How do I format my manuscript?

in Resources for Writers

How do I format my manuscript?

how do i format my manuscript

If you are wondering How do I format my manuscript, here is a 10 part easy to follow checklist that we feel answers most questions people have when they are submitting a manuscript to a publisher. Keep in mind the rule of thumb here is to make your manuscripts easy to read, neat, and professional. This isn’t the only way to do it, and we are suggesting this for submissions to traditional print publishers not electronic publishers. Their guidelines may be different. It is always wise to take a look at the publisher’s guidelines BEFORE you submit work to them. You don’t want to waste your time.

1. What font should I use?

New writers always come inevitably to this question. The answer is Courier 12 or new Courier 12. If you are a new writer, you are scratching your head possibly thinking that we are crazy. You might not have seen a manuscript in Courier. The truth is Courier is what typewriters and typesetters have used for a very long time. Even though computers have come along and suggested new and arguably better fonts like Arial or Times New Roman, you are best to go with what editors know. Maybe they are longing for the good old days. Humor them.

Don’t give them another stupid reason to reject you.

Many editors as of late have suggested they would take other fonts besides Courier, but many large and small publishers still insist on Courier.

2. Do I need to protect my manuscript from being stolen by a publisher?

Many new writers feel their work might be stolen if they do not place a copyright symbol on it when they send it to a publisher. Truth is, labeling your manuscript with a © only makes you look like an armature. By common law once you have put something to papers it belongs to you. It is already “copyrighted.”
Publishers are not going to steal your work. They have 1000s of manuscripts running across their desks each day. If this was a “real” problem a little symbol in the corner of your work wouldn’t help anyway. So don’t label yourself and avoid this faux pa. Also a publisher will file a copyright in your name if they decide to publish your work.

3. Should I bind or staple my manuscript?

Never use staples! Do not bind your manuscripts. Stapling your manuscripts will make you look like a newbie straight away. Editors might want to copy your manuscript so more than one person in the office can read it. Make it easy for them. Use a clip, paperclip, or rubber band.

4. Can I use 1.5 spacing to shorten my manuscript?

No! Double space your manuscript. Editors again like to have the freedom to make notes. They are used to reading double spaced copy. They have trained eyes, and they will know if you cheat.

5. What size margins should I use?

Make your margins 1 to 1/12 inch. Again this gives room to the editors.

6. Can I double-side my manuscript to save space?

No! Do not double side your copies. Each page should have print on 1 side.

7. Should I page number?

Yes! Number your headers or footers, and include your last name with an abbreviated title. Make sure editors can put your manuscript back together after dismantling it. Make it as easy as possible to reassemble.

8. How do I figure out my word count?

Do not use a word processors word count feature to figure out the number of words. This sounds silly, but it is necessary. The word count feature on most processors will not take into account blank spaces. Editors are more interested in knowing how long your manuscript will be if it is printed. Estimate your word count 250 X the number of pages.

9. Justification?

Left justify your manuscript always.

10. Do I need a title page?

Yes. Make sure you include your name and all contact information on your title page. Do not include your header, footer, or page numbers on your title page. Write your name and contact information in the upper left corner put your contact information. In the upper right corner write the estimated word count. Space down and center your title double space to the word by double space again to your name or pseudonym. Space 3 lines downs and being your first chapter. If you are a new writer without an agent your title page should look something like the title page below:


Richard Edwards has a BFA in Creative Writing and Journalism from Bowling Green State University and an M.S. in Education from the University of Akron. Managing editor of Drunk Duck, poetry editor for Prairie Margins, reporter for Miscellany, Akron Journal, Lorain Journal...check our About Us page for more. Also here is info on our On Classic Articles


  1. I have recently finished
    4 years of writing an
    6000+line rhyming urban
    epic poem about 3 New
    Yorkers. I need someone
    to professionally critique all 183 typewritten pages. I am
    not a published writer but a persistent one.

  2. Will be updating this soon, that’s for so much support on it, and overlooking so many errors. I was the first to post an article like this on the web. Oh soooo many have copied the idea and the content.

  3. Andrew, legally your work is automatically copyrighted. As long as you have the dated originals (and computers do all that for you) your work is protected. Are you one of those people who also forwards every fake chain letter on FB about protecting your content?

  4. This article is complete garbage and somewhat terrifying that writers have taken to it. I’m not going to list the bevy of mistakes and mispelling this article has but focus on one point that the writer makes, which is to say putting a copy write symbol on your manuscript makes you look amateur. For any first time writer the greatest lesson you can learn is copy write, copy write, copy write! This is your life’s work wether your book sells one copy or one million copies there’s no greater feeling than when you complete your book. This is your baby and you protect it even if it makes you look like an amatuer. The condescending tone to suggest that publishers receives thousands of manuscripts why would they need to steal your crappy piece of work. My advise to all writers is to assume that you wrote the greatest Novel ever known to man because you believe in your work and copy write becuase I seriously doubt if you wrote a good story because of a copy write symbol. And one last thing there are under handed publishers who will screw you out of your work. All publishers will not copy write your work in your name.

