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How to Write a Book Summary
When a teacher or anyone else asks you to write a book summary, he or she is requesting that you read a book and write a short account that explains the main plot points, characters and any other important information in your own words. The reader of your summary should have an understanding of the book without having ever read it. Many teachers and professors ask students to do this to ensure they read and understand the material they’ve assigned. If you’re currently working on your first book summary, here’s how to do it:
Know the Assignment and Choose a Book
Before you get started, you need to know what your teacher expects from you. Did he or she assign a particular book, or can you select you own? you’ll also need to know how long the summary should be. Your teacher may want it to be at least a page or two or so many words so that you can show that you really understood what you read.
Start Reading and Take Notes
As soon as you have the book in hand, whether your teacher assigned it or you chose it yourself, you should grab a pen and notebook to keep with you at all times. Anytime you read a chapter or two, you’ll want to take notes about what you read. Make a list of the characters and their problems and goals. Keep an outline of the plot. Remember, you’re not rewriting the book entirely — just picking out the most important details and retelling them in your voice. You can also make note when you find something interesting or you see something you need to understand better.
Create an Introduction
Once you finish the book, you should have a few pages of notes and a good understanding of what happened, who the main characters were and all of the important plot points. Now, it’s time to start writing the summary. you’ll want to start with a strong introductions that tells the reader exactly what you want them to know. Be straightforward about the title and author of the book and give a general idea in a sentence or two of what it’s about. You may want to introduce a setting here too. For example, if you read “Gone with the Wind,” you may start with something like “Set during the Civil War, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is an epic novel that tells the story of a young Southern woman in Georgia, her love affairs and her attempts to save her family plantation while the South burns down around here.”
Organize Your Notes to Create the Body
Once you’ve introduced the book with a few sentences, it’s time to write the body of the summary. This is where you’ll turn to your notes. If you didn’t create an outline before, now is the time to do so. Organize your points in order in paragraph form. The ultimate goal is for the reader to know exactly what the book was about, even if he or she has never read it. Try putting yourself in the reader of your summary’s shoes. What would you need to know to understand what the book was about? Once you’ve finished the body, add a conclusion that gives the reader an understanding of significance of the book. Did it teach a lesson, or was there a moral to the story? Were there themes present throughout the book?
Edit and Proofread
Once you’ve finished, read over your summary a few times to make sure it makes sense. Not only do you want to check for spelling and grammar errors, but you’ll want to make sure the description flows from point to point and makes sense. Try reading it out loud to yourself to see how it sounds when you hear it. Read it a friend or family member to see if they can provide any feedback. Once you’re certain it’s complete, you can turn it in to your teacher or professor.
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How to Format a Book Manuscript (Inc. Template)
When submitting your book to agents or publishers, you should always check the relevant submission guidelines, but the requirements for manuscript format are broadly the same.
A manuscript format should feature letter or A4 page size, 12-pt Times New Roman (or similar) font, 1” margins, double-spaced lines, and 0.5” paragraph indents. As well as formatting your document correctly, you'll also need a title page, page numbers, and a header.
With the help of Reedsy editor Chersti Nieveen , we’re here to walk you through the whole process. This is how you should format a book manuscript:
1. Name your manuscript file
2. use 1-inch margins for the manuscript format, 3. use times new roman font, 4. double space the book manuscript, 5. insert a header , 6. create the title page, 7. add page breaks for each chapter, 8. proofread your work , 9. finish formatting the manuscript with ‘the end’.
Before you start typing anything, open up your word processor, create a new document, and SAVE the document.
Give it a file name that sounds professional and is easy to search for. Agents and publishers have a lot of manuscripts to look at so they’ll most likely be searching for your manuscript on their hard drive with only some part of your name or book title in mind. As such, name your files with those details plus the date that you’re submitting the manuscript. That way, if you’ve got multiple copies saved on your hard drive, you know which version you actually sent off.
Use underscores to separate the words in the file name — this prevents it from being garbled when the spaces get translated as “%20” by some systems.
The standard file used in publishing is .docx or .doc. Both are native to Microsoft Word and compatible with all mainstream word processors, including Google Docs.
If you don't want to go through the trouble of setting up your document from scratch, just download our free template:
Manuscript Format Template
Get your manuscript ready for submission to agents and publishers.
Unless otherwise stated in the submission guidelines, use:
- Letter Size (8.5” x 11”) format for the US and Canada; and
- A4 (210 x 297mm) format for most other territories.
Set one-inch margins on all four sides. This should already be the default setting on both Word and Google Docs. Some writers will tinker with the margin settings in an attempt to hide their manuscript’s true word count. Professionals can spot this straight away, so don’t do it.
A quick disclaimer before we go any further: some of these steps will look slightly different if you’re using Microsoft Word on Windows rather than iOS, as demonstrated in this post. For example, where on iOS you’ll see ‘Format’ or ‘File’, you’ll see ‘Layout’ on Windows.
Some editors and agents will prefer sans serif fonts (ones without the curly flourishes) but unless specified by the submission guidelines, stick to good old-fashioned Times New Roman.
