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How to Format a Short Story Manuscript

Kelly Hart
by Kelly Hart

Kelly Hart is a proofreading contractor for Book Cover Cafe and has been a slush reader for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. She is completing her Masters in Writing at Swinburne University of Technology. You can find and contact Kelly on Scribophile.

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Short story manuscript formatting is slightly different from novel manuscript formatting, and it’s always a good idea to check submission guidelines for each magazine or anthology you wish to submit to, as they can—and do—differ. Editors of magazines and anthologies are just as busy as agents and publishers, so it’s important that their first impression of your manuscript is a good one. The best way you can do that is to make sure it looks good.

The next question you’re probably asking is…

How do I make my manuscript industry standard?

Below are the basic formatting settings you need to apply to your manuscript:

  • Set the margins for your document at 3cm (1 inch) on all four sides.

  • Align to the left hand side only; the right hand side should remain jagged.

  • Use twelve point Courier in black type only. Times New Roman and Arial fonts may also be acceptable—check the submission guidelines of the magazine or anthology.

  • Lines should be double spaced with no extra spaces between paragraphs.

  • Single space between sentences after periods.

  • Indent new paragraphs and each new section of dialogue, with the exception of a scene break paragraph.

  • Indicate scene breaks by inserting a blank line and centering the hash sign (#) in the center of that line.

  • Insert a key word from the title in the top right header with the page number and your last name. E.g. Scribophile - Manuscript Formatting - page 2. Don’t put this header on the first page.

  • Center a hash sign # one double-spaced blank line down at the end of the manuscript. Or simply write The End. This assures the reader that no pages are accidentally missing.

  • Use underline for italicized words if you are using Courier font. If you are using Times New Roman you can use proper italics. (Again, check the submission guidelines.)

Your first page should include:

  • The name of the work.

  • The approximate word count, to the nearest hundred.

  • Your contact details formatted in the same font and size as the manuscript font.

  • The beginning of your story.

If you’ve followed all these steps, you should now have your manuscript formatted to the industry standard! Below you’ll see an example that shows what your manuscript should look like when formatted using the steps above.

An example of a well-formatted short story manuscript

A well-formatted short story manuscript A well-formatted short story manuscript

Remember, before you send it in:

  1. Always check the manuscript submission guidelines of the magazine or anthology you’re submitting to!

  2. Keep a copy of your manuscript for yourself.

Good luck!

Further Reading