Wednesday, August 6

Writing Basics: Formatting Your Manuscript for Submission

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Submitting a manuscript to an agent or editor can be a terrifying experience. We worry about every little detail we might have missed and if that slip up will get us rejected.

Courier or Times Roman? 10 or 12 point? Double or single spaced?

Don't fret. As long as your manuscript is readable and follows some very simple guides, you'll be fine. (Well, your story still has to wow, but that's a whole other article)

Basic manuscript formatting is:
  • 12 point font (type style), Times Roman or Courier
  • Flush left
  • Double spaced
  • One-inch margins all around
  • Half-inch paragraph indents
  • No spaces between paragraphs
  • Chapters start halfway down the page
  • Chapter header in all caps, centered, text starts two lines below that
  • Scene breaks are denoted by a graphic like *** or ## or even a blank line
  • Italics can be denotes by underlines or by using italics

But what if you used Palatino instead of Times Roman? Don't worry about it. Both are still readable serif fonts. (Serif means a font with those little tails at the ends like Times Roman. A san serif font is one that's blocky, like Arial) The goal of any manuscript (besides being really good) is to be readable. As long as the pages are professional looking and easy to read, no one will care if they're a little different from the standard.

In the same spirit, a .25 indent instead of a .5 isn't going to get you a rejection.
However, using 8 point type probably will, because it's too tiny to easily read the pages.  

Making it 16 point type is just as bad, as this can strain the eyes too.

Starting your chapters two-thirds down--no problem.

Single spacing vs double--problem, because that makes it hard to read. (See the trend?)

It's also a good idea to look for any guidelines posted for that particular agency or publishing house. People do have preferences and you should always follow whatever guidelines they specify.

What matters most is making your manuscript easy to read. Remember, if agents and editors can't read it, they can't fall in love with it.

Any formatting questions? 

Looking for tips on planning and writing your novel? Check out my book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. It's also a great guide for revisions! 

Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.

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  1. thanks. Just shared this with my writing students!

  2. The basics for a submission is extremely helpful info. :-)

  3. I wish I'd read this two weeks ago. Ha. But I'm definitely keeping this for future reference.


  4. Tweeting these basics! Thanks, Janice