Proper Manuscript Format

Posted: October 29, 2014 in Writing
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Before I start sending out query letters to those agents I’ve carefully researched, selected and spreadsheeted, I need to get my actual manuscript spiffed up and ready to send out a moment’s notice. Because when those requests for the full manuscript start pouring in I do not want to be caught cramming.

I still have not received all of the Beta Reader responses I am expecting, so I am waiting to make any changes to my story they call for. However one especially thoughtful Beta Reader (Thank you, Sandra!) went waaaaay above and beyond, and actually gave me about 20 pages of grammar and punctuation notes. And I am so very grateful, because I would have had to pay quite a lot of money to a professional editor to do that for me.

However, in my noobie brilliance, I provided my manuscript to my Beta Readers in a non-standard format so that it would be a) easier to read, and b) take way fewer pages to print it out. Then I slapped on a placeholder cover, some questions for my Betas and a table of contents, and converted the whole thing to a PDF for easy distribution. The thing is, all of Sandra’s beautiful notes are page-specific – that is page specific to the PDF. So it is much easier for me to make those corrections before I convert it to proper manuscript format, and completely change all of the page numbers forever.

But what, precisely, is “proper manuscript format”? Opinions vary. And that concerns me, because it shouldn’t be based on an opinion. I think it stems from the very real fact that different agents and publishers have different standards, or at least offer different definitions. After a lot of researching I have finally settled on the following definition (reprinted from The Editor’s Blog;


font:  Twelve point, Times New Roman (or Courier New, if you insist), black

margins:  One-inch marginson 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 byor 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.

sub-genre:  For some genres, including romance and sci-fi, you can include the sub-genre, such as suspense or Regency. Include this information either above or below the word count.

So this means I’m going to have to remove a lot of spaces, both character spaces and line spaces. I lay out magazines professionally for a living, and so I am formatting text for easy reading in a printed publication, often according to the particular style of the given publication. These are trade publications, with articles that are usually only of interest to members of a certain field or niche, such as defense lawyers, or dry cleaners, or ambulance drivers. To anyone else, in-depth articles about the fine points of new law, for example, would be quite dry. Sometimes these articles are very long a wordy. To make these long articles more readable, I always use two spaces between sentences and an extra space between every paragraph. And don’t indent paragraphs, since they are already visually separated. This is pretty standard for many magazines.

When I wrote my novel and prepared the manuscript for my Beta Readers, I naturally used these same methods. Now I’m going to have to find and remove all of the extra spaces and add indents. I’m hoping I can accomplish most of this using Find and Replace.

Now, I just have to finish fixing all of the mistakes Sandra pointed out. Then it’s off to Proper Manuscript Format Land!


  1. That’s super helpful to me, thanks. Good luck.


  2. John, Thanks! I appreciate your post. Good luck with the “Find and Replace.” I learned the hard way to always backup another copy before using “Find and Replace”.



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