    • It’s copyright, and it doesn’t matter if you put the symbol or not, that’s why it makes you look like an amateur. That little symbol means nothing. US law says the minute you pen a work, you have copyrighted it. Now, proving that you wrote it is something different, but if you have copies of your work, computers records, you can even mail yourself a copy and not open it.

  5. This isn’t all true.

    Editors really don’t mind which font is used, but WILL stop reading at the slightest mistake.
    Typos, misspelled words, two apostrophes instead of one. The biggest bane to an editor is when, “someone speaks,” but the author fogot to put a comma before the speaking, or put too many commas in and around the speech. It looks “tacky.” and, “is a very amateur move,”, wouldn’t you agree?

    Also never use ITALICS. You must underline all words that you intend to slant in the final print. Also be careful which words you underline for emphasis. As the way you speak and the way you emphasise a word won’t always work on paper. If a character is a teenager you’ll notice they tend to like totally emphasise everything when they’re talking about like how totally awesome something was. When in fact it wasn’t that awesome at all. But because you, the author, wrote it in italics the reader sees

    (Oh my GOD. OH MY GOD.
    How dare you. How DARE you.
    YOU have NO right to talk to ME like that)

    If it’s done to poor effect the editor will switch off.

    The most important factor to consider is to avoid using too many words that end in ly; absolutely, finally, clearly, sharply, painfully, regrettably, coherently, sadly, definitely, exactly. As they lower the tone and indicate that you couldn’t find a suitable verb. It’s bad writing 101 and, as an editor, I hate it.

    EXCEPT FOR POETRY. For which there are no rules.

  6. Good ideas – I learned a lot from the facts – Does someone know if my assistant might find a sample Arizona Special Durable Power of Attorney for Bank Account Matters version to type on ?

  7. Hello, I just came across this page. Very helpful, thank you. Do you know if a word count is needed for a poetry manuscript?

  8. Yes, I just want to say, that I have a completed Manuscript, that is not double spaced, but wrote Manuscript before I read the qualifications of submitting a Manuscript! Can I still submit it anyway, or do I have to rewrite the whole manuscript? I have an exceptional piece of work, that I know, so many would enjoy reading it! I am one, who is tired of following the crowd, so to speak! I see myself writing in away, that is more intriguing, then Politically Correct! I know, that Publishers, want to read what they always have for years, but isn’t it about time, to write in another perspective, with more creativity? Then a Commercialized product all the time! I prefer to go in another direction in my writings, and now, the hard part, is to seek out those who will go along with me! I would like to submit this Manuscript of mine, which is 12,500 words, and go from there! Is there anyone interested out there?

  9. What about chapters? Should we end a chapter where we want to and then start another page for the next one, or just skip 2 lines then add the next chapter number then another 2 lines to start the next?

  10. I have been reading through all you opinions and to me it sounds like you all are trying to sound intelligent by the way you set your words in your sentences, come on guys you don’t have to be the best novelest while writing something on the internet that no one cares about and by the way Peter and Jill you spelt Author wrong their is no e at the end, but if you all write in your books the way you have writen on this page then I think you all will go well as writers.

  11. Sorry, I had a little typo when I was writing that convo. Where it said “and we going much too far”, I meant to say “And he was going much too far”. Sorry about that. I also did some formatting that didn’t show up in the comment. For every new quote, it should be formatted like a new paragraph. So ‘tab’, then the quote.



  12. My daughter has started to write thanks to the influences of a very sweet teacher at school. I have to ask, though, as she is confused… how does one format (if that’s what it is) a conversation in a manuscript? For example, in books, conversations read like this:

    Ben and Danny went to the park with their dog spot. It was a hot day and they were ready to play, but the park was very crowded and they worried spot might run away and get lost. Ben ran ahead, with Danny holding Spot’s leash.

    “Danny! Come on!” Ben called.

    Ben was running so far ahead he couldn’t hear his friend.

    “Ben! Hey… come on.”

    The page’s structure seems broken per character speaking, while the narrative parts, setting the scenes or describing the conversation, are whole paragraphs with very little conversation inside them. Could you clarify this? Thanks so much!

  13. Very helpful, thanks!

    For my own easier reference, I condensed it down even further:

    1. Many large and small publishers still insist on Courier.
    2. Labeling your manuscript with a © only makes you look like an amateur.
    3. Never use staples! Use a clip, paperclip, or rubber band.
    4. Double space your manuscript.
    5. Make your margins 1 to 1/12 inch.
    6. Do not double side your copies.
    7. Number your headers or footers, and include your last name with an abbreviated title.
    8. Estimate your word count 250 X the number of pages.
    9. Left justify your manuscript always.
    10. Use a title page with contact info, word count, title, author and begin first chapter.

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