Manuscript Format Tips

A major piece of grabbing an editor's attention in the right way is mastering the basics of manuscript format.  It's really not the place to innovate or show off.  You won't communicate the importance of your work by overuse of bold and italics or other wild experiments in typography.  You won't communicate your serious investment in the written word by printing your manuscript on beige resume paper with marbeling and a watermark.  And you won't zing an editor with the inescapable recognition that you're a real person by clipping on a photo of yourself with a favorite pet.

Tricks that you may think make your manuscript look unique make it look like yet another overzealous amateur invested in the wrong things.  At the end of the day, a manuscript should look like a manuscript and its surface characteristics should not detract from your professional image.  The physical artifact is ideally a clear window onto the world of your story, and not an object designed to draw attention to itself.

We believe it's important to treat your workshop partners with the respect and courtesy you'd want to extend to a professional agent or editor.  It's good practice, good courtesy, and a chance to look your best.

That in mind, here are a few of the technical basics for making sure you look like a pro:   

  1. A fiction manuscript should always be double spaced - not single, not 1.5.
  2. It should generally look typed, not typeset.  Don't get too fancy.
  3. Use a 12 point font, shunning both the huge and the microscopic.  And please, no fonts that imitate handwritten cursive scripts.  If you must, use that burst of fancy for the signature line on your cover letter, only, but no where else.  Monospaced (Courier family) fonts make for a faster, easier read on printed paper and make it easier for an editor to catch small mistakes for you.  Times New Roman is acceptable, as well.  And sometimes, it's preferred these days.  Other font choices are risky.  Never choose a font that looks great for screen reading but looks like crap on paper.
  4. You should always include an approximate word count and page numbers.
  5. You should always include your personal contact information on the manuscript itself.  An editor who works from paper doesn't want to spend two hours digging through archived email to try and remember who sent a particular submission.  
  6. You should make a header that includes your name/ abbreviated title/ page number for every page from two onwards, so that misplaced pages can be repatriated to the manuscript with ease.
  7. You should use standard (one tab) indented paragraphs, not the block-style paragraphs of a business letter or forum post.
  8. You should not include additional space between paragraphs--except where a section break is intended, reflecting a major time shift or discontinuity in your narrative.   Where a section break is intended, you must mark it.  The standard or traditional way to do this is the pound sign: #  Simple white space may look like a mistake or may disappear entirely, if your section break happens to fall at the end of a page in the printing layout.
  9. Keep in mind that a manuscript should look like a manuscript, not like a typeset document already prepped to mimick the characteristics of a certain publication.  An editor will appreciate the clarity of a 12 point monospaced font and a centered pound sign in your section breaks, and will not consider these formal characteristics intended for the final production.
  10. Always read the submissions guidelines anywhere you submit your work.  Override any of the rules above, as needed, but only where submissions guidelines or communications from an editor specify other preferences.

A great visual model of proper manuscript format for the short story may be found at

The only real caveat is that some editors have come to prefer Times New Roman over Courier typefaces.  It's become a little bit antiquated to observe every single detail of making your work appear as though produced on a typewriter.  But nine out of ten related conventions are still expected if you want your work to appear professional.  Also, please note that a novel manuscript begins with a full title page, the body of chapter one beginning on the top of page two.  The convention of beginning your story at the middle of page one is peculiar to the short story form.

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