Note: if you're looking to self-publish your book, you can just go straight to formatting your final book file. Use Reedsy's free book formatting tool for cost-free professional results.
Your lines should be double-spaced, and there should be no extra line breaks between paragraphs. This is how you can change those settings:
- MS Word: Format → Paragraph → Spacing: Double.
- Google Docs: Format → Line & paragraph spacing: Double.
Each new paragraph (and each new portion of dialogue) should start with an indentation. The exception would be the start of a new chapter or scene. Instead of hitting ‘tab’ every paragraph, you can set this up as the default.
- MS Word: Format → Paragraph → Indentation → Left: 0.5” → Special: First line.
- Google Docs: Format → Align & indent → Indentation options → Special: First line → 0.5”.
Each page should have a header with your surname, the book title, and the page number in ALL CAPS with this standard format:
Here’s how you can format your document so that these automatically appear on each page.
In Microsoft Word:
- Insert → Page Number → Position: Top of Page → Alignment: Right → Uncheck “Show number on first page.” Then click Page Number → Format Page Numbers…→ Start at: 0
- Then double-click at the top of your page 1 to add your surname and book title. Align Right to match the page number.
In Google Docs:
- Insert → Page numbers → [the icon showing page numbers on the top right, starting with the second page]
- Add your name and title as you’d do with the MS Word document.
You don’t want to count your title page as “PAGE 1” of your manuscript, which is why you have to choose the ‘different first page’ option.
With your document all set up, now you’re ready to work on the content of your manuscript.
Before we get into Chapter One, take a moment to set up your title page. All text should be in 12pt Times New Roman, black — just like the rest of your manuscript.
In the top left-hand corner of the title page, list your legal name and your contact details (including email address and phone number).
If you already have an agent, you should list their name and contact information instead.
In the top right-hand corner, list your word count to the nearest thousand.
Title and Author Name
In the center of the page, write your book title in ALL CAPS. Two lines below this, write your author name — this can be the same as your legal name, or a pen name that you’ve decided to use in your creative life.
Category and Genre
Centered at the bottom of the page, list the category and the genre of your book. Category usually refers to the age group of the intended reader: Adult, Young Adult, Middle Grade, Chapter Book, Picture Book, et al.
You may feel that your book belongs to many genres, but listing too many will make agents and editors despair. If you’re at a loss, try to think of the section of a bookstore where you’d imagine your work being shelved.
Note: your manuscript should not feature most of the things found in a book's front matter : dedications, copyright pages, etc.
Okay, now that you’ve tidied your manuscript around the edges, let’s do what we came here to do and format the actual content of your book.
When you kick off a new chapter , start it on a fresh page ( Insert > Page Break ). Hit the enter key so that you’re about a third of the way down the page, and enter the chapter number in ALL CAPS with center alignment:
CHAPTER ONE (or CHAPTER 1)
If your chapter has a subtitle — which might be the chapter title itself, or the name of the POV character — enter that directly below:
The Man from Okinawa
If you wish to indicate that there is a significant time gap between chapters, then enter that two lines above the chapter heading. For example:
Three years later
‘P’ is for Psycho
Chapter breaks are often used to indicate a time dash or a switch of POV characters. Some authors may skip to another location or scene with a new paragraph — but this can often confuse the reader. If you want there to be no doubt that you’re jumping to a new scene, you can use a chapter break — indicated by a hash/pound sign (#) or three spaced asterisks (* * *).
If you want to make sure you get every last detail of your book manuscript format right, it’s worth investing in a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style — the gold standard for publishing in the US. However, you can acquit yourself pretty well just by reading the guide to punctuating dialogue on our blog and following these suggestions:
- Never use ALL CAPS in dialogue — if your character is shouting or angry, it’s better to show this through their actual words, rather than how they’re formatted;
- Never use underlining in your manuscript;
- Only use a single space after periods/full stops in line with the AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style .
Really, this advice applies to your manuscript as a whole, not just dialogue. If you’re set on getting everything exactly right, you can always hire a copy editor to polish your manuscript before you send it out — though we’d only really advise this if you’re also unsure about how your prose is reading as a whole.
It might sound like ridiculous advice, but don’t forget to write ‘The End’ at the end of your manuscript! This way, if your book has an ambiguous or surprising ending, the reader won’t think they’re accidentally missing the final few pages.
We mentioned it in the introduction, but it bears repeating here, too: always follow submission guidelines! If you send your manuscript to an agency or publisher , they will likely have their guidelines on their website. Read them and follow them to a tee — even if it conflicts with what we’ve said in this post. But if there aren’t any specific requirements, we’re pretty confident that this format will keep you in the clear.
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And if you’re looking to self-publish right away, just put your masterpiece directly into the Reedsy Book Editor , our free, web-based writing and formatting tool. It’ll turn out a beautifully typeset book and convert it into any file format you might need, whether you want a print book or an ebook.
Best of luck getting published, and see you on the shelves!
Claerwen Howie says:
21/09/2019 – 08:14
Most useful. Especially interesting for me was having only a single space after a full stop. Years of university training required a double space. A worthwhile blog. Many thanks.
