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Standard Manuscript Format


Manuscript Preparation


In submitting your work, nothing is more important than the story itself. But editors and agents also pay attention to the presentation. Editors and agents have seen it all--manuscripts sprinkled with silver fairy glitter, manuscripts handwritten in purple magic marker, manuscripts with the "bloody" scenes printed on red paper. More commonly, writers print their work out in tiny fonts to save paper, or single space, or use printers that produce poor-quality, blurred, or faint text.

The quality of the presentation reflects your professionalism as a writer. If the manuscript is formatted according to standard publishing practice and printed out well, editors and agents will take this as a sign that you know what you're doing. They will begin reading your work with the belief that it may possibly be good. If the manuscript is not formatted correctly, editors and agents will assume you are an amateur. They'll begin reading with the belief that your manuscript probably isn't worth their time, and they'll be looking for a reason to reject the manuscript as quickly as possible.

Below are the guidelines widely used by publishing professionals. These guidelines generate manuscripts that leave sufficient room for editing and are easy on an editor's or agent's tired eyes.

Manuscript Formatting Guidelines


 1. Use white paper, plain and simple. Photocopy-type paper is preferable to fancy bond.

 2. Use standard 1" to 1.25" margins all around.

 3. Put your name and address (and e-mail and phone, if you feel comfortable doing so) in the upper left corner, single spaced.

 4. Put estimated word count in upper right corner, rounded off to the nearest hundred words.

 5. About halfway down the first page, put your title, centered, and one double space below it, "by [your name]." Do not do anything fancy with the title, like put it in larger or different type, capitalize the whole thing, underline it, put in quotations, bold, or anything else. Do the same with your name. (If you use a pseudonym, the pseudonym goes on the line below the title. Your real name goes in the upper left corner.)

 6. Make sure your printer produces a clean, dark copy.

 7. Use only black ink.

 8. Double space your text, and print only on one side of each page.

 9. The first line of a story is not indented. The beginning of each paragraph after that should be indented, approximately 5 spaces.

10. In the top right corner of each page after the first page, put your last name, a slash, and the page number. Don't do anything too fancy or long, because it will distract the editor each time she turns to a new page.

11. If you have a scene break, hit return 4 times at the end of the scene. This will create 3 double-spaced blank lines. On the second blank line, center a pound sign (#). Leave the first and third blank lines blank. The first line of a new scene is not indented.

12. Use type of a reasonable size. Editors read a lot and don't want eyestrain. Ten characters per inch is the preferable size. This translates to a "font size" of twelve on your computer for Courier New, the recommended font.

13. Use a simple serif typeface, the best being Courier. Serifs are the little lines that extend from a letter. For example, the letter i has a horizontal serif at its base and another at the top. Typefaces without serifs--called sans serif--are disliked by editors because they don't leave enough room between the letters for corrections--like this. Do not use fancy typefaces under any circumstances.

14. Use a typeface in which each letter takes the same amount of space (mono-spaced). Do not use a proportional-spaced typeface, such as Times Roman.

15. Use the old-fashioned method of indicating italics by underlining. Do not use italics.

16. Do not justify your right margin.

17. Do not break words with hyphens at the ends of lines.

18. Do not handwrite any corrections into your manuscript. Print out a corrected version instead.

19. Paperclip the sheets together. If you send your story out, make sure you keep a hard copy, a copy saved on your hard drive, and a copy on a disk or memory stick.

20. A good indication that your margins and typeface are about right is that your manuscript has approximately 250 words per page.

21. Don't get tied up in knots over this. You should be spending time on your story, not the formatting. Just be simple and reasonable, leave out the purple magic marker and the red paper, and you should be okay.

Thanks for dropping by!...

Except where noted, Content © 1996 - 2019 Jeanne Cavelos
< jcavelos@odysseyworkshop.org >
Updated Nov 15, 2005
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