward leaving it at that.

        Reducing the size does sound like a good idea—and I admit I often reduce the size of the font in headers and footers for documents I’m working on (usually my own work but sometimes the work of others who didn’t include a header or footer with their docs). But for submissions? Go with the standard 12 pt. for this. At least for now. You may see something like this loosen up in the near future. After all, it’s very easy to set up and change font sizes, so the industry may recognize that such a change is beneficial and start recommending it.

        I’m glad I was able to answer other questions for you.

        • Sarah says:

          Thanks Beth, that’s such a help. You have told me everything I need to know in this blog. I’m still getting used to only putting 1 space after the full stop but I’ll get there! Thanks again, Sarah

  28. Candy Farris says:

    I am working on a daily scripture journal. Is it okay to put the scripture in Ariel and my comments in T.N.R.

    • Candy, you’ll be submitting this to agents and publishers, not self-publishing? If so, putting the scriptures in a different font is probably okay. Or you could simply set them off in some way—perhaps centered on the page and surrounded by larger-than-normal margins. It’s likely that you would want agents and publishers to notice the different sections, scripture vs. your comments, but you don’t want them to have trouble reading the different sections. Arial may be difficult to read, especially if they print and read from hard copy.

      I suggest that you try simply setting the text off first before trying a different font. That may be sufficient. See how the text looks on the page—if you can notice the difference between the sections—scripture and your words—they will be able to differentiate too. I assume you’ll be using scripture references, so that’s helpful.

      You just want them to #1 be able to read all the text and #2 be able to see that you’ve got two separate sections of text, with different purposes for each. I don’t know that a different font would be necessary, although it probably wouldn’t count against you. If, however, your scripture sections are long and not merely a line or two, a nonstandard font might annoy. TNR is easy on the eye and familiar to agents and publishers. Giving them what they’re used to is a plus.

      • Candy Farris says:

        I will be self publishing; however, I do not want it to look as though I did. This is a daily scripture journal that I have put several scriptures together for every day of the year. I have completed the year for my book.

        Yesterday I was told that my format was incorrect.I had red letters on the top of each day and someone familiar with publication told me that red ink will not work.

        My comments are in T.N.R. and they are italicized. I think this differentiates my thoughts from the scriptures at a glance. I like this so much, but if it will hinder a chance for an agent to take notice, then I would rather change it before I publish it.

        Here is an example of how I am doing this: (MY comment, as I said, is italicized in the book. This scripture is only 1 of a group of scriptures I have placed together for one day in my book. This is how I have them on the page.

        1 Cor 2:9 B (NKJV)

        “…“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.””

        How beautiful and full of splendor are the things God has prepared for us. The colors are brighter than we can imagine, just as Jesus’ clothes illuminated with a white color brighter than any white we can obtain on earth (Mark 9:3). It is hard to grasp in full measure the way things will be that God has prepared for us, because His ways are so much higher than ours! See Isa 55:9.

        • Okay, for self-publishing you get to make the decisions, so you can use whatever fonts you want to use. However, some are much better than others. And you may not even want to use Times New Roman for any of the text. That’s the default font for manuscript submissions, not for published materials. Whether you’re talking e-books or print books that you’re publishing yourself, you may want to consider what the experts recommend. Check out Joel Friedlander’s site—The Book Designer (and others like it). You might have to dig around a bit, but you’ll find some great resources. Read up on not only why some fonts and layouts work, but also why others do not work well.

          There are options when you self-publish, but you really want to use what will work best for your purposes and for self-published books. You can even Google best fonts for e-books to get an idea for what works and what doesn’t.

          I would suggest that you not use italics for the bulk of your text; it’s simply not easy on the eye. Save italics for specific purposes and for only a few words at a time. Think always of the readers—how can you make the reading experience pleasurable for them? There are proven fonts and layouts and color combinations—see if you can’t find something that not only works in a general sense but that also works for your specific needs.

          And I agree that red ink does’t work well for body text. Maybe for titles on covers (depending on the rest of the cover), but usually not for text. Again, red is harder on the eye.

          I hope this helps.

  29. Jeremy says:


    I have been scouring the web for answers to my problem, and I haven’t been able to find anything that addresses it.

    My manuscript is the first book of a trilogy that will be part of a larger series. The series will be made up of other trilogies and stand-alone novels that take place in the same setting.