Pauline Dewberry says:
03/10/2019 – 18:13
This is absolutely great. Thank you so much for all this invaluable information. I thought I'd finished my manuscript but can tell from reading this post that I need to edit it a bit more! Thank you.
Susan Inwood says:
10/10/2019 – 17:56
Is there an inexpensive service that can do the formatting for us?
↪️ Martin Cavannagh replied:
15/10/2019 – 14:26
Well actually yes! Reedsy has a free formatting tool that you can access when you sign up (also free). You can read more about it right here: https://blog.reedsy.com/how-to-format-a-book/
Stephen Maloney says:
23/10/2019 – 15:25
Can I use section breaks in Word document in order to create different footers? Will this effect conversion to ebook format? I wanted the chapter name to appear at bottom right with page numbers
25/10/2019 – 10:27
Section breaks are not ideal. MS word (and all other word processors) will have footer functions that are automatic and easy to implement. The danger with using section breaks is if you start editing any portion of your book, those footnotes will eventually end up on the wrong page. In either case, it won't affect your ebook conversion... as you really shouldn't be using MS word to format ebook file anyway :)
14/11/2019 – 23:08
Man, I'm trying to figure out how to do some of this in LibreOffice and it isn't easy. Otherwise, this was a great article!!
Mark Tomlinson says:
12/02/2020 – 23:27
Thanks! I'd love to see the Reedsy book editor export to this format.
Nikolai Feinstein says:
21/02/2020 – 05:32
Thank you for all the help! However, I did have a few questions: 1.) Would a "Dedication Page" go on the manuscript? Or will the whole dedication of the book be figured out when I am "deeper" into the process of having my book published? 2.) For my book, I have a *KINDA* subtitle to the book's main title, I would, honestly, consider it more of a "motto" to the story I want to tell; would that go ANYWHERE on the manuscript? Or just like the dedication, would it be decided upon when I am deeper into the publishing of my book?
21/02/2020 – 09:45
The thing with this kind of manuscript is that the only people who will ever read it are people in the publishing industry. If you want a subtitle or add a dedication page, that discussion can take place much, much later. I wouldn't sweat putting those in their... unless you think their inclusion is crucial to understanding/enjoying the manuscript.
21/02/2020 – 22:17
How is formatting different for a self help book?
Comments are currently closed.
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Novel writing ,
How to present a manuscript.
By Harry Bingham
The Art And Craft Of Beautiful Manuscript Presentation
Manuscript presentation makes a big difference to the way literary agents receive your work. Yes, sure, agents are looking for wonderful writing above all, so in that sense the way you format your manuscript is secondary . . . but getting an agent is hard , so you may as well make sure that first impression is a good one.
And of course remember this: literary agents aren’t mostly looking to accept a manuscript . They’re looking for early warning signs that say this author hasn’t taken enough care to be worth reading further. So the lousy presentation of your book’s cover page can screw up your chances of success before your book has really given itself a chance.
It doesn’t need to be. Follow the tips below and you’ll be fine.
What Is A Manuscript?
There’s a difference between a manuscript and a book, and it’s much the same as the difference between a writer and an author. A writer is anyone at all who writes. An author is a writer whose work has been published.
The same thing is basically true of manuscripts / books, so a reasonable definition of the word ‘manuscript’ would be:
A manuscript is the text of your novel (or work of nonfiction), before that text has been turned into the finished book.
In the old days, when the industry still worked with paper, the manuscript was literally the stuff you printed off on your home printer. When I sent my first manuscript out to literary agents, the damn thing ran to more than 180,000 words and it was enormous . Over 600 pages of printed paper, as I recall.
These days, your manuscript may well never be printed off at all, anywhere.
Quite likely, you will work away at your manuscript on a laptop. You’ll send it to an agent by email. Any editorial work will be conducted by email and an e-copy of your manuscript. When the thing is ready to go out to publishers, it’ll go as a computer file, only.
It’s referred to as a manuscript though: it’ll only become an actual book once it’s been typeset and bound (and becomes an actual hard copy, dead-tree book), or once it’s been formatted and packaged up as an ebook. (As a matter of fact, I think some of the kudos that still attaches to trad publishing as opposed to self-publishing has to do with the way it marks out that transition.)
Format Your Manuscript Professionally:
- Use double or 1.5 line spacing
- Use a standard font
- Make sure to use font size 12
- Use standard margins
- Chapter breaks should be marked by page breaks
- Insert page numbers
- Indent paragraphs
- Don’t overuse the ellipsis… Or, exclamation marks!
- Title pages should also include your name, contact info, and wordcount
So your manuscript is basically just a computer file that lives (for now) on your home computer only, but may in time come to sit on the e-reader of your literary agent and (you hope) a whole bunch of editors too.
While the manuscript remains on your laptop and nowhere else, then you can format it just as you please. There are no rules at all. No one will see. No one will care.
I know one (really good) literary author who has poor eyesight and weirdly bad spelling. So he types in a huge font size – Arial, size 16, often all bold – and just ignores the spelling errors.
If he sent out his work out like that, it would make a terrible first impression on anyone reading it. But he doesn’t. That’s just the way he works.
