Whether you’re submitting to agents or working with a freelance editor, you’ll want to make sure your manuscript looks professional. An agent is more likely to read your work if you present a polished, professional manuscript to industry standards. One of the easiest ways to do this is to learn how to format your manuscript.
When you’re writing a draft, you can go wild with fonts and colours. But if you submit your manuscript like that, you risk appearing amateurish and losing out. Agents get so many submissions that they’ll reject one if there are any warning signs the author hasn’t followed guidelines.
So, how should you go about formatting your manuscript?
How to format your manuscript to industry standards
The examples and screenshots below were done using Word for Mac, because that’s what I use, but there are equivalent settings on Windows. They don’t differ too much.
Standard formatting for your text
Use a standard font: size 12, Times New Roman, in black. Times New Roman is a font that’s likely to be on every computer, so you risk less issues on the other end.
Double line spacing. This makes your manuscript both easier to read and easier to edit. Simply select all your text and go to Format > Paragraph and set the Line Spacing to Double, as shown in the image below.
Indent your paragraphs. It’s standard to indent paragraphs – and I don’t mean with the tab or space bar (causing nightmares for editors all around the world). You should use paragraph settings to do this. Simply select your text and go to Format > Paragraph. Under Indentation, set the First Line settings to 1.27cm, as shown below. There is a caveat here: the first paragraph of a new chapter, or a new scene, isn’t indented, so you’ll have to remove those indents manually afterwards.
Scene breaks are traditionally marked with a centred hash sign (#) or asterisk (*). This signals to the typesetter where a scene break should go, so it saves some time and effort further down the publishing pipeline.
Single spaces after periods and between words. It’s old-fashioned (think the days of typewriters) to use two spaces, and no longer standard. It can cause a lot of frustration if you submit a manuscript filled with double spaces between words. You can use your word processor’s Find and Replace function to find two spaces and replace them with one.
Use page breaks after chapter endings. Don’t use the space bar! Click at the end of your chapter and go to Insert > Break > Page Break, and continue from there.
Margins. Make sure these are equal. One inch all around is a good rule of thumb. Usually, margins are equal as standard in a document, so you shouldn’t have an issue if you don’t fiddle with them.
Alignment. Make sure your manuscript is aligned to the left (chapter headings and scene break markers are fine to be centred).
Add a header including your last name, the book title, and page numbers. To do this, go to Insert > Header and choose a blank one. Type your last name and book title (make sure you’re still using size 12 Times New Roman). To add page numbers, go to Insert > Page Number. You don’t want your header to be included on the cover page we’ll create later, so tick Different First Page. This might mean your first page starts with a number 2 instead of 1, and we don’t want that! Go to Page Number > Format Page Numbers, and in the “Start at” box, type 0:
Write THE END at the end of the manuscript. This helps the person reading know that all the material is there.
Choose your file name carefully. Make sure it’s professional and includes the book title and your author name. Including the date can help, too.
Adding a cover page
You’ll also want to include a cover page with details about you and your manuscript.
- Your contact details should be in the top-left corner, in the header. If you’re submitting to publishers, place your agent’s details in the top-left instead, and your contact details in the footer.
- The title of the book, your name and pen name, and your approximate word count should be included in the middle of the page.
Here is what it should look like:
That’s it! If you follow these steps, your manuscript will be professionally presented and ready for submission. But don’t worry – if you aren’t particularly tech savvy, I’ve included a free template below that you can download and tweak!