Whether submitting to literary magazines, agents, or publishers, one of the most important things to address before submitting is the formatting.
The first rule for manuscript formatting is that you need to read the guidelines for the place you’ll be submitting your piece. These guidelines will supersede any other formatting guidelines that I, or anyone else can give you. But there are some general formatting tips that will get you headed in the right direction.
Here are a few quick general formatting rules:
- Font: Times New Roman or Courier
- Font Size: 12 (including Title)
- Font Color: Black
- Line Spacing: Double
- Margins: 1 inch
- Indents: 1/2 inch
- Number of spaces after a period: 1
Sometimes we get it in our heads that we want our piece to stand out and make an impression. The difference with a manuscript is that you want your writing to make an impression, not the formatting.
At the top of your document you’ll place your name, address, phone number, email address, and approximate word count. Like this: ( In the examples below, I have all of my formatting symbols showing, so you can see the paragraph breaks, tabs, spaces, etc.)
The next thing to work on is the header. This will contain your last name, one or two words from the title, and the page number. Keep in mind that the font should match the rest of your manuscript. It will look something like this:
These tips will make your manuscript look professional, and keep it from getting rejected before it’s even reviewed. And yes, manuscripts get rejected all the time for simple things like not following a publication’s guidelines or having wonky formatting.
As a little extra, I found a fantastic paper on manuscript formatting for short stories by William Shunn, and this paper is referred to in more than one literary magazine as the place to start with formatting. While specifically addressing formatting for short stories, most of these rules are applicable for novel manuscripts as well.
Are there things that you struggle with when formatting your manuscripts? What are you biggest frustrations? Are there any tips or tricks you’ve learned about manuscript formatting that might be helpful to other writers?