It doesn’t matter if you want to be an independently published author or a traditionally published author, formatting your manuscript correctly is critically important for getting your work read.
For writers wanting to be independent published authors, this process will cut down your costs when the time comes for manuscript assessment, proofreading, editing and typesetting. The professionals that do this work will charge more if you haven’t adhered to industry standards, because that means they’ll need to re-format your manuscript before they can start their work.
For authors that are trying the traditional route of publishing, this is also an important step—the agents and publishers you submit to won’t even look at your manuscript if it’s not formatted according to the industry standard. They won’t spend time with an author that hasn’t done the necessary preparation. They get way too many submissions, and they’ll simply move on to the next one without giving your work a second look.
So now you know why industry standard is important. The next question you’re probably asking is…
How do I format my manuscript to the industry standard?
Luckily for you, formatting your manuscript can be summarized in a few bullet points:
Set the margins for your document at 3cm on all four sides.
Align to the left hand side only; the right hand side should remain jagged.
Use twelve point Times New Roman in black type only. Courier and Arial fonts may also be acceptable.
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 the opening paragraph of a chapter or scene break. Don’t do this by hitting the tab key. Instead, set indentation to 1.25cm in Word through Format->Paragraph->Section.
Indicate scene breaks by inserting a blank line and centering the hash sign (#) in the center of the line.
Insert a key word from the title in the top right header with the page number and your last name. E.g., Smith - Manuscript - page 1
Begin chapters on new pages. Center the chapter title, even if it’s only Chapter One (or Chapter 1), about one-third of the way down the page. Skip a couple of spaces and begin the text of the chapter.
Center a hash sign (#) one double-spaced blank line down at the end of the manuscript. Or, simply write The End. This will reassure agents and editors that pages aren’t accidentally missing.
Use italics for italicized words. Never underline in novel manuscripts.
Your title page should include:
The name of the work.
Your approximate word count, to the nearest hundred.
Your contact details formatted in the same font and size as the manuscript font.
Your agent’s details, if you have an agent.
Remember to keep a copy of your manuscript for yourself.
If you’ve followed all of these bullet points, then congratulations! You now have a manuscript formatted to the industry standard! Check out the images below for an example of what a correctly-formatted manuscript looks like.
An example of a well-formatted novel manuscript