How to format your manuscript
Recently I got asked how you should format
a manuscript, so figured it’d make a good Writing Wednesdays post.
First things first: You probably won’t be
sending out your manuscript to a publisher. You’ll be sending it to literary
agents; and they’ll be sending it to a publishing house. (Obviously the rules
are different if you’re not opting for traditional publishing, but that’s what
I’m going to be talking about here.)
You might like this post on traditional publishing, or this one on how to get a literary agent.
Secondly: There’s not strictly a ‘right’
way to format your manuscript. Just, you know, sensible ways. For instance,
Wingdings probably isn’t a sensible font to use.
The rest of this post will be coming to you
in three parts: how I format, what you can do, and what to look out for.
How I format: I write in Microsoft Word. I
use Times New Roman usually, size 12, single-line spacing, justified text
alignment. I also prefer using double quotation marks for speech (you know, “like this”) but this is something everyone has a preference on. Sometimes I bold the chapter title, maybe make it a size or two larger. If I’ve written text/online messages within the story, I might put them in a different font (something sans serif, like Arial or Calibri) or I’ll just put them in italics. But whatever I do, I’m consistent.
One thing I will say needs to be done is using the page break tool. When you want to start a new page, do not just hit the ‘enter’ button until you move onto a new page. You can find the ‘page break’ function in the ‘Insert’ tab in Word, in case you were wondering.
If you want to use particular bits of
formatting, go for it. Maybe chunks of your story are made up of emails and you
want to format them differently so it’s clear they’re an email and they stand
out more. Maybe you have two protagonists and you switch between their points
of view so want to use a different font for each character, to make it easier
to follow which POV you’re using. Nothing’s stopping you doing that. Sometimes
it works better to use a bit more formatting and variety, like in the cases
I’ve just mentioned.
Finally, what to look out for.
Now if you’ve found an agent you want to
submit your work to, they’re almost certainly going to have a ‘Submission
Guidelines’ on their website. They might prefer a certain font/font size/line
spacing, so keep an eye out for that. (Also, bear in mind that you probably
won’t be sending them your entire manuscript – they’ll specify whether they
want the first three chapters, five 5,000 words, etc.)
If you write in a different program but
submit your manuscript in a Word document (which is pretty standard, since most
everyone has Word), make sure that it’s formatted across correctly. Sometimes
if you’ve indented a paragraph, that won’t carry across, or you might lose some
italicised text, and so on. If you copy and paste out of whatever program you
use into Word, a safe bet is to copy it into a Notepad/equivalent document and
then copy it into Word. Even so, read through and make sure it looks okay. Most
importantly, that it’s readable.
When it comes to actually getting
traditionally published, you don’t need to worry about setting out your
manuscript on smaller pages or adding the page numbers to the footer or the
chapter title in the header. You don’t need to worry about any of that. That’s
taken care of by the publisher. As is a book cover, so you wouldn’t be
submitting your manuscript to an agent with a cover and everything as well.
It’s literally just the writing they’re looking for.
The rules are probably different if you’re
self-publishing, especially on something like Kindle. I know that there are
plenty of online guides (including on Amazon) for Kindle publishing formatting,
but as I don’t know much about that, I won’t pretend I do.