Manuscript format: get your novel ready for submission
Aspiring authors often seem to think that manuscript format isn’t that important when they submit their novel to agencies and publishers.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
But surely it’s about how good my story is?
That’s true in the end, but literary agents and publishers are swamped with more manuscripts than they can possibly consider. They get hundreds of unsolicited novel manuscripts every day – so many that they call the mountain of submissions the ‘slush pile’.
Because of this, and because a lot of the novels in the slush pile aren’t very good, they’re often looking for any excuse to move on to the next one. The first and easiest excuse is that the manuscript doesn’t look professional.
So, don’t give the literary agents or the publishers a reason to reject your manuscript without even reading it. Give yourself the best chance by making it tidy, presentable and professional looking by using the proper manuscript format.
This is one time that you don’t want to stand out from the crowd!
Manuscript Format: Paper size, colour and binding
- A4 is the standard size for novel submissions.
- Plain white is the only acceptable colour.
- Almost all literary agents and publishers expect electronic submissions in Microsoft Word format (.doc or .docx).
If you are sending a physical copy you should:
Leave it unbound.
Make sure there are no stains or other marks on the pages.
Print the text on one side of the paper only.
Manuscript Format: Title Page
The title page, should have:
- Your contact details in the top left hand corner
- The name of the novel in the middle of the page
- Below the title, your writing name, i.e. the name you want the novel to be published under.
- Below your writing name, the number of words in the manuscript, rounded to the nearest thousand.
Don’t number the title page. Begin numbering with the first page of the actual novel.
Manuscript Format: Novel Pages
You should lay out the text of the novel itself out using the following rules:
A wide margin is good – 1 inch/2.5 cm on all sides is a reasonable amount. It gives the publisher or literary agent room to make notes.
Use a header on each page. You should place the header on the top right hand side of the page, so the literary agent or publisher can easily find their place in the manuscript.
- Your name.
- The title of your novel.
- The page number.
Separate the parts of the header with slashes, like this: [Your Name] / [Title of Novel] / [Page Number] .
- Start each new chapter on a new page.
- Leave space around the chapter header, two or three lines above and below it is fine.
A scene is a part of the story that all takes place at one time and place.
Whenever the narrative jumps (e.g. in time or place) there should be an indication. In a finished novel, this is often just a couple of blank lines, but in a manuscript you should make a specific marker, so the agent or publisher knows there’s a deliberate jump, not a continuity or formatting error.
The hash symbol ‘#’, an asterisk ‘*’ or a few dashes ‘—‘ are all acceptable markers of a scene break.
Indent all new paragraphs except for the first paragraph of a new scene.
Dialogue for a new speaker goes on a new paragraph.
However, dialogue that’s a continuation of something you were describing the same character doing stays in the same paragraph.
In the UK, dialogue is usually denoted by single quotes. In the USA, double quotes are commonly used.
Double-space the entire text (i.e. leave a blank line between each line of text). This is to enable the literary agent or publisher to insert any notes they want to make.
It’s easy to double space your manuscript in any word processor, but remember to check through afterward to make sure it hasn’t messed up other formatting.
Use a basic font, one that anyone who is reading your novel will have on their computer. Use the same font throughout the manuscript.
- Times New Roman at point size twelve is the default choice, but any plain readable font should be acceptable.
- Monospaced fonts like Courier are acceptable, but not required.
- ‘Fancy’ fonts like Comic Sans, are not acceptable.
- Bold is OK for the name of the novel and the chapter headings.
- Italics are OK in text itself, for emphasis, thoughts etc.
Apart from that keep the text as plain and simple as possible, for example don’t use any of the following to emphasise portions of the text:
- Different font sizes.
- Bold .
- Underlining .
- Colour .
If your novel requires any unusual typography then that’s something you can discuss with your editor after it has been accepted for publication.
Nowadays, most literary agents and publishers have moved to electronic submissions and often copy them onto their Kindles – so any ‘fancy’ formatting may be lost anyway.
The manuscript should always end with a line saying End, so the literary agent or publisher knows that nothing has gone missing from the manuscript.
Manuscript Format Example: A Kill in the Morning
And here’s the opening page, showing what the page header, chapter header, spacing, paragraph indenting and a scene break should look like.
And guess what, the manuscript format was acceptable, which helped to get A Kill in the Morning read, and published by Transworld.
Read the opening of A Kill in the Morning for free by clicking here or on the cover:
Manuscript Formatting Template
Click below to download a template including all the manuscript formatting mentioned above.
I’m done formatting! What’s next?
Good job – you have successfully negotiated the first hurdle towards getting out of the slush pile!
Before you send your perfectly formatted manuscript off to the literary agents or publishers you will also need:
- A covering letter that clearly explains your novel concept and summarises the plot into a short logline.
- A one page novel synopsis.
If you’d like to discuss the ideas in the article, please email me. Otherwise, please feel free to share it using the buttons below.