Short story manuscript formatting is slightly different from novel and book 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. Lucky for you, applying industry-standard formatting to your short story manuscript is pretty easy!

Why does short story manuscript formatting matter?

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 how they expect it to look—i.e., professionally-formatted.

When an editor recieves a manuscript that’s formatted in a quirky, unusual, or unexpected way, it makes the author look like an amateur. And that’s never the impression you want to give to the person reading and judging your writing. You want to look like a professional writer who knows their way around the industry.

Besides looking amateurish, a short story manuscript that doesn’t follow industry-standard formatting rules makes it harder for the editor to read. The rules are there to make all manuscripts equally legible, so that the editor can quickly read many of them in a day.

How to format a short story manuscript

Below are the basic formatting rules you need to apply to your short story manuscript:

  • Set the margins for your manuscript to 1 inch (2.5cm) on all four sides. This is usually the default setting in Word, but check the settings on your computer to be sure.

  • Align to the left; the right-hand side should remain ragged.

  • Use 12 point Times New Roman for the entire manuscript. Courier and Arial fonts may also be acceptable—check the submission guidelines of the magazine or anthology.

  • Black text on white pages only. No other colors are appropriate.

  • Indent each paragraph by half an inch (1.25cm). Don’t do this by hitting the tab key; instead, set indentation in Word using the Format → Paragraph → Section menu, or see this tutorial.

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

  • Single space between sentences, after periods.

  • Indicate scene breaks with a blank line, and center a hash mark (#) in the center of that line.

  • The header in the top right corner should contain your name, then a key word from your short story title, followed by the page number. For example, Hart - My Story - 2. Don’t put this header on the first page.

  • After the last line in the manuscript, center a hash mark (#) one blank line after the end. Or simply write The End. This assures the editor that no pages are accidentally missing.

  • Never underline text; use italics when you mean to emphasize or italicize words.

Unlike a book or novel manuscript, a short story manuscript doesn’t require a separate title page. Instead, follow these rules for the first page of the manuscript:

  • Include your personal details at the upper left. This includes your real name, email address, and other contact information.

  • Include the approximate word count at the upper right, to the nearest hundred words.

  • Center the short story title about a third of the way down the first page.

  • Include your name on the next line after the title. This can be your pen name, and make sure to precede it with by.

  • Begin your story a few lines below your byline.

If you’ve followed all these steps, you should now have your short story manuscript formatted to the industry standard!

An example of a well-formatted short story manuscript

The first page of a short story manuscript formatted to the industry standard.
The second page of a short story manuscript formatted to the industry standard.

Remember these tips before you send it in

  1. Always check the manuscript submission guidelines of the magazine or anthology you’re submitting to! Different markets may have unique formatting requirements, and you should always do as they ask, even if it contradicts the rules we’ve set out here.

  2. Keep a copy of the exact manuscript file you submitted in a special location, in case you update the master manuscript later. It’s always good to know exactly what version of a manuscript you submitted to a market, so you don’t get confused with edits you might have made after submission.