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How to Format a Novel Manuscript

Whether you want to self-publish or find a literary agent to represent your work, you will need to know how to format a novel manuscript. Formatting your manuscript in the correct way is a critical component to getting your work read.

Correct formatting will also cut down preparation costs for self-publishing, reduce the amount of time it takes to edit the book, and help with typesetting as well. It always costs more if the formatting of a novel manuscript does not conform to industry standards. This is because your manuscript will be changed to those industry standards and that takes time, which means it costs you money.
Here are the industry standards for formatting that you are going to want to know so that your manuscript meets expectations.

  • Set all of the margins for your document at 3 centimeters. This should apply to all 4 sides of the document.
  • Always align your document to the left-hand side only. The right-hand side of the document should remain jagged. The only exception to this rule is for languages which read right-to-left instead of left-to-right. In that circumstance, the novel manuscript should be aligned to the right-hand side only.
  • You are going to need a title page. It should contain the title of the work, the approximate word count, and your contact details. The font of your title page should be the same as it is for the rest of your document.
  • 12 point Times New Roman font is the accepted standard. Some publishers or manuscript reviewers may also accept Courier, Courier New, or Arial, but this must be specifically stated in their submission guidelines. If no fonts are mentioned in the submission guidelines, then use Times New Roman.
  • Include any copyright details that are related to your novel manuscript on the title page. If you have a representative for your work, such as a literary agent, then this should also be included on the title page.
  • The lines of a novel manuscript should be double-spaced. There should not be any extra spacing between paragraphs.
  • New paragraphs should always be indented. Do not use the “Tab” button on your keyboard to create the indent. Set your indentation to 1.25 centimeters instead. You can do this through the paragraph section formatting on most word processing apps or software.
  • The opening paragraph of a new chapter is never indented.
  • Sections of dialogue where characters are having a conversation should be treated as a new paragraph.
  • Only use a single space between sentences after using a period or other punctuation mark. Double-spacing should not be used within the manuscript within the text lines.
  • Scene breaks should be indicated by either an open line or a hashtag.
  • A novel manuscript should use a header that is formatted to the top right of each page. It should contain a keyword from the title or the title in its entirety if it is only a word or two. The last name of the author(s) and the page number should also be included in the header information. Do not place the header on the title page of the manuscript.
  • New chapters should always be placed on a new page of the manuscript. You will always center the chapter title or number. The title of the new chapter should be placed about one-third of the way down the page. Note the line on your document and then repeat this placement for each chapter. Skip a couple of lines and then begin the next for the new chapter without indenting the first paragraph.
  • Only italicized fonts should be used for emphasis within a novel manuscript. Bold fonts may be used when added specifically into a publisher’s or agent’s submission guidelines. Underlined text is never included in standard novel manuscript formatting.
  • Make sure that the ending of your manuscript is plainly known. You can do this by including a single hashtag, three hashtags, or creating a centered “The End” at the bottom of the last page of the document. This is done so that there is no confusion regarding the actual length of the document.

Be careful about applying global changes to a file when you realize you haven’t written content within these standards. Changes to margins and spacing will alter text placement on each page. You will need to manually adjust page placement and spacing for each chapter and scene break to make sure it conforms to these standards.

If you can follow those bullet points, then you will be able to correctly format your novel manuscript according to current industry standards.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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