Manuscript Formatting

Posted at 15:10pm on 2nd January 2009


I received a manuscript, yesterday, from a friend who wants me to look it over for a client of hers (she's a Life Coach). I have to confess that with the departure of all my visiting family after the Christmas break, bed-changing, washing and ironing have taken priority. But I did manage to take a peep - and what I saw has prompted me to write, today, about the necessary formatting of a submission. So, for those of you who are interested and don't know, here's how you should produce your 'scripts.

Manuscript Presentation

  • MARGINS - Set up a template with the following parameters: Left, Right and Bottom margins at 1 ins (3.2cm); Top margin at inch (1.3cm).
  • Do not Right Justify your pages. You should have a ragged Right margin.
  • NUMBERING - Number all pages in Top Right corner. Do not use any hyphens, commas, full stops, or the words Page No. I always put a space after the page number, followed by slash, space, chapter number, thus: 13 / 3 = page 13, chapter 3.
  • Always number consecutively from 1 right through to the last page of your manuscript. Never, ever, begin each new chapter at page 1.
  • HEADER - Upper Left corner of each and every page should have your surname (in lower case) slash BOOK NAME (in caps) i.e. Menzies/A PAINFUL POST MORTEM
  • TEXT - First page of each chapter should begin approximately 1/3 of the way down the page with the chapter number centred left to right. Text should begin immediately below this.
  • First line of text on each subsequent page should be about to inch below the header.
  • Double line-space all text.
  • Do not allow words to break, or hyphenate, at the end of a line.
  • FONT - Use Courier 12 for everything. Never use symbols, decoration or clipart.
  • Never use CAPITALS (except for Header) or Italics or bold. Underline to indicate where these are intended.
  • PARAGRAPHS - Indent paragraphs by five spaces.
  • Do not leave extra lines between paragraphs. The only exception is to indicate a change of Section (scene) or POV (point of view).
  • PUNCTUATION - Leave two spaces after each full-stop, colon, question mark or exclamation mark; one space after a comma, semi-colon, or quotation (speech) mark.
  • Always put commas at the end of a line of speech, inside the speech marks. Thus: "Happy New Year," she said.
  • Don't over-use dashes or ellipses - and don't use more than three dots when you do . . .
  • TYPING / PRINTING - Type, or print, on one side of the page only.
  • Use A4 UK (8 ins x 11 ins USA) white 80g paper.
  • Use only black ink, preferably a laser printer, but if using bubble-jet, ensure that ink supplies are plentiful and truly black, not grey or patchy.
  • PREPARING FOR SUBMISSION - Leave all pages loose. Do not bind chapters together with staples or paper-clips. Do not put them in a ring-file or document folder.
  • Place all folios (pages) loose in an A4 box (you can buy these, or use the one your paper came in).

If this all seems rather pedantic, there is a reason. Agents and Publishers like wide margins and double spacing so that they can edit and annotate manuscripts. Also, by standardising fonts, margins and line spacing, editors can assess the number of book pages a manuscript will comprise. Given that books are printed in multiples of eight (sixteen / thirty-two) and the number of pages affects the eventual cost of production and selling price, this is crucial.

  • TITLE PAGE - Do not number your title page. Omit the header shown on all subsequent pages.
  • In single space, type your real name (not pen-name), address and other contact details (phone, e-mail) in either the Top Left corner or Bottom Right of a blank A4 sheet of white paper.
  • In the Top Right corner, type the total number of words to indicate the length of your book.
  • About a third of the way down (half way down if you put your address at the top) in the Centre of the page type the title of your book in CAPITALS.
  • Beneath it, leave a blank line, then type (centred): A Novel (or A Biography - whatever).
  • Leave another blank line, then type: By Your Pen-name (or real name).
  • Some writers also show the Theme(s) of their book (no more than two or three words) in an empty corner.

And finally, a word about Copyright.

  • COPYRIGHT - You do not need to take any action to copyright your work. Nor, providing you have your name on each page, do you need to state that you are the copyright holder either by the use of the word 'copyright' or by the symbol (c).
  • Always ensure that you have retained a hard copy (printed copy) of your work, and that you have your name and the date of completion on each page. This is sufficient to prove - in the unlikely event of plagiarism - that the intellectual property rights belong to you.
  • If it makes you feel happier, you may post a sealed copy to yourself, but do not open the envelope unless there is a dispute, and then only in the presence of a witness.

Have I forgotten anything? Let me know if anything is not clear, or you have further queries.

Next time, we'll take a look at Letters of Proposal (no - not the marrying sort! The ones you write to a Publisher.) And then How to Wow A Publisher with The Synopsis. See you then.

Your Comments:

27th March 2009
at 5:30pm

Thanks for this post! I will bookmark it for later reference,
since I am still working on my first draft. But it is very helpful
to finally have all those formatting rules explained on one page.
And thanks for mentioning how many cm the margins and all that
should be. It drives me bonkers when the american sites only
mention it in inches all the time. ;-)

27th March 2009
at 6:15pm

You're welcome, Samulli. Glad to have been of help. All the
best with your first draft. I wish you every success.

