Formatting a Novel Manuscript

Posted June 24th, 2012 in Uncategorized / 8 comments

I am a member of the California Writer’s Club, Inland Empire Branch. At one of our meetings a traditionally published author, Dotty McMillian (she writes fiction under a different name), was kind enough to hand out an article on the proper way of formatting a novel manuscript for submission. It really helped me out since doing an internet search for the answer only left me with a million opinions on the matter. So I was never 100% sure what my manuscript should look like. Well Dotty, who is still getting published today, knows her stuff. She deals with this everyday. So I think it’s safe to say following her guidelines is a good idea. I also added some things that were left out that I have learned from other authors. So, without further ado, here is how you should be formatting your novel manuscript:

  • Put your entire manuscript on one word processing file.
  • Make all margins one inch on all sides.
  • Double space entire document.
  • Unless publisher says otherwise, use 12 point Times New Roman font. Some may ask for Courier New.
  • Text should be left aligned and not justified.
  • Each new paragraph should have a half-inch indentation for the first sentence (usually all you need to do is hit Tab which equals 5 spaces)
  • Scene breaks should be indicated with a # centered in the middle of the line break. Some say inserting a blank line is sufficient as well. I don’t agree. It gets confusing when a new scene starts right on a new page, in which a blank line is rarely noticeable.
  • Make a page break for each chapter.
  • Chapter titles and numbers should be centered on each chapter page. Start every new chapter about 1/3 to 1/2 way down the page. This leaves a space for publisher/editor notes.
  • At the top right hand side of every page (header) put your last name, your novel title, and the page number.
  • Never put “copyright” on your manuscript. It makes you look like a novice.
  • Know how to save your manuscript in a Word Document AND in PDF format. These are the most asked for formats. But only use PDF format if the publisher asks, otherwise use a Word Doc.
  • Make a separate title page with the novel title and your name in the center of the page. Add your name, pen name if any, and contact information in the upper left hand or right hand corner at the top of the title page. The next page should be the first chapter or prologue of your novel with the title/chapter centered at either 1/3 or 1/2 the way down.
  • Italicized words should be italicized, not underlined (which is an old practice).
  • Single space after periods. The two spaces after a period is another old practice.

The most important thing to remember is that these are guidelines and that publishers might have different requirements that you must follow. So follow these as a rule but always check with the publisher (info is usually on their website under submission guidelines) to see if they have contrasting formatting  preferences.

I hope this helps you in your writing journey. Please feel free to email me (Contact Info) or leave a comment if you have any questions about these tips.

This information is a combination of Dotty’s personal tips and eHow’s version of this topic (which is the article Dotty handed out to us): Then, of course, I put my two cents in as well because despite my age, I have been around the writer’s block. LOL. Get it? I crack myself up. 🙂


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8 Responses to “Formatting a Novel Manuscript”

  1. Sarah (saz101)

    This is the clearest, simplest, best formatting guideline I’ve EVER seen, Jen! I guess it’s hard since so much online info can be outdated, but no indication on how long, and yeah.
    You’re a superstar! ♥

  2. Yzabel

    I’m definitely going to save this advice. I don’t know if publisher guidelines are the same in my country, but those sound so sensible that they just can’t be that far from ‘our’ mark anyway, and thus they’d be useful no matter what. Thanks so much for sharing them!

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