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Posted on Oct 29, 2021

How to Format a Book Manuscript (with Template)

At Reedsy, we’ve helped thousands of authors query their books with publishers and literary agents. Though you should always check the relevant submission guidelines every time you submit your work somewhere, the requirements for manuscript format are broadly the same.

With the help of  Reedsy editor Chersti Nieveen, we’re here to show you how to format a book manuscript that agents and publishers will appreciate:

  1. Descriptively name your .doc file
  2. Use Letter Size or A4 page setting with 1-inch margins
  3. Set your font to Times New Roman, 12pt, Black
  4. Double-space your lines and indent each new paragraph 
  5. Automate your page headers
  6. Create a simple, informative title page
  7. Start each chapter on a new page
  8. Don’t let yourself down with poorly punctuated dialogue 
  9. Always finish with ‘The End’

These steps will help you “set and forget” a document in your word processor so that it automatically writes in standard manuscript format. Because they’re the most popular word processors, we’ll show you how to set up your document in both Microsoft Word and Google Docs. 

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If you want to get started on formatting your book right away, download our free book manuscript template. Enter your email address below and we’ll send it to you in a suitable format for Word.

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1. Descriptively name your .doc file

Before you start typing anything, open up your word processor, create a new document, and SAVE the document. 

Give it a file name that sounds professional and is easy to search for. Agents and publishers have a lot of manuscripts to look at so they’ll most likely be searching for your manuscript on their hard drive with only some part of your name or book title in mind. As such, name your files with those details plus the date that you’re submitting the manuscript. That way, if you’ve got multiple copies saved on your hard drive, you know which version you actually sent off.

Lastname_TITLE_date.doc

Use underscores to separate the words in the file name — this prevents it from being garbled when the spaces get translated as “%20” by some systems. 

File Format

The standard file used in publishing is .doc or .docx. Both are native to Microsoft Word and compatible with all mainstream word processors, including Google Docs.

2. Use Letter Size or A4 page setting with 1-inch margins

Manuscript Format | Example Book Manuscript

Tap File > Page Setup and let’s get your paper settings in order. 

Unless otherwise stated in the submission guidelines, use: 

  • Letter Size (8.5” x 11”) format for the US and Canada; and 
  • A4 (210 x 297mm) format for most other territories. 
Manuscript Format | Setting your paper size
(Left: MS Word, Right: Google Docs)

Set one-inch margins on all four sides. This should already be the default setting on both Word and Google Docs. Some writers will tinker with the margin settings in an attempt to hide their manuscript’s true word count. Professionals can spot this straight away, so don’t do it.

A quick disclaimer before we go any further: some of these steps will look slightly different if you’re using Microsoft Word on Windows rather than iOS, as demonstrated in this post. For example, where on iOS you’ll see ‘Format’ or ‘File’, you’ll see ‘Layout’ on Windows.

3. Set your font to Times New Roman, 12pt, Black 

Some editors and agents will prefer sans serif fonts (ones without the curly flourishes) but unless specified by the submission guidelines, stick to good old-fashioned Times New Roman. 

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4. Double-space your lines and indent each new paragraph

Your lines should be double-spaced, and there should be no extra line breaks between paragraphs. This is how you can change those settings:

  • MS Word: Format → Paragraph → Spacing: Double. 
  • Google Docs: Format → Line & paragraph spacing: Double. 

Each new paragraph (and each new portion of dialogue) should start with an indentation. The exception would be the start of a new chapter or scene. Instead of hitting ‘tab’ every paragraph, you can set this up as the default. 

  • MS Word: Format → Paragraph → Indentation → Left: 0.5” → Special: First line.
  • Google Docs: Format → Align & indent → Indentation options → Special: First line → 0.5”. 
Manuscript format | Setting up indentation
(Left: MS Word, Right: Google Docs)

5. Automate your page headers

Each page should have a header with your surname, the book title, and the page number in ALL CAPS with this standard format:

SURNAME/TITLE/PAGE #

Manuscript Format | Header Style

If your title is longer than three words, abbreviate it by choosing a few keywords. For example, the first page of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time would have the following as the header: 

HADDON/CURIOUS INCIDENT/1

Here’s how you can format your document so that these automatically appear on each page. 

In Microsoft Word:

  • Insert → Page Number → Position: Top of Page → Alignment: Right → Uncheck “Show number on first page.” Then click Page Number → Format Page Numbers…→ Start at: 0

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  • Then double-click at the top of your page 1 to add your surname and book title. Align Right to match the page number. 