13th April 2009
at 3:08am

ABSOLUTELY wonderfully presented information!!! Exactly what I
was looking for (including the copyrighting info) and couldn't
seem to find anywhere else. So clear and consice!

Thank you for sharing this information!

14th April 2009
at 8:57pm

Thank you Karina for your kind words. I can't tell you what
it means when you're blogging, to hear from your readers that
you're providing something useful for them.

Do consider subscribing (free) for future updates. Just click
the orange icon in the URL address bar.


23rd April 2009
at 10:12am

Really informative post. Many thanks for taking the trouble to
make this info available to aspiring writers.

26th April 2009
at 3:34pm

You're welcome David. I remember the patient people who
helped me when I set out to be a writer, and hope that I can do

27th April 2009
at 6:40pm

I do understand, having a blog myself (nothing like this mind
you, just ramblings about my life as a single Mom with multiple
sclerosis mostly). I have subscribed and continue to read through
the mountain of useful information you have here - thank you thank
you thank you! I love the new twitter block you have on the right
there, will be following you there as well :)!

27th April 2009
at 6:54pm

Thank you Karina! I love connecting with people from all over
the world. I'm so grateful to know you've subscribed. My
heart goes out to you. How on earth do you manage as a single Mom
with multiple sclerosis. I can't imagine! But I do admire you.
Will take a look at your blog after dinner. Take care. And God
bless. Mel

28th April 2009
at 7:44pm

I'm writing to you regarding this article on your

First, let me say that I found it most informative, I have not
stumbled across that kind of information anywhere else on the
Internet (in the future, I will use those standard for my
manuscripts from the beginning).

Second, I have some questions concerning how to professionally
perform these steps you describe:

1. NUMBERING - Number all pages in Top Right corner.

It this something I have to enter manually for every single page
of my manuscript, or can I access some function in Word that
automize the process?

2. Always number consecutively from 1 right through to the last
page of your manuscript. Never, ever, begin each new chapter at
page 1.

If I have each chapter in a separate Word-document (when
printing a long manuscript, I prefer printing chapter by chapter),
is there any way to make Word automatically numbering each page,
starting with, say, 13?

Sincerely F.P.

28th April 2009
at 7:48pm

Hi F.P.

Thanks for your e-mail and appreciation. I hope you don't
mind but I'm going to add it to the comments at the end of post
so others will know and understand.

1. On the toolbar in Word, click View then Header &

2. In the header box that opens up, type your name in lower case /
TITLE IN UPPER CASE in left corner.

3. Tab to right of box. On the floating toolbar which opened up
when you went into Header box, click # to insert number. Pagination
will then proceed automatically.

4. When you begin next chapter, repeat 1-3 above, but in addition
click format # (3rd icon from left).

5. Incidentally, I always date my mss. To do so, click Switch
Between Header & Footer icon on floating toolbar.

6. In Footer, click Date and Time icons (4th and 5th from left).
This ensures not only that you know which version you are printing
/ reading, but it also confirms your copyright date.

24th May 2009
at 12:01pm

Thank you very much for the information you kindly provided in
formatting a novel. I'm finding it really helpful in writing my
novel. Can I just ask, when it comes to numbering the pages in the
top right corner, do the page numbers actually go inside the header
far right or are they placed above or below the header top right
corner, within the margins? Many thanks for your kind help.

Mel Menzies
29th May 2009
at 5:58am

Thank you for your comment, Mags. I don't think you need to
be too pedantic about this. The idea is that your manuscript
presentation should be tidy and consistent. To achieve this, I
would try to ensure that your page number is on the same line as
the rest of your heading i.e.

Author Name / NOVEL TITLE (on left) 1 (page no. on right)

Text text text

(It isn't possible to put the page number on the right here,
but the important thing is that it's on the same line as the
author name and novel title )

26th June 2012
at 3:43pm
This is a great post! Quick question, when you're writing a nonfiction book, do you include figures or pictures in the manuscript? If not, how do you indicate that there will be a figure/picture there?
Mel Menzies
6th July 2012
at 8:42am
Thank you Miriam. Glad to be of help to you. Yes, I believe most publishers would appreciate an indication of your intention to place a picture within your mss.
Mel Menzies
6th July 2012
at 8:42am
Thank you Miriam. Glad to be of help to you. Yes, I believe most publishers would appreciate an indication of your intention to place a picture within your mss.
31st March 2013
at 7:32am
Hi Mel, read your stuff - great advice. Thing is... I'm a fellah, with too many years under the belt, was around before the Beatles and rather fancied Mary Quant. I'm a Brit writing about an American Policewoman, and in a literary world dominated by the feminine form... I reckon' that I don't stand a 'cat in hell' chance of being published. Do you think I should change my name to Billie?
Humor aside, thank you for your 'gifted' website - its going into my bookmarks, right away!
2nd April 2014
at 8:30am

This is great and so helpful - thank you for the time and effort you put into these articles.

This is going to make formatting so much easier and hopefully much more presentable.

12th April 2014
at 5:42am
Thank you Bill and Tania. Glad to have been of help. Look forward to see you both published.

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