    My question is: how do I format the title page for my book? Do I do something like:







    …or should the book title be first? Should the series title even be included? Or should I just have:




    …since it’s the first book, and deal with trilogy and series stuff later after I get agent/publisher representation?

    • Jeremy, for your submission for the first story, simply include the title and your name. You’re trying to sell the first story, not the series (at least not yet), so keep it simple. You don’t even include references to the series in your query letter. If you get an agent and he wants to promote the extended series when you submit to publishers, then that will be up to him (with your input and permission).

  30. Lucy says:

    Hi Beth

    Just stumbled upon your article, and found it mightily helpful. I’m not at manuscript stage yet, but I was wondering if you could advise on word count averages per genre, or is that a silly question? Does it just depend on the story? I’ve played around with an idea for a dystopian duology, and maybe afterwords, a collection of prequel short stories; I have my entire plot, settings, characters etc all thought out and finalised. Also, when I eventually get to manuscript stage with my ideas, are there any specific genre related points I should consider when editing?

    Hope to hear from you soon,

    Kind regards,


    • Lucy, asking about word count for the genres is definitely not a silly question. I’ve got a couple of articles that might be helpful—Word Count for Fiction and What is Genre in Fiction (parts 1 and 2).

      Dystopian stories are a subgenre of sci-fi, so the word counts and expectations would be similar to what you find for sci-fi recommendations. If your dystopian novel is also young adult, it may be shorter than an adult story in the same genre, though it wouldn’t have to be.

      As for genre-related points—know the conventions of the genre and make sure you’ve included them in the right measure and at the right times.

      A few notes on dystopian stories to give you an idea what you’ll need to include—

      They are set in the future, after something has happened to change the society. Typically that change must be explained in your story, though you don’t need to dwell on the event that caused the change.

      Citizens don’t have to understand that they’re living in a restricted society, though the hero will know or will come to know this and strike out, trying to make people understand what’s going on and trying to change the society. Others may come to a realization of what’s going on.

      The dystopian world is ruled by a corporation, a totalitarian government, a dictator, or something/someone similar. Individual rights are restricted, subservient to the good of the group. Families may no longer exist and groups within the society are based on whatever criteria the rulers decide on.

      Dystopian stories don’t have to finish with a happily-ever-after, though the hero might find some success. The hero doesn’t even have to live—he may simply succeed by waking others up to what’s going on, even as he gives his life for his cause.

      The writer of a dystopian story needs to create the fictional world, which means world building.

      The reasons the society changed should be based on legitimate concerns—for example, society changed to meet a need or prevent annihilation—but either the change went too far or the need was exaggerated or the threat no longer exists.

      The dystopian society doesn’t value what today’s societies value, which causes a dissonance within the reader.


      These are the kinds of issues you’ll want to be sure to cover with a dystopian novel. Each genre has its own concerns, and you’d want to be sure to cover those particular issues in any genre novel.

      Is that what you were looking for?

  31. Lucy says:

    Hi Beth,

    Thank you for replying to my questions, your answers were extremely helpful. I wondered if, once I’ve written my prologue and first few chapters, I might send them, with a plot summary, your way?


  32. Cindy says:

    Hi Beth,

    Thank you for your post, it has been very helpful for a lot of writers. I would like to introduce my characters before the actual story begins. How should I title this section in the manuscript?

    Also, in terms of dialogue, if I start a new sentence and introduce a new speaker in the middle of the sentence, and the new speaker is the only speaker in the sentence, do I indent the entire sentence?


  33. Arif says:

    Hello Beth, thank you for taking the time to write this article!

    I have two questions in regards to a collection of short stories..

    First off, two of the stories I would like to include I have already put on wordpress. I use the site mainly to share with a small group of very close friends. Will a publisher have a problem with this? They play a very brief but very important part in the overall story.

    Second, one science fiction story is written as an anthropological argument and cites ‘historical’ documents such as religious texts, medical records (charts) and correspondence. The medical records are involved enough to almost require being an illustration. Should I rewrite the appendix to be only text?

    Thank you so much for being here.

    • Arif, some (most?) publishers want first rights, and yes, they might have a problem with material that’s been published somewhere else. Yet if you’re talking a critique group or something similar (a private group), then you shouldn’t have a problem with that material. But you can always check with the publisher.

