How to format your manuscript: Don’t be cute. Don’t be creative. Be professional!

This is a guest post by Lauren Clark

What’s that, you say? Put an author’s creativity on hold?

The answer is yes. Authors should be creative with the actual planning, writing, and editing of a manuscript. Go crazy! Make every effort to impress! Dazzle and amaze!

When it comes to formatting a manuscript, however, ANY and ALL creative license is strictly forbidden. It’s all about rules, rules, rules! (Sigh, I know. I hate rules, too. Ask my mom.)

So, when you’ve written your masterpiece, and you’ve edited, had someone else proofread (please!), and you’ve researched potential agents and/or publishers: STOP! Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

In the publishing game, it’s simple.



  • Use fancy fonts or colors other than black and Times New Roman 12-point font (unless specified otherwise)
  • Use odd sizes in fonts or margins
  • Use illustrations or graphics

The above-mentioned are certain to get your manuscript tossed from the slush pile into the circular file (read: Trash Can.) Agents and publishers do not want rose-scented paper with pink Wingdings font.



  • Research what an agent/publisher requires. Formatting guidelines are often listed on websites.
  • On the first page, include your contact information. Align left, single-spaced, at the top of the page: Name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and rounded word count.
  • If there are no specifications, use 12-point, Times New Roman or Courier New.
  • Use black type (always, always!)
  • One-inch margins. On all four sides. Always.
  • Indent the first line of each paragraph by half an inch or five spaces.
  • Double-space the entire document.
  • Align left (not justified.) The right edges should NOT be justified. They will be uneven.
  • A manuscript’s page header should include the author’s name/book title on the right, page number on the left. Begin on page 2.
  • When numbering pages, always use the 1, 2, 3, 4 format, not I, II, III, IV.
  • Insert a page break for each new chapter. Center the chapter title.
  • Single space between sentences. A quick trick to fix this if you’ve been double-spacing between sentences for Word users: Go to Edit and select Replace. Type two spaces in the “Find What” box. Nothing else. In the “Replace With” box, type a single space. Ta-da! (Also, a quick note: After colons, always double-space.)
  • If an agent or publisher wants a hard copy, send it on plain white paper. Plain. White. Paper.
  • When sending an e-mail, most agent/publisher websites will specify rules about using attachments or pasting into the e-mail. Follow the rules to a T, unless you like being deleted.

While these rules may all seem boring and tiresome (and oh, so un-creative), it’s crucial for authors to conform when it comes to manuscript submissions! It’s neat, tidy, and professional. Being an author isn’t always about being creative. In this case, it’s about being clear and clean.

Good luck and happy formatting!


About this post’s author: Lauren Clark has been a voracious reader since the age of four and would rather be stranded at the library than on a desert island. In her former life, she worked as an anchor and producer for CBS affiliates in Upstate New York and Alabama. Lauren adores her family, yoga, her new Electra bike, and flavored coffee. She lives near the Florida Gulf Coast. Visit her website at, send her an email at [email protected], or follow her on twitter at @LaurenClark_Bks. Her first novel Stay Tuned is now available on Amazon!


These are great! (And I truly hope writers pay attention.) Since these kinds of rules are something I obsess over and really do have an impact on how readers respond to manuscripts I’ve added a few more that you might find helpful:

– Don’t skip lines between paragraphs.

– Don’t indent the first paragraph of new chapters or sections. (This looks better and also means that adding asterisks or other punctuation between new sections becomes unnecessary.)

– Don’t bind the manuscript.

– Don’t print on both sides of the page.

– This one is subjective: I prefer a footer to a header for the author’s information. To me, a header feels like an interruption and a footer is easier to ignore while reading.

Lauren Clark

Nice adds, Alice! I appreciate you weighing in. Formatting can be tricky business for new authors!

Paige Kellerman

I’ve just got a quick question. You say to double-space the entire document, but single-space sentences. What should I be double spacing, specifically?


Lauren Clark

Hope this answers the question, Paige. Give me another shout if this is not clear.

Yes, double-space the entire document and single space between sentences, meaning:

Here is my sentence.(singlespace)Here is my next sentence.(singlespace).Here is my next sentence.
Here is my sentence.(singlespace)Here is my next sentence.(singlespace).Here is my next sentence.
Here is my sentence.(singlespace)Here is my next sentence.(singlespace).Here is my next sentence.

    Paige Kellerman

    Okie doke. So we’re just talking about between paragraphs and dialogue? Thanks so much for answering! ..:)

Lauren Clark

Paige, yep. Every time you type a period, there should be one space (single space or SS) after and not two. I had to retrain myself not to do it! 🙂

And yes, there should always be a double-space between each line on the page.

And the above post should have looked like this:

Here is my sentence.(SS)Sentence.(SS)Sentence.
(Double Space)
Here is my sentence.(SS)Sentence.(SS)Sentence
(Double Space)
Here is my sentence.(SS)Sentence.(SS)Sentence.
(Double Space)


This is all great advice for if you are submitting the manuscript to agents or publishers but not true for your published document. Its unfortunate that agents won’t look at something that isn’t formatted their way, its one of the reasons I stopped with the query process. I use the font that’s easiest for me to read! When you are publishing your final manuscript TNR is not the only font and size 12 isn’t really appropriate unless you’re publishing YA/Children’s.

    Emlyn Chand

    I have “how to format an eBook” on my to-blog list. It’s a very long list, and this particular blog would have to be a series, but one day it’ll come. Promise 😉


      Come on ‘Em, get crackin! 🙂

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