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A Quick Guide to Manuscript Formatting

Thea is an Editorial Intern for a US-based literary agency, and loves sharing insight from literary agents and seasoned writers.

a-quick-guide-to-manuscript-formatting

Reasons to Format Your Manuscript Correctly

I have promised to keep this quick, so I'll cut right to the chase.

Though there is a little variation in specifics, manuscripts must be formatted in order to be polished and pitched.

You can write in whatever font you want. (Humorously, some writers swear that Comic Sans MS cures writer's block! Though if I tried it, I might be too repulsed by it to write anything at all). You can write in whatever size you want. (Squinting at your screen causes wrinkles, after all). Writing is your game, your world.

But. . .

When it comes time to query that manuscript, the font, size, and more, need to be formatted and polished. They must meet the expected standards of the industry. In the submissions I've read through, several had major deviations from the standard formatting of manuscripts. I am always quick to point this out to those above me. I feel that manuscripts should be truly polished (thoroughly proofread and formatted) before submission.

The reasons for doing this are many. To name a few:

  • Your writing has to be the star of the show. Not formatting can clutter and overwhelm the agent reading your work because instead of focusing on your amazing hook, their mental alarms are going off at every missed indentation, wrong font style, or lack of page breaks. Formatting it to fit the standard helps them not focus on these errors and instead dive right into your work. A formatted manuscript is like a blank slate where agents and interns can dive in and read without nitpicky errors that may annoy.
  • Trying to be different or cute might be a turn-off to some. If you've purposefully not followed standard expectations for your manuscript, deviating toward things that seem original or cute to you, this may be perceived by the person evaluating the manuscript to have been a prideful pursuit aimed at making you stand out. While some may not care, others would not like so much ego. Indeed, some would reject works that are not formatted flat out.
  • Editing costs time and money. If you're not willing to put in the time beforehand to format your manuscript, editors/agents/interns might be scared off by this because that means you either don't know how and they'll have to teach you, or you haven't tried and it'll have to be done later. Editors are paid, and editing takes hours upon hours. It is respectful of others' time to do as much as you can before. No books are printed without formatting, so go ahead and do it before you query.
a-quick-guide-to-manuscript-formatting

How to Format a Manuscript for Submission

Regardless of how you have written, you can easily format your text. If I were you, I'd follow these suggestions below. This is how I format my novels. Keep in mind when I say CTRL+A it means pressing the control and the letter A key at the same time, which will highlight all your text.

Font

CTRL+A and while selected, choose black as your color. (You'd be surprised how many dark gray portions sneak in through copy and pasting things from email or otherwise). Then select TIMES NEW ROMAN style font and size twelve. Then go to lines and spacing and select DOUBLE. You should now have a font that is black, in Times font, size 12, and double-spaced. It already looks more like a novel, doesn't it? You can click to unselect the text.

Spacing

Go to the File tab, then Page Setup and select 1 inch margins all around.

Indentation

When to indent: EVERY new paragraph or sentence that starts on a new line. Even if it's just one word on that line, still indent.

When NOT to indent: The first line of the chapter, or the first line after a section break (see below).

Section Breaks

Use a # symbol in the center alignment of the page to create a section break. Do this whenever you feel that the scene changes, or if you're giving multiple POVs, show this by breaking the section. Later it might be published with asterisks or swoopy swirls, but for now use the # symbol. Do not indent the first line after the #. Indent normally after the first line.

Page Breaks

Start a new chapter on a fresh, new page. When you finish the old chapter, right after the last word, go to insert, and then select page break. It will pop you onto the next page.

Read More From Owlcation

As I read manuscripts, I like the one or two seconds I have to let the plot sink in as I scroll down to the next chapter. I am old-school and recommend pressing the space bar six or eight times down the page to start the new chapter in the middle of the page as well. I don't prefer chapters started at the top of the page.

Double click on the very top of your document and add a header that includes your last name and the title of the work in capital letters. Also include a page number. It doesn't matter if the title page has a page number or starts at zero or omits. In my opinion, the title page is the one with the most flexibility as far as formatting goes. It is more an information page than anything else.

Title Page

In the center of the page about halfway down include your working title in all caps.

Below that put By: (Author Name)

Below that include the approximate word count.

In the bottom right-hand corner, put your contact information including cell phone and e-mail address.

At the very bottom center, you can use a copyright symbol with your name.


This turns out to look something like this in the center of the page:

MONKEY BUSINESS

By: Audrey Lancho

Approximately 70,000 words


And on the bottom right:

Audrey Lancho

123 Banana Lane

Monkeyland, TN 20202

555-555-5555

BananaGirl@email.com


Again, with the title page, I frequently see variations.


So there you have it: how to quickly and easily ready your manuscript for agent submission. Can you spot evidence of having followed all these suggestions (except the title page ones) in the example picture provided?

I also recommend a thorough proof-reading before querying, as well as getting more eyes on your text in the form of beta-readers. Being open to constructive criticism is a good thing, and the road to published authorship is not a solo endeavor. It takes many friends to make the dream come true.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Thea Tsayt

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