So manuscript formatting rules only apply when you’re ready to go out to agents . . . and even then, you need to realise that there are no rules , exactly. There’s no standard manuscript format. No required novel template that you have to follow, or else . . .
So the only real rule of manuscript presentation is a simple, ordinary one:
Your manuscript should look like a clean, professional document.
If you obey that one single rule, you’ll be just fine. That said, there’s a follow-up quasi-rule, which can be expressed as:
You probably want to set out your manuscript in a way that is most helpful to a literary agent.
Those guys read a lot of new manuscript submissions, so if you make their life harder, you are – even if just in a small way – acting against your own best interests.
Ways you can make an agent’s life easier include:
Helpful choice of filenames
Maybe the file on your computer is called novel.doc, because you hadn’t settled on a title when you started to write. That’s fine – plenty of my novels have started out that way too. But remember that an agent may be looking at your submission alongside 50 others. So don’t call your documents novel.doc / synopsis.doc / query.doc – you’ll confuse the agent almost instantly. Best practice would be to name your file something like The Great Gatsby, Scott Fitzgerald, first three chapters.doc . [Except I think that title might already have been taken . . .]
Clean, clear title page
I’ll give more detail on that in a second
No unnecessary additional text
Your manuscript is just a working document, that has – prior to publication or the offer of a book deal – no special status in life. So don’t write dedications in here. Or Author’s Notes. Or long acknowledgements. If there”s a really compelling reason why you need to do these things, then OK. But in most cases, all that stuff can wait.
Easy readability for the main text itself
More on that shortly as well!
Oh yes, and I should probably also say that in the screenwriting trade, there are fierce and important rules about formatting. They matter because of an equation like this: length of screenplay = run time = production costs. That equation does not apply if you’re writing a novel or nonfiction book, and the result is that the publishing industry requirements about format are much looser. And quite right too!
How To Format Book Title Pages
Applies both to novels and non-fiction books.
Your title page should contain:
- The book’s title in a large font
- A subtitle, if the book has one. Most novels won’t.
- A quick genre specifier, if you want it. “A crime thriller”, for example. I’ve added “A novel” to the page below, only because this page was prepared for the American market where “a novel” is quite often used as a kind of subtitle.
- The book’s rough word count, rounded to the nearest 1,000 or 5,000 words
- Your contact info (Email, phone, address) in the bottom right hand corner, or otherwise somewhat secondary
It doesn’t need anything else. It doesn’t need and shouldn’t have a copyright notice. (See an example of the title page for one of my novels.)
Oh, and NO ARTWORK. Unless you are a professional illustrator, say, you just want to keep the front cover bare of anything except text. Remember that the publisher, not you, will decide what the final book looks like, so sticking your own imagery on the book will, in most cases, look a awkwardly amateurish.
Epigraphs , dedications, acknowledgements and all that kind of stuff can be left for when your book makes it into print. At this stage, you really don’t need that kind of thing. If you really must put in an epigraph, you can certainly do so on the second page or (probably italicised) on the cover itself.
Your cover page would ideally not have any page number on it but, as you can see from the image, I didn’t bother eliminating the number from my title page. It’s no big deal.
Manuscript Text Formatting Guidelines
Follow this broad template, and you’ll have a happy literary agent . . .
The following guidelines will mean that you deliver the kind of manuscript that any literary agent will instantly consider professional and easy to navigate. If you want to deviate from any of these exact strictures, you probably can.
The golden rule is to deliver something that looks like any normal, professional document AND one that is laid out like a book, not a business letter. (ie: indented paragraphs not line breaks in between.) And even that rule about indenting the paragraphs is often not followed by first time writers.
But are literary agents going to turn down great work just because they don’t love the paragraph formatting? Of course not. So don’t worry too much.
OK, enough preamble. For a nice looking manuscript, you want to present it in something like the following way:
- Make sure to use double or 1.5 line spacing.
- Use a nice ordinary font. (Times New Roman, Garamond, or Georgia are all good choices. Arial is quite common, but maybe better avoided as sans serif text is just harder to read at length .)
- Ensure that you use a font size no smaller than 12, and no larger than 14.
- Use standard margins. Your existing defaults are probably fine, but check.
- Chapter breaks should be marked by page breaks, so each new chapter starts on a clean sheet.
- You can mark each new chapter with a number, if you care to. Or anything at all, really, just so long as it’s clear what’s going on. (If you’re worried about how long your chapters are, or how many pages are in a novel, then read this and put your mind at ease).
- Don’t forget to insert page numbers (though, truth be told, all that matters less now that everything happens in e-form. It’s still a nice touch.)
- Indent paragraphs (using the tab key or the paragraph formatting menu – don’t rely on the space bar). Do not leave a double space between paragraphs except as a section break.
- Oh, and don’t overuse the ellipsis (“…”) or the exclamation mark. Professional authors use those things very sparingly.
This page shows my own choices: a nice looking chapter header (but mine is a lot fancier than you need.) Modest paragraph indentation, I like 0.3″. A personal, but not wacky font. (I usually use Garamond, though I’m not quite sure what I used in this example!) Line spacing that’s clear, but not too spacey. (I generally use 1.5 line spacing, though you can go as low as 1.25 if you really want.) Plus a nice neat page number, of course.
