How to Format a Manuscript

Whether authors are submitting their manuscripts to traditional publishers, or self-publishing their books and submitting a document to a book design person, certain standards should be maintained if authors want to be taken seriously by publishers or keep their book design person from being frustrated with them.

In the old days of the twentieth century, writers submitted their manuscripts on paper and they prepared those manuscripts on typewriters. Today, many publishers will still take paper manuscripts for consideration, but most will want a word processing document submitted when an agreement is made to publish the book. Previously, publishing houses had typists who would retype manuscripts for them, but no one wants to waste time and money doing that today.

Unfortunately, many authors are still stuck in typewriter mode and consequently make mistakes formatting their manuscripts. Here are a few points for formatting your manuscript for submission to potential publishers or to submit to the person designing your book. While there are no hard rules for manuscript formatting—some variance is permissible and different publishers may have different preferences—if you abide by these basic guidelines, you will appear professional and have a manuscript that will not require a great deal of extra work to format into a book.

Title Page

In the upper left hand corner of the title page, include all your pertinent information: name, contact information, word count of manuscript, and copyright. The word count can be found on most word processing programs by going to Tools and then Word Count. If you can’t find it, use the Help option in the program. As for the copyright, it is not necessary at this point to copyright the book—you are simply stating you are aware of your rights to the publisher. Your format would look like this:

Hope Whitman

1222 Pineapple Street

Hollywood, CA 89983

(616) 228-1443 home

(616) 482-9430 work

89,557 words

Copyright 2010

Then a third of the way down the page, center your book title and below that your name.

My Novel


Hope Whitman


The header should include your name, your book title in italics, and the page number. Do not manually type the page number on each page—your program should be able automatically to insert the page numbers for you. Again, go to the Help button for instructions on how to insert the page number (as well as a Header) if necessary.

The header’s information should be aligned with the right margin, so it would look like this:

Whitman/My Novel – 89

Line Spacing

Double space your manuscript throughout. If you don’t know how to double space, go to Help in your word processing program, or get help from a live person. Whatever you do, don’t decide to double space by hitting the Return key at the end of each line. I’ve seen that happen too many times, and it is not only a waste of your time, but a nightmare for the layout person to remove all the Returns later. Being professional requires basic computer skills. If you don’t have them, take a class or ask someone else to format your manuscript for you.

Punctuation Spacing

Far too often, I hear authors tell me, in regards to some punctuation rule, “That’s how my third-grade teacher taught me to do it.” Guess what? Your third-grade teacher was probably right back in 1972, but punctuation rules have changed. If you’re not sure about something, get a copy of the most recent (15th) edition of “The Chicago Manual of Style” and it will answer all your dilemmas about whether periods go inside or outside quotation marks (they used to go outside, but now they go inside) and whether to write out numbers over ten or only over one hundred (one hundred is correct).

In addition, make sure you only have one space after a period, semicolon, exclamation point, etc. In typewriter days, two spaces was standard, but now one space is preferred. If your manuscript already has two spaces in it, don’t worry. You don’t have to go through the entire book to remove each individual space. Use the Find and Replace option. In the Find field, type in a period and then two blank spaces (.  ), under Replace type in a period and one blank space (. ) and then select Replace All and voila! You now have just one space after your periods. Repeat the process for question marks, colons, etc. and in just a minute or two, your punctuation spacing will be perfect.

Titles, Styles, and Fonts

Authors are not book designers. Far too many authors try to make their manuscripts look pretty by using 24-point Algerian for the book title, 16-point Aristocrat for the parts titles, 14-point Baskerville for chapter titles, 12-point Bodoni for subtitles and so on. All you’re doing is creating a logistics mess. Your entire manuscript should be in Times New Roman 12-point. Using Bold is sufficient for your part and chapter titles, and subtitles. Fancy fonts will only turn off publishers, and those fonts will be erased anyway when the book is laid out, so rather than wasting your time decorating your manuscript, focus on the writing itself.

Follow the Publisher or Layout Person’s Guidelines

In general, format your manuscript following the above standard guidelines, striving for simplicity and clarity. However, if you are self-publishing, you may want to ask your layout person if he or she has any preferences for how you format the manuscript. If you are submitting to a publisher, you want to follow proper formatting guidelines rather than asking questions because you do not want to look like an amateur, yet it does not hurt to look at the publisher’s website to see if it contains any specific formatting guidelines to follow. Also, make sure you follow instructions regarding whether the publisher wants you to submit just a query letter, a book proposal, or a complete manuscript, and whether the publisher prefers paper or you can submit the manuscript electronically.

A properly formatted manuscript will not guarantee you a published book, but it will show that you are professional, which might get you past the gatekeepers of a publishing company so your words are actually read and considered for publication. And if you are self-publishing your book, a properly formatted manuscript will save your design person time and frustration and possibly save you some money, as well as making you an author he or she will be willing to work with again.

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.