      I can’t imagine a reason not to include illustrations rather than just text in the (fictional?) appendix if the illustrations would better suit your purpose. But a publisher will have the ultimate say on such details.

      Are you talking just a couple of images? No matter what you decide, you probably don’t want to include too much of anything—will your readers actually look at that information? Always consider the reader’s response.

  34. Aja says:

    I’m not sure if this discussion board is still being checked or cared about, but I’ve found everything you’ve said quite helpful, Beth. That being said, I’m curious how the agent/producer will typically feel about ellipses (…) ie to symbolize hesitation in someones voice or is there a more professional way to go about this one?
    I learned with … but I’m looking to transition from personal project to published piece, if I can. It’s one of the biggest questions I’ve found myself asking, though, over the years.
    If ellipses are acceptable, should spaces usually be included or discluded?
    ie: “I saw a spider…it was scary” vs “I saw a spider… it was scary” or “I saw a spider … it was scary”
    and should it be limited to 3 periods or can there some leeway? they’re usually done in 3s, of course, but is that a rule?
    Anyway, I really appreciate your help if you do respond, fingers crossed.. I look forward to it! :)

    • Aja says:

      This is a perfect example of why we should always proofread before submitting, lol

    • Aja, the ellipsis is a legitimate punctuation mark. Use it when it’s called for to show a thought or dialogue drifting off or to indicate hesitation or even confusion. But don’t use it too often. It does get noticed, and overuse gets noticed even more.

      The ellipsis is always three periods. You may, however, see what looks like a four-point ellipsis, especially in nonfiction. This is actually a period that ends a sentence followed by an ellipsis that indicates that the information that follows that sentence in the quote has been omitted. In fiction you would see this setup in a phone conversation in which you report only one side of the conversation. The speaker’s words end in a period, and an ellipsis follows to stand in for the dialogue of the other person, one who can’t be heard.

      As for the format of an ellipsis, in American English (AmE), the ellipsis begins with a space, there are spaces between each period, and it ends with a space. So we’d write my . . . friend.

      In British English (BrE), the ellipsis begins with a space, there are no spaces between periods, and it ends with a space. So we’d write my … friend.

      For the ellipsis in dialogue that implies another speaker is talking, be sure to put the sentence period flush to the final letter of the last word—there is no space. Then begin the ellipsis.

      In AmE—

      “And that’s when he told me he blackmailed his boss. . . . No, I was too shocked to say anything.”

      In BrE—

      “And that’s when he told me he blackmailed his boss. … No, I was too shocked to say anything.”

      One more formatting tip—

      When the ellipsis is next to a quotation mark (opening or closing), omit the space between the ellipsis and the quotation mark.

      “I just don’t know . . .”

      “I just don’t know …”


      I hope that covers it for you. If not, let me know.

  35. Andrea Watts says:

    Hello, Beth. Thank you so much for this insightful post. My question has to do with submitting the first three chapters to a publisher (not the entire manuscript). How do I format these three chapters, meaning do I need a title page and where should my personal information appear? How about spacing and/or general formatting?

    Thank you.

  36. ejdalise says:

    Ms. Hill:
    You’ve answered nearly all of the questions I had regarding nearly everything to do with submissions. For that, I thank you profusely.

    “Nearly” . . . yup, I have questions about something I’ve not seen in your excellent article nor in the comments (or, if I missed it, my apologies). I’ve searched many, many sources for any information about what I’m about to ask but here I am.

    E-mail submissions occasionally ask for the first X-number of chapters. While I understand single-spaced, left justified, readable font, line spaces for paragraph breaks, and so on, I’ve not found anyone specifically mentioning how one should treat dialogue.

    If I consider characters dialogue as paragraphs, each change of speaker would have me add a line space. Personally, that is my preferred method when I write for my blog, but I understand agents can be a fickle lot (endearingly so), and I would like to not appear as the literary rube that I am.

    So, how does one handle dialogue? I have two short examples:


    “So, you saw an opening for an assistant, did some research and decided to apply. But the ad did not specify the job beyond saying ‘assistant.’ Again, ask away.”
    She eyed me, her expression still a neutral mask.
    “Why is your weapon permit under review?”
    “I shot my last assistant.”

