Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How to Format a Manuscript for a Publisher

There is only one way to format a hardcopy manuscript to be read by a publisher. Of course, many publishers prefer electronic these days, but when you send that file, this is also the way it should be formatted when the editor opens it. Don't get cute, don't be artistic, don't try to gain attention by using purple crayon or purple colored font. What you'll do is give that particular publisher an easy excuse for rejecting you. What we see is not the artisic endeavor, what we see is someone who is just beginning, or someone who doesn't care about the rules.

  • White paper. No colored paper or electronic files with colored backgrounds.
  • Single-sided. (Obviously this applies to hard copies.) Editors don't expect to look at the back of a page.
  • Standard font: Courier, 12 point, is the standard font to use in manuscript format. This size is easy to read and makes all the letters take up the same amount of space on a line, so word counts are easy. Don't change fonts or sizes anywhere. (check with the publisher on this one, because many of us are using Georgia. It takes up the same amount of space, but is darker and more open, making it even easier to read)
  • Double space your manuscript, but Do Not put any extra space between paragraphs. Again, it's easy to read and leaves room for editing marks. (Those extra spaces between paragraphs are so annoying they will not leave a good impression with your editor.)
  • Only one space between words or sentences. (Traditionally, typists put an extra space after periods and colons, but this has been abandoned by publishers as a waste of space and paper.)
  • 1 to 1 1/4-inch margins top, bottom, left, and right. You want a maximum of 60 characters per line (10 words) and 25 lines per page to get an average of 250 words per page.
  • Ragged, not justified alignment. Word processors can do justified alignment, whereby all the lines end flush with the right-hand margin, but don't do it. It changes the spacing between words in a way that is distracting.
  • Include a header on every page except the title page. The header should put the page number in the upper right hand corner. This makes it easy to tell, when flipping through the manuscript, if a page has gone missing. Left of the page number, put your name and the title of your book, or a shortened version of each (for example “Dickens/Two Cities 25”). If a page gets separated from your manuscript and mixed up with other papers, this information will help someone put it back in place.
  • Title page. The title page will have the book's title centered, half-way down the page. Underneath that, also centred, put “By” followed by the author's name. In either the top left or bottom right corner, provide your contact details: name, address, phone number, email address. On the opposite side of the page, put your estimated word count.
  • No bold, italics, or any other font effects. You can underline foreign words, titles, and things you want to emphasize, just as you would if you were using a typewriter (publishers will convert underlining to italics). Black is the only acceptable font color.
  • Don't add hyphens to break up words at the end of a line. Most people wouldn't think to do this unless they had trained as a typist. But just in case you did, don't. The line divisions will change in the printed book, which means someone will have to go through the manuscript and remove many of the hyphens you add. So just leave them out.
  • Start the first chapter 6 double-spaced lines down from the top of the next page. Center the chapter title or use “Chapter 1” if you don't want chapter titles. Then hit return twice to leave extra space before the story starts. Start every chapter on a new page, with a similar title.
  • Put “End” at the bottom of the last page, so the editor knows for certain it is the last page and nothing's gone missing.
  • Do not bind or staple your pages together, or include a cover. Editors want the pages to lie flat. They don't want to hold the manuscript open. Just stack the pages in order and pack them into a box. Or if they are requesting an electroinic submission, use this formatting, and do not use some exotic program for sending it. Most editors want a simple Word attachment. Do not password protect it, do not use read only. Everyone has virus protection to let them know whether a file is safe, so an attachment is fine.
Hope you learned something today! I certainly did.


  1. Thanks, Louella. I collect these and pass them around to help others stay more aware of what is wanted, these days. I am sure it makes it much easier for you when submissions follow a format.

  2. Thank you for sharing. I have been looking for something like this. I have a lot of stories but always afraid to go any further than just write them down. I have one fictional book, maybe it's historical fiction, that I want to submit but I am still researching the how to's and where's....This information will help me to put my work into something that maybe...someone might want to read.