So you want to be an author. Guess what? Whether you’re publishing on your own or going the traditional route, you’ll need to know how to format a manuscript. For those who are self-publishing, a properly formatted manuscript can cut down on your production costs. It’s easier to read, easier to edit, and much easier to print when a manuscript meets industry standards.
For the author wanting to navigate through the traditional waters of publishing, knowing how to format a manuscript properly is the first step that must be followed. Without proper formatting, there is an almost 0% chance your work will be published. Thousands of manuscripts are reviewed every week. If you haven’t taken the time to format it properly, then it will most likely be rejected without a review.
Some publishers and literary agents do have specific formatting rules they want to have followed that are outside the industry standards. Follow their specifics as outlined if you want your work reviewed by them. Otherwise you can rely on these industry standards.
1. Make sure that the margins for your manuscript are set to 1 inch. If you have the option to set your margins in centimeters, then set your margins at 3cm for best results.
2. Your manuscript must be aligned to the left-hand side of the document. This leaves the right-hand side of the document ragged. This is based on how the written language is read, so non-English languages may need to have a manuscript aligned in the opposite manner.
3. The standard font for a manuscript today is considered to be 12 point Times New Roman. Arial fonts and Courier fonts may also be considered acceptable, though Courier New may have a high chance of rejection.
4. Each line on the manuscript should be formatted with double spacing. There is no extra spacing between paragraphs.
5. Unless you are typing your manuscript on a typewriter, there is only a single space after a punctuation point. This is especially true for the spacing after a period. An actual typewriter needs the extra space after a period for the reader to recognize the end of one sentence and the beginning of another, something computers and word processors don’t need.
6. New paragraphs should be indented, as should each new section or line of dialogue. The only exception to this rule is the very first paragraph of a chapter or if you’ve included a scene break within a chapter. Word processing software allows you to automatically indent to a specific amount, so don’t use the Tab button – otherwise you’ll create left-hand inconsistencies in formatting. The indent should be set to either 0.5 inches or 1.25 centimeters.
7. Do not use the * symbol to indicate scene breaks. The hashtag symbol # is considered to be the scene break indication. You can place 1-3 hashtags that are centered on a blank line to communicate the break properly.
8. Use a keyword from your title as part of a header that appears on the top right of each page. Your last name should also be included with the header and the page number should also be displayed there instead of at the bottom of the page. A good header would look like this: Last Name – Title Keyword – Page Number.
9. Each new chapter should begin on a new page. The title of the chapter should always be centered, even if all you’re doing is numbering your chapters. Place the beginning of the chapter about one-third of the way down the page. Then skip a couple of lines and begin the text for the new paragraph.
10. The ending of your manuscript should also be clearly indicated. Centering a hashtag is an effective way to do this. You can also center something that says “The End” at the bottom of the page. This makes sure the reader of the manuscript understands that there isn’t another chapter that has become dislodged from the manuscript if it has been printed out.
11. Do not use underlined font as a point of emphasis. Italics or quotation marks are used for titles and any words that are not in the primary language of the manuscript should be italicized.
As a final step, you’ll also need to include a title page that is properly formatted. This will include the name of the work, the word count, your contact details, and any copyright information. This is how to format a manuscript properly – and remember to keep a copy for yourself as you distribute your work.