Formatting a Manuscript

Sometimes I forget I once had to learn the basics. I take for granted that “everyone knows” just how a manuscript should look before it goes off to an editor or agent, but how would we know unless someone tells us?

I discovered the “first impressions” rule at a writers’ conference. Even the manuscript critique team member could hardly discuss the elements of my story during my fifteen minute appointment because that person who took on my submission wanted to impress upon me the importance of following standard industry formatting guidelines.

I later purchased The Writer’s Digest Guide to Manuscript Formats, which by now is outdated. Yes, these industry standards change.

The secret is to remember that editors and agents see thousands of submissions. You want them to be happy to pick up yours because it is easy to read.

What is NOT easy to read is some odd font, single-spaced content, and narrow margins.

So format your manuscript by using a common font, the kind you find in books or the newspaper. I prefer Times New Roman. Double space your manuscript. Not single. Not one and a half. Also, don’t add an extra line between paragraphs. Set your margins at one or one and a half inch, for both sides and top/bottom. I use one inch—seems like the occasions I’ve had editors or contest coordinators ask for an exact margin, it was always one inch.

Be sure to indent the beginning of each paragraph (typically a half inch), but do that manually, rather than setting up your computer to tab automatically when you hit return. It seems that characteristic may not transmit if you send your manuscript electronically.

Those are the basics, but of course if you have specific questions, feel free to ask.

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