Formatting Your Manuscript

One of the most commonly asked questions of publishing professionals at writer conferences concerns proper manuscript formatting. Debates have waged for years — both online and offline — about the “proper” font to use and how to calculate word count for a manuscript. While it's true that some publishers have house guidelines that specify the font to be used, most publishers don't care as long as the copy is legible and easy to read. What counts most is good writing.

That said, the following guidelines should ensure that your manuscript looks professional:

  • One-inch margins for top, bottom, right, and left of the manuscript page

  • Header on the first page of your manuscript with your name, address, phone, e-mail address, manuscript title, word count, and genre/subgenre information

  • Header on all subsequent pages with the name of the manuscript in caps on the left, your last name and the page number on the right

  • Easy-to-read 12-point font, such as Courier, New Courier, or Times New Roman

  • Each chapter begins one-third of the way down a new page

If you are printing out a hard copy of your manuscript, use a good quality, 20-pound, white, 8″ × 11″ type of paper. (Office supply stores generally refer to it as standard copy paper.)

Many writers use Microsoft Word as their word processing program of choice, although any fully functional program will suit your needs. Many agents and editors now accept manuscripts via e-mail attachment. If so, they will advise the specific format that your manuscript should be in, such as Rich Text Format (RTF).

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