    OR THIS:

    “So, you saw an opening for an assistant, did some research and decided to apply. But the ad did not specify the job beyond saying ‘assistant.’ Again, ask away.”

    She eyed me, her expression still a neutral mask.

    “Why is your weapon permit under review?”

    “I shot my last assistant.”

    ~ ~ ~ o o o ~ ~ ~

    My preference would be the second version because I find it easier to read, but I will defer to your expertise.

    Thank you for any clarification you can provide, ejd.

    • Ejdalise, treat dialogue just as you would any other paragraphs of text.

      If you’re talking about including submission chapters in the body of the e-mail and not as an attachment, single space within paragraphs and add a space between paragraphs. In such a case, your text would look similar to the text in this comment—no indentions at all but extra line spaces between paragraphs. You would also want to change curly quotes to straight quotes (because e-mail programs can do wacky things to quotation marks). This is the exact same way to format your dialogue, so your second option is the way to go under those conditions.

      But make sure the agent or publisher actually wants you to include the text in the e-mail. They may prefer that you send an attachment. If so, the formatting is the more common double spacing with paragraph indents and no extra space between paragraphs. Again, paragraphs of dialogue are formatted exactly the same way as other paragraphs of text.

      Hmm . . . Maybe it’s time to do an article on formatting for e-mail submissions.

      • ejdalise says:

        Thanks for the quick response. Also, for making me feel as if I’m starting to get the hang of this submission thing since I had formatted stuff as you mention.

        As for writing another article, it’s probably a good idea. It’s difficult finding this stuff all in one place. Some people mention one thing, others mention another.

        I plan a blog post once I settle on a query letter (99.99% there) covering all the stuff that had me spend time searching online for answers and examples.

        As for the extra material, some agents ask for it and others don’t. I’m setting up a base format query letter that includes the extra material, and I can always erase it if not requested or if they want an attachment.

        BUT . . . one other tiny little question. No, wait, two tiny questions.

        Chapters . . . I have a line space between the end of one chapter and another line space after the chapter line. For example:
        Her hand shot out, reaching for my throat. I could have blocked it, but I played a hunch and did not move.

        Chapter 2 – Remo

        The hand stopped millimeters from my throat. Raven seemed surprised.

        When I read it in the body of the e-mail, the chapter number blends in . . . should I add an extra line space before the chapter heading? (it seems like the thing to do)

        The next question is the POV designator after the chapter number.

        A few of the comments from the Viable Paradise workshop attendees related to them being momentarily confused whenever I switched POVs. They suggested adding the name of the characters at the chapter heading, so I added the character’s name at the beginning of each chapter to indicate whose POV it was.

        Now, this to me seems just as confusing since it reads almost like the title of the chapter. Any opinion on that subject?

        . . . yes, this is sweating the minutia. All the advice I read about query letters and requested additional material paint agents as looking for any excuse to send the queries they receive into the trash bin unread.

        As a result, I resolved that if I’m ever an agent, I will be extra lenient (within reason) and make decisions based on content, and not formatting. To be fair, a few agents do mention not to sweat the small stuff . . . unfortunately, they are not open to queries.

  37. Anna says:

    Hi Beth,

    You are amazing for answering everyone’s questions for so many years on formatting! I just really want to thank you. And now I want to add two questions of my own. Thank you in advance.

    Question 1: My novel is broken up with “side notes” addressing different items that come up in the text. These side notes range from about 200 to 700 words and occur about 2 – 4 times in each chapter. Each side note has a label (ex. On Serendipity) on the line preceding the body of the side note text. When I was in editing-land I formatted these side notes by centering the label with asterisks on either side of it (ex. * On Serendipity *), then ending each side note with a line with three, centered asterisks (ex. * * *).
    Is this how you would recommend formatting these:
    body of text
    * On Serendipity *
    Body of side note
    back to body of text.

    I should probably stop centering the label and # signs, right? Should I use only number signs in my text- or only asterisks?

    Question 2:
    In the body of the text I have intentionally left three pages blank, with only 3 words at the top of each page. Should I follow each of these single lines on the blank pages with number signs.
    A year passed.

    Or would it be okay for me to leave single sentence alone on an otherwise empty sheet of paper?
    Or, do you think it would be wise for me to forego this entirely until I have locked down a publisher, and only then discuss these creative- almost-empty-pages with them?

    Thank you so much.