Writing Wednesdays: How to format your manuscript

Wondering how to format your manuscript? In this post, I share some advice on the best way to format your manuscript.

Recently I got asked how you should format a manuscript, so figured it’d make a good Writing Wednesdays post.

First things first: You probably won’t be sending out your manuscript to a publisher. You’ll be sending it to literary agents; and they’ll be sending it to a publishing house. (Obviously the rules are different if you’re not opting for traditional publishing, but that’s what I’m going to be talking about here.)

Secondly: There’s not strictly a ‘right’ way to format your manuscript. Just, you know, sensible ways. For instance, Wingdings probably isn’t a sensible font to use.

The rest of this post will be coming to you in three parts: how I format, what you can do, and what to look out for.

How I format: I write in Microsoft Word. I use Times New Roman usually, size 12, single-line spacing, justified text alignment. I also prefer using double quotation marks for speech (you know, “like this”) but this is something everyone has a preference on. Sometimes I bold the chapter title, maybe make it a size or two larger. If I’ve written text/online messages within the story, I might put them in a different font (something sans serif, like Arial or Calibri) or I’ll just put them in italics. But whatever I do, I’m consistent.

One thing I will say needs to be done is using the page break tool. When you want to start a new page, do not just hit the ‘enter’ button until you move onto a new page. You can find the ‘page break’ function in the ‘Insert’ tab in Word, in case you were wondering. 

If you want to use particular bits of formatting, go for it. Maybe chunks of your story are made up of emails and you want to format them differently so it’s clear they’re an email and they stand out more. Maybe you have two protagonists and you switch between their points of view so want to use a different font for each character, to make it easier to follow which POV you’re using. Nothing’s stopping you doing that. Sometimes it works better to use a bit more formatting and variety, like in the cases I’ve just mentioned.

Finally, what to look out for.

Now if you’ve found an agent you want to submit your work to, they’re almost certainly going to have a ‘Submission Guidelines’ on their website. They might prefer a certain font/font size/line spacing, so keep an eye out for that. (Also, bear in mind that you probably won’t be sending them your entire manuscript – they’ll specify whether they want the first three chapters, five 5,000 words, etc.)

If you write in a different program but submit your manuscript in a Word document (which is pretty standard, since most everyone has Word), make sure that it’s formatted across correctly. Sometimes if you’ve indented a paragraph, that won’t carry across, or you might lose some italicised text, and so on. If you copy and paste out of whatever program you use into Word, a safe bet is to copy it into a Notepad/equivalent document and then copy it into Word. Even so, read through and make sure it looks okay. Most importantly, that it’s readable.

You might also like this post on free writing tools, or this post on what tools you need to be a writer.

When it comes to actually getting traditionally published, you don’t need to worry about setting out your manuscript on smaller pages or adding the page numbers to the footer or the chapter title in the header. You don’t need to worry about any of that. That’s taken care of by the publisher. As is a book cover, so you wouldn’t be submitting your manuscript to an agent with a cover and everything as well. It’s literally just the writing they’re looking for.

The rules are probably different if you’re self-publishing, especially on something like Kindle. I know that there are plenty of online guides (including on Amazon) for Kindle publishing formatting, but as I don’t know much about that, I won’t pretend I do.

Like I said – there’s not strictly a right way to lay out your manuscript, but if you were wondering, hopefully this post has been helpful! Any questions, feel free to Tweet me or send me a message.

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