It would be good practice to include your name and the title of the book in a header or footer, though I haven’t done so in this image.
Oh, and did you notice that the very first paragraph in that page was not indented? That’s technically correct and looks quite classy . . . but don’t worry if you haven’t done it. At that level, no one will care. (And that’s one big thing to remember about manuscript presentation. You need your work to look clean, professional and literate. If you check those boxes, then you’re fine. Really, truly, nothing else matters – except the quality of your actual book, which needs to be amazing.)
Manuscript Format: Dialogue Presentation
This isn’t a full guide to dialogue format, so do check more complete sources if you need, but for a quick refresher:
- Dialogue counts as new paragraphs, so it should be indented.
- When speech by one character is interrupted by a descriptive line, and then the speech continues, this all counts as one paragraph. Begin the next paragraph with the next speaker.
- Use single quotation marks for dialogue. When dialogue is followed by ‘said X’ or ‘chortled Y’ you should not capitalise either the s of said or the c of chortled. This is true even if the dialogue ends with an exclamation mark or a question mark.
- If the speaker quotes someone else within dialogue, you show that inner quotation with double inverted commas. Like this, for example: ‘No,’ said Hugh patiently. ‘What Sophie actually said was, “Go to hell, you bloody idiot!” Words to that effect anyway.’
- For more help on writing dialogue in the first place, then nip over here .
Again, though, that rule about quotations within dialogue is hardly ever going to matter . . . and no one at all will care if you get it wrong. It’s your novel or non-fiction which matters!
Dialogue Format: An Example
‘This manuscript is nicely presented,’ said the agent. ‘Indeed it is,’ said the publisher. She paused briefly, to strike off a few zeros from an author’s royalty statement. ‘It is well presented. And intelligent. And beautifully written.’ ‘But Oprah won’t like it.’ ‘No, indeed. Nor the Chief Buyer at Walmart.’ ‘So we’ll reject it!’ they chorused, laughing wildly. Their limousine swept on through the rainy streets, leaving a faint aroma of cigar smoke and Chanel no. 5 lingering on the mild springtime air.
Use the example above for guidance – or, if in doubt, open any paperback book. The way it’s laid out is the way yours should be.
Manuscript Presentation: Punctuation Basics
Your presented manuscript needs flawless punctuation. A few last tips.
- There is one general rule for punctuation. It is there to help avoid ambiguity.
- Commas are tricky, but often missed out before names. Get into the habit of putting them in and you will avoid absurdities like the ones noted by Lynn Truss in Eats, Shoots and Leaves .
- Hyphens are an endangered species, and only the writer can save them. Again, it is vital to avoid ambiguities and absurdities – for instance, the white toothed whale . Is it the whale or the teeth that are white?
- It is a good rule to avoid lists of adjectives but, when you have them, check to see if any should be hyphenated. You can have a dining room, but a table there becomes a dining-room table .
- Semi-colons are also endangered, yet can bring a deal of subtlety to a writer’s style. A semi-colon links two related sentences; the second often elaborates or adds context to the first. A semi-colon is stronger than a comma, but not as strong as a full-stop.
- Colons are used where one sentence introduces another. The rule is simple: use the colon when one sentence introduces the next.
The three mistakes that our editorial team sees most commonly are these:
1. Not Enough Use Of Commas
Commas are like a tiny pause within a sentence and they can divide sentences into little blocks of meaning. They can make (especially) long sentences much easier to parse and comprehend. And commas are free. Use them!
2. Use Of Commas Instead Of Fullstops/Periods
Yes, we like commas, but commas aren’t there to divide one sentence from another, if you use commas where you mean to use fullstops (periods), you will end up with sentences that never seem to end, writing of this sort will drive your editor mad, punctuation-related homicides are rising sharply as a result. (*)
3. Misuse Of Apostrophes
The mistake which will have most agents screaming has to do with apostrophes. These are simple, so get them right. (‘It’s’ means ‘it is’, It’s raining , for example. ‘Its’ means the thing belonging to it, The mouse gnawed its cheese , for example – and ‘its’ is correct. No apostrophes are added to other possessive pronouns like his or hers, either.) If you’re unsure, look these things up.
* – Oh and if you wanted to know how that sentence ought to look, it’s like this:
Yes, we like commas, but commas aren’t there to divide one sentence from another. If you use commas where you mean to use fullstops (periods), you will end up with sentences that never seem to end. Writing of this sort will drive your editor mad. Punctuation-related homicides are rising sharply as a result.
If you wanted a semi-colon instead of a period after “mad”, that would be very elegant and your editor would probably want to give you a kiss. Instead of shooting you. Which has gotta be a win, right?
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you prepare a manuscript for submission.
There are many things to consider when preparing your manuscript for submission as manuscripts have to be formatted quite specifically. The first and most essential thing is to ensure that your manuscript has been thoroughly edited and is as well-written as possible. Manuscripts tend to be written in Times New Roman font in a size 12 and are double spaced with no separation between paragraphs (though each paragraph other than the very first should be indented). The most important thing is that the text itself, and the formatting, are clear and readable, and you have provided all the necessary information somewhere within the manuscript.
