Manuscript Formatting

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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?

 

8 Comments


  1. // Reply

    This is so important! I always read stories from agents and publishers about rejecting manuscripts because they weren’t formatted to their guidelines.

    Great advice, Mandie!


    1. // Reply

      Thanks, Aka. You’re right, and formatting is a relatively easy way to get a writer one step closer to an acceptance. It’s one thing to have a piece rejected because it wasn’t the right fit for a publication, but it would be disappointing to not even have it reviewed because of something as simple to correct as formatting.


  2. // Reply

    *nods her head* I used to submit poetry to literary journals (not manuscripts to agents and publishers – well, not yet), and the general idea is the same: Make sure you follow the formatting guidelines, or else they won’t read it. It’s also important to pay attention to unique guidelines that are specific to that journal / agent / editor / etc. It’s all part of showing that not only do you want to get your work published, but that you also respect the agent’s or publisher’s time by ensure your work looks professional and is easy to read.


    1. // Reply

      Yes, Sara. I’ve submitted to journals whose guidelines were so specific and apart from any other journals that I know they were using it as an easy way to reject a piece without ever reading it. But honestly, if that’s the price I have to pay to get one step closer than the rest of the people who are submitting, I’ll take that extra care. I don’t want to make rejecting my work easy for anyone.


  3. // Reply

    I have not sent anything yet, but we are struggling with this when doing a joint project… add then punctuation guidelines, how to do quotations…


    1. // Reply

      Oh yes, Björn. To make it even more difficult, if you send it to a publication in a different country, the rules on punctuation and use of quotation marks are different. I wish you the best of luck when you decide to submit something.


    1. // Reply

      Thank you, Abby. Good work entering competitions. Wow. I find writing contests so intimidating. I guess as a writer, you’re always competing for other people’s attention to read your work, but I somehow have this mental block telling me that competitions are a lot scarier. People are going to critique your work whether you’re publishing it in a magazine or sending it into a contest, but my fears usually don’t respond to logic. At least not right away.

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