How to Format a Book Manuscript for Submission to Editors

pexels-photo-447189.jpegIf you’re planning to submit your novel to a literary agent or an editor at a publishing house, it should be in as meticulous a condition as you would strive to be in if you were going to a job interview; and this means knowing how to format a book into a proper manuscript. Various guidelines exist on how to format a book manuscript, but those identified here are generally accepted requirements; they indicate what a literary agent or editor expects from you if they ask to see your novel.

And, if an agency or publishing house has requested to see your manuscript, you don’t want to screw up the opportunity by sending them a misformatted or an unformatted document. I think it’s better to learn how to format a book manuscript properly.

For a visual of how a manuscript will look after following these generally accepted guidelines, please click here to reference A Formatted Book Manuscript Sample.

How to Format a Book Manuscript – Creating the Page Format

A manuscript’s unique layout serves two important purposes:

  1. It allows extra space for writing comments on the margins by a reviewer
  2. It allows for an easy-to-read presentation of the novel.

To accomplish this, start by going into the “Page Layout” feature of your Word document to set up the correct margins:

pexels-photo-556565.jpegThe margins of a manuscript should be set to:

  • Top Margin: 1.5 inches
  • Bottom Margin: 1.5 inches
  • Left side: 1.5 inches
  • Right side: 1.25 inch 

How to Format a Book Manuscript – The Title Page

The manuscript Title Page (sometimes referred to as the Cover Sheet) is the first page of your manuscript and it will include the following information:

  • The top left of this page will have your contact information: name, mailing address, phone number and email address – single-spaced.
  • The top right of this page will have the word count of your manuscript. Round the word count to the nearest ten.
  • About 1/3 of the way down the page (about 14 single-spaced lines from the top margin line), center and type the novel’s title. Drop down two spaces, center, and type: “By”. Drop down two spaces, center, and type your name.

How to Format a Book Manuscript – The Header and Footer

  • The Page Header – Set the page header to 1.2”. Type the title of your book and your name – Murderous Exchange/Joe Writer – into the page header and click “enter” 3 times to make spacing of the page turn out correctly.

To make the header show up on every page of the manuscript, except the title page, set up the Title Page header second and the header of the first page of your novel first. On the first page of your novel, which is Chapter 1, use the Heading/Footing feature “Different First Page” to set the heading for this page and all that follow. Then go back to the title page and create that header.

  • The Page Footer – insert page numbers into the Footer of the document – again having the numbers first appear not on the title page, but on the first page of the first chapter of the novel – as “2” ( or the 2nd page, the title page being the unnumbered “1”.) Note: set up the footer at the same time that you set up the header for the first page of your novel (noted above).

Additionally, it’s become customary to have “mf” appear in the footer; this means “more follows” and should be on the left side of every page except the final page.

How to Format a Book Manuscript – Paragraphs

pexels-photo-317154.jpegIn learning how to format a book manuscript, it’s important that you know how to set up paragraphs correctly. All manuscripts must be double-spaced. This is the industry standard in manuscript spacing and is not something to skip. The manuscript should be aligned to the left (left justified, not block) and the first line of each new paragraph should be indented. The exception to this is on the first line of every chapter – the first line is not indented and is allowed to “run in” to the margin (which really just means don’t indent it.)

Go to the “Paragraph” feature of your word document to set the line spacing and indentation formats. Within this feature, choose the tab “Indents and Spacing”. (This is on Word for a PC – a Mac would have similar features).

  • Under “General” (in Word) set the Alignment to “Left”, the Outline Level to “Body Text” and Direction to “Left to Right”.
  • Under “Indentation you will most likely see a drop down box with the word “Special” next to it. From the drop-down box, select “First line”, and in the “By” box to the right of it, type in .5. By doing this, you’re setting your margins to indent .5 inches automatically at the first line of every paragraph.
  • Under “Spacing”, select “Double” in the line spacing box.

How to Format a Book Manuscript – Chapters

  • The First Page of Every Chapter – center the name and/or number of chapters (if you’re just using numbers) about 1/3 of the way down from the margin line, like this: Chapter 1 – The Name of Your Chapter, or just Chapter 1/One.
  • The Body of the Manuscript – there should be no extra spaces between paragraphs unless there is a change of scene, time or point of view. When submitting a manuscript electronically (which you will more than likely do) you might find that spaces are added where you don’t want them to be (and you will be checking for this, right?). One thing you can try, to keep this from happening, is to go into Paragraph formatting on your document, find the Before and After boxes and change them to 0.
  • The Second Page of Every Chapter – the second page of every chapter begins at the top of the page. It includes the pre-formatted header and footer.

Formatting the Last Page of the Manuscript

I mentioned earlier on how to format a manuscript footer that mf (more follows) should appear in the footer of every page of the manuscript except the last page. On the last page, go two double-spaces beyond the last word of your manuscript and type The End.

Manuscript Formatting Wrap-up

It’s important to note that along with having a well-formatted manuscript, you must have a “clean” manuscript – one that has no misspelled words or punctuation errors. Having your work edited by a professional editor before submitting it to a publishing house or literary agent is highly recommended. While now you know how to format a book manuscript properly, don’t send it anywhere until your novel is as good as it can possibly be and it’s ready for submission.

When your novel is ready for submission, you will first send a query letter to the literary agent or publisher – do not send the manuscript unless it is specifically requested, and then you will most likely be asked to submit only the first 3 or 4 chapter. In any event, you will follow the submission guidelines of the specific literary agent or publisher.

I would love to hear your comments on how to format a book manuscript, and if you found this article informative, please tweet it and pass it on to others in your social media groups.



3 thoughts on “How to Format a Book Manuscript for Submission to Editors”

  1. Great information Rita! Thank you for sharing the details, I’ve certainly learned a lot from your article.


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