How to Format your Manuscript

No one will shoot you down if you don't format your MS exactly like this. Variations are acceptable. The point is readability and the presence of white space and the ability to tell who wrote the story. These days, almost all submissions are handled electronically. You may never have to print out your MS to send of to an agent or editor. But your MS still needs the correct formatting, even on the screen.

Appearances Matter.

According to Carolyn's 8th Rule of writing, you must correctly format your manuscript before you send it off to an agent, editor or contest. Lucky me, if you don't get why this is so, you're not reading this page. OK, OK, here's why. Incorrect format says you're an amateur and no one wants to read amateurish work. Or pay for it, either. The other potential problem is that you might send an MS that is going to make the editor or agent go blind. The goal: easy on the eyes.

Ancillary goal: To make it easy for the production department to port your electronic file into their publishing programs. A standard format really helps.

So, a manuscript, which, fyi, you will often see abbreviated as MS (singular) or MSS (plural) should be formatted thus:


Set margins of 1 inch on all sides, top, bottom, left and right.


All text should be left justified. This means if you're using a word processor, do NOT select full justification. Why? Because it makes the page hard to read.


Double space your story, but see below, just in case. Don't double space the header or the contact information (see infra).

25 Lines Per Page

You should shoot for 25 lines of text per page (excluding the headers). If you use a proportional font like Times New Roman (ick!) you may have to adjust the spacing to something other than 2 in order to achieve this count. Why? Because word processors don't properly account for the different line height needs of proportional fonts. Some such fonts will be more readable at something less than double spacing anyway so try 1.9 first and move closer until you hit 25 lines of text per page. Let kindness be your guide. You want the agent or editor to be your friend. That won't happen if your text is too close together.


Begin each paragraph with a tab equal (more or less) to 5 spaces. Do not put an extra line between paragraphs. Just set your line spacing to 2 and forget about it. Oh, and turn off that pesky widows and orphans stuff, too. If you have a chapter that ends with just one word on one page, surely there's some word somewhere you can cut to fix it...


Courier or Courier New is safe but boring. Use a font size of 12. For the last several years I've been using Bookman Old Style. When I switched to Mac, I started using Palatino. No editor has ever told me not to.

You will not go wrong with Courier. If you have a computer you almost certainly have a Courier font. If you don't, select another monospaced serif font. If you're daring, try a pretty proportional font such as Bookman Old Style. It's quite readable. I've heard Times New Roman is OK, but personally, I think it's not readable. Even at a font size of 12, TNR is smaller and harder to read. But read above about line spacing with a proportional font.

Font: Italics and Underlining

Go ahead and italics if you want to. If you're old fashioned, you can underline what would otherwise be italicized in your MS. Back in the days when I was doing this, I preferred not to underline spaces and tabs, it looked neater (and part of the point is readability!) But now I just use italics.

Special Formatting

If your MS includes, say, a letter one character writes to another, or a character's journal entry, double indent the entire passage (left and right, equal to two tabs or about 10 spaces) and double space.


The header should appear on every page of your MS (except Page 1, see below) and should look as below with the page number (this means the number only) at far right top of the page. If your title is long, use a short(er) title

Your Last Name/Your Title - Chapter [#] [Page #]

On the first page of each chapter only, omit "Chapter [#]" thus:

Your Last Name/Your Title [Page #]

The first page of each chapter (except chapter 1) should begin with a centered CHAPTER [#] beginning at about 3.5 inches from the top of the page. Follow that with an extra line (total of 4 lines)

start 1 inch from top
Your Last Name/Title
[Page #]

Pretend this space equals about 3.5 inches from the top


Page 1

For submissions to agents and editors

In the upper right corner (starting at 1 inch from top) single spaced: Your Full Name
Your Address
Your Phone Number(s)
Approximate word count (eg., 100,000 words)

At about 4.5 inches from top, double space and center the following:

At about 6.5 inches from top, center the following:
then double space and begin your text. Do not number this page and do not start the header on this page. If you're going to use a cover sheet, then include only up to the title and name stuff, start a new page for Chapter 1 (or your prologue) and format as for the first page of any other chapter.

  v About 1 inch

Your Last Name
Your Address
Your Phone Number(s)
Approximate Word Count

Start Title about 4.5 inches from top




Chapter about 6.5 inches from top


     Your story starts here. And keeps getting better and better and better and better and better and better and better and better and better and better and better and better
Keep going until 1 inch from bottom...

For submissions to contests

Read the rules, of course, but generally you omit all personally identifying information from the header and the first page.

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