Wednesday, August 6

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, writing, or revising your novel? Check out one of my books on writing:  Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in my Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).


A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, 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, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  

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8 comments:

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

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

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

    Thanks!

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  4. Tweeting these basics! Thanks, Janice

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