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A Professional Manuscript Format

Manuscript format is important, but not complicated. You don't want editors to think you're so inexperienced or lazy that you can't even format correctly. On the other hand, you don't have to be a perfectionist. There is no one single way to format a manuscript, only common conventions that will provide a professional appearance.

If one source suggests that you place the block of personal information at the top of the page, and another tells you to place it in the middle, don't panic. Just follow the advice below and your manuscript format will be as near perfect as anyone will require.

Manuscript Format: The Basics

  • Paper:Use good quality, 20-lb. white 8.5 x 11 copy paper. Cheap paper tears easily and ink can blur on it.
  • Margins: Set your margins to 1.5 inches. (If an editor likes your story, he or she will want to make notes on it and possibly edit it. This requires space around the text. Your manuscript format needs to provide that space.)
  • Font: Use a plain 12 pt. font with serifs. Courier or Courier New are the standard monospace fonts, in which each letter takes up the same amount of space. This used to be important when works were typeset and produced about 250 words per page. These days, most editors don't require that you use a monospace font.

    It has become standard to use variable width fonts, but they must be easy on the eye with serifs (short lines on the ends of some strokes). Use sans-serif fonts for online text, but serif fonts for work that will be printed. Cambria and Times New Roman are good serif fonts.

  • Spacing: Double space the body of your text, but single space the personal information blocks. (More on this later)
  • Words to the page: Aim for around 300 words/page. Do not try to cram as many words on a page as possible. The idea is that you make your text as easy as possible for an editor to read and mark up
  • Indentation:Except for the first paragraph of each scene or chapter, indent paragraphs 3-5 spaces, and no more than a half inch. In general, editors prefer indented paragraphs to leaving a space between paragraphs, and you never need both.
  • Headers:Beginning on the second page, include a header that includes your last name, a shortened form of your title, and the page number. (Luke/Madame Zee/ 1)

    Locate the header in the upper right corner, where it is easily visible and will not be hidden if the editor decides to staple or paperclip your pages.

Manuscript Format: Cover Page

Use a cover page for a novel or novella but never for a short story. Again, while a good manuscript format requires certain information, there is no single right way to organize it. Your main concern is that the information is complete and organized professionally.

  • Title: Center the title just above the middle of the page, leave two single spaced lines and add your byline (by Good Writer). Leave two more lines and add the word count, rounded to the nearest 100.
  • Personal information: If unagented, place your name, address, telephone number and email address in a single spaced block in the bottom left corner of the page.

    If agented, replace your information with your agent's name, address, telephone number and email address in a single spaced block in the bottom left corner of the page.

  • Chapters: Begin each new chapter on a new page. Center the chapter in bold on the first line. Leave a couple of double spaces and begin the new chapter at the left margin. Indent the second and all subsequent paragraphs until you reach the end of a scene or chapter.
  • Scene breaks: After each scene, leave two spaces in which you center the pound symbol (#), then begin the next scene at the left margin. Indent the next paragraph after the first.

Manuscript Format: Short Stories

  • Personal information: Single space personal information (your name, address, telephone number and email address) at the top of the first page in a single spaced block.
  • Word count Place the word count (rounded to the nearest 10 or 50 depending on length) in the upper right corner, across from your name. For example, your ms. might be 370 words or 1050 words.
  • Title: Place your title just above the middle of the page, leave two lines and add your byline.

See Related Articles:

Format Novel Synopsis

Writing a Novel Synopsis

Getting Published

Publish Short Stories and Other Fiction

How to Publish a Book

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