What Is The Proper Format For A Manuscript?
A well-formatted manuscript will feature A4 pages, should have a font size of 12, be written in a legible font (such as Times New Roman), have regular margins, indented paragraphs, and be double spaced. Manuscripts also include a title page, a header, and page numbers and each line of dialogue should be indented and should start on its own line.
How Many Pages Should A Manuscript Be?
The number of pages in, and the general length of, a manuscript varies considerably in terms of genre, topic, readership, and many other important factors. Most manuscripts tend to be around 70,000-120,000 words long, which equates to around 250-450 pages. But children’s books are generally far shorter (especially ones written for infants!) while certain books, such as fantasy and historical fiction, are much longer than that.
Writing a book is hard. Getting an agent is hard. Getting published – well, that’s still harder.
And getting well published? Actually making a career out of this thing? That’s never been even remotely easy, and (if you’re talking about traditional publication) may be harder than it’s been for decades.
So get help. Don’t start spending crazy money, but get help.
Why not try our video course on Getting Published that covers everything you need to know. Or, if you’re eager to polish your manuscript, but aren’t sure where to start, get help from an experienced professional editor with our Manuscript Assessment Service .
Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers , providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter . For more writing articles, take a look at our blog page .
About the author
Harry has written a variety of books over the years, notching up multiple six-figure deals and relationships with each of the world’s three largest trade publishers. His work has been critically acclaimed across the globe, has been adapted for TV, and is currently the subject of a major new screen deal. He’s also written non-fiction, short stories, and has worked as ghost/editor on a number of exciting projects. Harry also self-publishes some of his work, and loves doing so. His Fiona Griffiths series in particular has done really well in the US, where it’s been self-published since 2015. View his website , his Amazon profile , his Twitter . He's been reviewed in Kirkus, the Boston Globe , USA Today , The Seattle Times , The Washington Post , Library Journal , Publishers Weekly , CulturMag (Germany), Frankfurter Allgemeine , The Daily Mail , The Sunday Times , The Daily Telegraph , The Guardian , and many other places besides. His work has appeared on TV, via Bonafide . And go take a look at what he thinks about Blick Rothenberg . You might also want to watch our " Blick Rothenberg - The Truth " video, if you want to know how badly an accountancy firm can behave.
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COACHING + PUBLISHING
FORMATTING + DESIGN
How to Format a Book: 10 Tips Your Editor Wants You To Know
by Blake Atwood | Aug 10, 2022
Unless you prefer your friends to be story nerds or those who lean toward obsessive-compulsive tendencies when it comes to grammar, you shouldn’t necessarily seek to befriend your editor .
However, you should seek to do everything in your power to be a professional friend of your editor. One of the simplest ways to do that — which too many authors fail to consider — is formatting.
I know. With the greatest of respect for book designers and internal formatters, formatting isn’t exactly the sexiest of topics for an author to consider. But, if you don’t know how to format a book it can cost you a reader. You’d much rather paint a new world on the canvas of your book than talk about unadorned, 12-point Times New Roman.
This guide on how to format a book covers:
- Why formatting is important
- How to format your book
What to do next
Why formatting is important.
When you skip over the basics of how your manuscript is formatted, you’re subconsciously showing a lack of respect for your craft and your editor. If you send a poorly formatted manuscript to your editor, they very likely won’t say anything, but I can promise you that they’re thinking one of two things:
- I can hardly read this manuscript.
- I’m wasting my time reformatting this manuscript.
In these instances, an editor will either edit your manuscript as-is or spend the time you’re paying them for to do the work you could have (and should have) done yourself.
But once you incorporate the standardized basics of formatting a manuscript in preparation for your editor, you’ll see that it will save both you and your editor a lot of time and frustration.
How To Format Your Book: Tips for Nailing Your Book Format
While this article attempts to offer standardized recommendations, some editors, literary agents or publishing houses may have their own formatting stipulations. Always be sure to scan websites for that information, and when in doubt, ask.
The following formatting recommendations hold true for both fiction and nonfiction manuscripts in the U.S. Any accepted variations are noted, and comments are appreciated with regard to differences for international markets.
Here’s what’s expected for a standard manuscript format.
1. Use black, 12-point, Times New Roman as the font
Yes, Times New Roman is boring, but it’s essentially on every computer ever made.
Don’t use a cool font for effect. Save that for your book’s interior design , which comes much later after the editing process.
(Font trivia: Times New Roman is no longer used by The Times .)
2. Use the U.S. standard page size of 8.5×11 inches and set your margins to 1 inch on all sides
Starting a new document in Word defaults to these parameters, but if you’re exporting to Word from your word processor of choice, double-check the output to ensure your page size and margins are correct.
To set page size in Word, go to File>Page Setup and look at the drop-down menu for Page Size.
To set margins in Word, go to Format>Document.
3. Set alignment to left justified
Left justified text is also known as ragged right text. The text will align itself along its left side, leaving its right side nonuniform (unjustified).
To set alignment in Word, select all of your text, then click the left justification icon in the Home tab or select Format>Paragraph and choose “Left” in the Alignment drop-down box.
