Manuscript Format: Create a Professional Manuscript (inc. Template)
When you’re writing a first draft that’s for your eyes only, there’s no “wrong” manuscript format. You can write your manuscript on a legal pad if you like (and some authors do)! But when it comes time to share your books with agents and publishers — whose first impressions could make or break your career, you need to ensure your manuscript’s format doesn’t stand out for the wrong reasons.
At Reedsy, we’ve helped thousands of authors query agents with their books. With the help of editor Chersti Nieveen, we’ve created this post with tips to help you achieve an industry-standard manuscript format.
Download: Manuscript Format Template
If you just want to get started on formatting your book right now, download our free manuscript template. Enter your email address below and we’ll send it to you in a suitable format for Word.
What is a manuscript?
Publishing newbies might wonder why we're calling this a manuscript and not simply a "book format." The word manuscript comes from the Latin for "handwritten." After all, in the past, all literary works were drafted freehand. In modern usage, the manuscript format commonly refers to early drafts of novels, non-fiction works, or even short stories. Or to put it another way, it's your book before it gets published.
How to Format Your Manuscript in 9 Steps
These steps will help you set up a document in your word processor so that it automatically writes in manuscript format. In other words, you can "set and forget" the formatting. 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.
Step 1. Give your file a descriptive name
Before you start typing anything, open up your word processor, and SAVE the document.
Give it a file name that sounds professional and is easy to search for. That way, if the agent or publisher wants to search for you or your book on their hard drive, all they need to do is remember some part of your name or the title. With that in mind, name your file with those details plus the date:
Use underscores to separate the words in the file name — this prevents the file name from being garbled when the spaces get translated as “%20” by some systems.
The standard file used in publishing is .doc or .docx. Both standards are native to Microsoft Word and compatible with all mainstream word processors, including Google Docs.
Step 2. Set one-inch margins on Letter Size (or A4) paper
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 × 297mm) format for most other territories.
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 wordcount. Professionals can spot this straight away, so don’t do this.
Step 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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Step 4. Double-space your line and indent each new paragraph
Your lines should be double-spaced and there should be no extra line break between paragraphs. This is how you can change those settings:
- MS Word: Format → Paragraph → Spacing.
- Google Docs: Format → Line Spacing
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”
Step 5. Automate your page headers
Each page should have a header with the page number, author’s surname, and a reference to the book’s title in ALL CAPS.
The header of every page should have your surname, the book title, and the page number with this standard format:
SURNAME/ TITLE/ PAGE #
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 Numbers → Position: Top of page (Header) → Alignment: Right → Uncheck "Show number on first page.” Then click Format… → Start at: 0
- Then double-click at the top of the page to add your surname and book title (see below). Align Right to match the page number.
In Google Docs:
- Insert → Header & page number → Page number → [the icon showing page numbers on the top right, starting with the second page]
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 now all set up, you’re ready to work on the content of your manuscript.
Step 6. Create your title page
Before we get into Chapter One, take a moment to set up your title page. All text should also be in 12pt Times New Roman in black, just like the rest of your manuscript.
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.
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 title in ALL CAPS and two lines beneath, write your author name — this can be 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 then the genre. 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 five genres 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.
A quick aside on front matter. If your aim is to seek traditional publishing, you will share this manuscript with agents and editors. You want them to read your words, so it’s advisable to skip most of the things that would fall into the 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 each and every paragraph of your book.
Step 7. Start chapters on a new page
When you kick off a new chapter, start it on a fresh page. 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 your chapter title itself, or the name of the POV character — enter that directly below:
The Man from Okinawa
If you wish to indicate that there has been a time dash between chapters (it might take place sometime before or after the previous chapter) then enter that two lines above the chapter heading. For example:
Three years later
‘P’ is for Psycho
Chapter breaks are often used to indicate a time dash or a switch of POV character. 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 (* * *).
Step 8. Punctuate your dialogue correctly
If you wish to get every last detail of your manuscript format right, you should invest 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. It just makes your characters look bad.
- Never use underlining in your manuscript.
- Only use a single space after periods/full stops. We know it’s an unpopular take, but double spaced sentences are outdated abominations that championed by some of the worst people.
If you’re completely obsessed with getting everything right, you can always hire a copy editor to polish your manuscript before you send it out — though we’d only really advise that if also you’re very unsure about how your prose is reading.
Step 9. Don’t forget to write “The End”
It sounds stupid, but don’t forget to write The End at the end of your manuscript! This way, if your book has an ambiguous ending, the reader won’t think that they’re missing the final pages.
We mentioned it in the introduction but it bears repeating: 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 clear.
And what 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 format you might need, whether you want a print book or an ebook.
Best of luck getting published and see you on the shelves!
[updated: 11/10/2020 UTC]