In Google Docs: 

  • Insert → Page numbers → [the icon showing page numbers on the top right, starting with the second page]

  • Add your name and title as you’d do with the MS Word document.

You don’t want to count your title page as “PAGE 1” of your manuscript, which is why you have to choose the ‘different first page’ option. 

With your document all set up, now you’re ready to work on the content of your manuscript.

  1. Create a simple, informative title page

Before we get into Chapter One, take a moment to set up your title page. All text should be in 12pt Times New Roman, black — just like the rest of your manuscript.

Manuscript Format | Sample Manuscript Cover Page

Contact Details

In the top left-hand corner of the title page, list your legal name and your contact details (including email address and phone number).

If you already have an agent, you should list their name and contact information instead. 

Word Count 

In the top right-hand corner, list your word count to the nearest thousand.

Title and Author Name 

In the center of the page, write your book title in ALL CAPS. Two lines below this, write your author name — this can be the same as your legal name, or a pen name that you’ve decided to use in your creative life.

Category and Genre

Centered at the bottom of the page, list the category and the genre of your book. Category usually refers to the age group of the intended reader: Adult, Young Adult, Middle Grade, Chapter Book, Picture Book, et al. 

You may feel that your book belongs to many genres, but listing too many will make agents and editors despair. If you’re at a loss, try to think of the section of a bookstore where you’d imagine your work being shelved.

Note: your manuscript should not feature most of the things found in a book's front matter: dedications, copyright pages, etc. 

Okay, now that you’ve tidied your manuscript around the edges, let’s do what we came here to do and format the actual content of your book.

7. Start each chapter on a new page

When you kick off a new chapter, start it on a fresh page (Insert > Page Break). Hit the enter key so that you’re about a third of the way down the page, and enter the chapter number in ALL CAPS with center alignment: 

CHAPTER ONE (or CHAPTER 1)

If your chapter has a subtitle — which might be the chapter title itself, or the name of the POV character — enter that directly below:

CHAPTER FOUR 

The Man from Okinawa 

If you wish to indicate that there is a significant time gap between chapters, then enter that two lines above the chapter heading. For example:


Three years later

CHAPTER 10

‘P’ is for Psycho


Chapter breaks

Chapter breaks are often used to indicate a time dash or a switch of POV characters. Some authors may skip to another location or scene with a new paragraph — but this can often confuse the reader. If you want there to be no doubt that you’re jumping to a new scene, you can use a chapter break — indicated by a hash/pound sign (#) or three spaced asterisks (* * *). 

8. Don’t let yourself down with poorly punctuated dialogue 

If you want to make sure you get every last detail of your book manuscript format right, it’s worth investing in a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style — the gold standard for publishing in the US. However, you can acquit yourself pretty well just by reading the guide to punctuating dialogue on our blog and following these suggestions: 

  • Never use ALL CAPS in dialogue — if your character is shouting or angry, it’s better to show this through their actual words, rather than how they’re formatted;
  • Never use underlining in your manuscript;
  • Only use a single space after periods/full stops in line with the AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style.

Really, this advice applies to your manuscript as a whole, not just dialogue. If you’re set on getting everything exactly right, you can always hire a copy editor to polish your manuscript before you send it out — though we’d only really advise this if you’re also unsure about how your prose is reading as a whole.

Free course: Writing Great Dialogue

Your journey to becoming a master of dialogue starts here. Get started now.

9. Always finish with ‘The End’

It might sound like ridiculous advice, but don’t forget to write ‘The End’ at the end of your manuscript! This way, if your book has an ambiguous or particularly surprising ending, the reader won’t think that they’re accidentally missing the final few pages.


We mentioned it in the introduction but it bears repeating here, too: always follow submission guidelines! If you’re sending your manuscript to an agency or publisher, they will likely have their guidelines listed somewhere on their website. Read them and follow them to a T — even if it conflicts with what we’ve said in this post. But if there aren’t any specific requirements, we’re pretty confident that this format will keep you in the clear. 

And if you’re looking to self-publish right away, we’ve got you covered too. Just put your masterpiece directly into the Reedsy Book Editor, our free, web-based writing and formatting tool. It’ll turn out a beautifully typeset book and convert it into any file format you might need, whether you want a print book or an ebook.

Best of luck getting published and see you on the shelves!