4. Use a single space after periods
If you were trained to type two spaces after a period, retrain yourself.
In the digital age, use a single space. (For why, see “ Space Invaders .”)
Tip: if your manuscript has two spaces after a period , use your word processor’s Find and Replace tool. Type two spaces into “Find” and one space into “Replace” then hit “Replace All” with reckless, typing-teacher-be-damned abandon.
5. Use double-spaced line spacing
This may be the greatest help to your editor.
You want to ensure they see your every last word, so give your words room to breathe on the page.
Tip: if you’ve already written your book with different line spacing, select all of your text in Word, click Format > Paragraph, then select “Double” in the drop-down box under “Line spacing.”
6. Indent all paragraphs by .5 inches, and don’t hit tab or space to indent
This may be every editor’s pet peeve. Setting tabs and hitting tab aren’t the same thing.
If you’re a tab-hitter or space-space-space-space-spacer, select all of your text in Word, then set indentation using Format > Paragraph. Under “Indentation” and by “Left,” type .5. under “Special,” then choose “First line” from the drop-down menu.
Note: Generally, the first paragraph of any chapter, after a subhead, or following a bulleted or numbered list isn’t indented.
7. Format paragraphs according to genre standards
Fiction authors should use indented paragraphs without full paragraph breaks. Nonfiction authors may opt for no indentation so long as paragraphs are separated by a full paragraph break.
Tip: Crack open a book in your genre to see what the paragraphing conventions are, then emulate.
8. Use page breaks
To begin a new chapter, don’t just keep hitting return until you create a new page. Rather, use page breaks.
In Word, place the cursor at the end of a chapter, then click “Insert > Break > Page Break” in Word’s top menu.
9. Number your pages
Don’t begin numbering on your title page. Rather, begin numbering on the page your story begins.
To place page numbers in Word, double-click within the header area of the page on which your story begins and click “Insert > Page Numbers,” then select your preferred options. Choose to place your page numbers at the top left of the page.
10. Send your manuscript as one Word document (.doc /.docx)
You don’t have to compose your masterpiece in Word, but because Word’s “Track Changes” feature is still the de facto editing tool of choice, your editor will appreciate receiving a Word file.
And whatever you do, never send your editor individual chapters as separate files.
Alternate Option: Use Software to Help
While you can do most of these steps in Microsoft Word or Google Docs while writing your manuscript, when it comes time to turn it into a format that is used in the marketplaces, you’ll probably want specialized book formatting software. This kind of software can help you with both ebooks and paperbacks.
While there are a number of options out there, one of the best is Atticus . It will help you produce professional-looking books easily, with no technical background. Plus, with all of its features, you can customize your book and make it truly unique.
These 10 easy-to-follow steps will put you on your editor’s good side. While each of these issues typically doesn’t take too much time to rectify, the problems are compounded when an editor has to fix more than a few.
Want more help formatting your book? Check out this related article on “Book Format: 7 Common Mistakes & How to Avoid Them.”
Just remember, when an editor receives a well-formatted manuscript, they can immediately begin the work that you’re actually paying them to do: editing !
This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.
Photo via Chinnapong /Shutterstock
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How to Write a Book: 3 Ways to Write a Book Manuscript
If you know you want to write a book, the next question is how to write a book . It may surprise you to discover that there are multiple methods for creating your book’s manuscript. By understanding the paths to book creation, you can find the method that best accomplishes your purpose.
Method 1: Traditional Manuscript Creation
For most aspiring authors, the idea of penning a book involves just that — writing the pages themselves. While this is not the only option available, it is perhaps the most widely known method.
Traditional manuscript writing involves outlining your book with the end in mind. Consider what you most want the readers to know, learn, and do upon reading your book. This will help guide your content creation process and keep you on track.
Keep in mind that this option is best suited for authors with experience writing and a knack for organization. Even if your aim is to educate your readers, incorporate storytelling throughout your manuscript to engage readers.
Before pursuing this option, conduct some friendly competitive research to understand what resources already exist in your space. You will want to find a fresh take on your topic in an area of your expertise. Consider topics that align with your brand and can promote you as an industry leader while growing interest in your products and services.
Method 2: Book Coaching
Book coaching is a lesser-known method for writing a book that brings unique benefits. Perhaps you want to write the book yourself, but you could use a guiding hand to ensure the content is top-notch. Many of us benefit from a second pair of eyes when it comes to writing. However, writing a book is a great undertaking, making an expert’s insight invaluable for shaping and refining your ideas.
In your book coaching sessions, you can expect:
- Chapter by chapter analysis and suggestions
- Support structuring overarching themes
- Flow and clarity edits
- Chapter addition/subtraction suggestions
Book coaching is a convenient option for bolstering the power of your manuscript to align with your brand objectives. For those seeking even greater support with their manuscript, you can work with a book doctor.
Book doctors are skilled in reshaping manuscripts that lack the clarity, structure, or eloquence needed for a best-selling book. Your confidence in your existing manuscript should determine which option best suits your needs.
Method 3: Ghostwritten Manuscript Creation
Perhaps neither of the methods mentioned above sound workable, but you still want to turn your experience into a groundbreaking business book.
By employing a ghostwriter, you can communicate your knowledge without translating your thoughts into text yourself. This allows you to transform your expertise into pages with the support of a professional writer with experience in your industry. For some, this is a winning combination that best suits an author’s skills and availability.
With a ghostwritten manuscript, you can expect the following:
- A voice and tone that matches your own
- Periodic interviews with your ghostwriter to support their writing
- Time to review and edit their work
- A faster turnaround time than a self-written manuscript
For more information on our ghostwriting matching process, read our blog, “ How Our Ghostwriting Process Works .”
How to Choose a Manuscript Creation Method
The method you choose for writing your book is highly personal. After reading this post, you may know which choice best suits your needs. However, a professional opinion from a publisher may be what you need to make a well-informed decision.
When you partner with Forbes Books, we support your book creation process from the ideation phase through book promotions following your book launch. As part of our comprehensive process, we provide suggestions on how to create your manuscript with the resources to accomplish it.
Our publishing experts will consider your availability, objectives, and preferences as they create a Master Book Plan for you. This will serve as a guiding document that includes your preferred mode of content creation and additional customized suggestions for creating a successful business book.
Partner with a Publishing House
Forbes Books is Forbes’ exclusive book publisher. We specialize in transforming business leaders into well-known authorities in their field with a book to prove it. When you include our various media services with your publishing package, we create a multi-channel strategy to promote your book’s success. Learn more about how we can support your publishing and manuscript creation efforts.
Lissie Hoover is a Sr. Copywriter with several hundred articles in her portfolio and even more edited and published under her supervision. Lissie holds a MA in Communications from Grand…
February 21, 2023
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How To Format A Manuscript (& Impress Your Editor)
I’ll be honest: manuscript formatting is tedious and boring.
It’s also important to get it right. If you don’t, your book will suffer, and you’re going to spend more money than you need to on editing.
It comes down to readability for the editor . If you send in a manuscript that’s not formatted properly, your editor will do three things:
- Think you’re unprofessional and edit your book under that assumption.
- Not fix your formatting, and do a poor job editing as a result, or
- Charge you more a lot more money to do formatting work you should have done.
The good news is that it’s easy to set up the standard format for a manuscript, and once you get it right, you don’t have to re-learn it. You can use the same book template , over and over.
In this guide I’ll teach you:
- Industry-standard formatting practices to make sure your manuscript is professional.
- Step-by-step instructions in Microsoft Word or Google Docs.
- An example of a correctly formatted Manuscript.
What Exactly is Manuscript Format?
A manuscript is the finished, written book. The actual Microsoft Word or Google Docs file that is your book.
Formatting is how your manuscript looks and reads. Things like font size, page color, word count, page number, line spacing, paragraph breaks–everything that goes into the visual appearance.
This means manuscript format is the proper way your manuscript should look when you send it in for editing.
The 15 Scribe Manuscript Format Rules
Before we start, understand there are no actual “rules” for formatting. You can’t go to the Formatting Police and get official law on Standard Manuscript Format (I wish, that would make things much easier).
There are no rules, only conventions that developed over the past century of book publishing . What I’m about to show you are the 15 formatting rules that our book editors ask from our authors at Scribe.
These rules also reflect the ones most common conventions in the publishing industry.
Most of them will seem obvious to you, and most are baked into the defaults of Microsoft Word or Google Docs. If you don’t touch the defaults on your word processing program, then most of these will be non-issues.
The thing is: every one of these are routinely violated by authors who don’t pay attention, and that is why we mention them.
1. Use A Standard Font (Times New Roman or Arial)
The most common print font is the serif font Times New Roman. The most common web font is the non-serif font Arial. They both work great. Don’t use anything else for your manuscript.
Note: your actual book may end up with a different font. There are some fonts that read better in book format. Leave that decision to the interior layout stage, not editing stage.
To check that you have the correct font, in Word do this:
To check that you have the correct font, in GDocs do this:
2. Black Text on White Background
It’s possible to change the defaults on your word processor to something other than black text on a white background. If you want to do that while you write, cool–just switch it back to the regular defaults for submission.
This mainly happens when people use different color text. Just don’t change the defaults, and you’re fine.
3. 12 Point Type
The type size is how big the letters are. 12 point is usually the default in a word processor because it’s easy to read for most people.
To check that you have proper font size, in Word do this:
To check that you have proper font size, in GDocs do this:
4. 8.5 x 11 Page Size
Again, this is a default page size on most word processors, so don’t change it and you are fine.
To check that you have proper page size, in Word do this:
To check that you have proper page size, in GDocs do this:
5. One Inch Margins
One inch margins on the border of the document is the standard format. This means the right margins are one inch, the left margins are one inch, etc.
This used to be a very important formatting convention when manuscripts were submitted as printed documents. That doesn’t happen much anymore, so this is not important. If you keep the word processor defaults, you’ll be fine.
6. Left Justified Alignment
Left justified means that left hand text is aligned, while the end of the right hand text is jagged. It looks like this:
Again, that is the default on most word processors.
The thing to avoid is Fully Justified, where each line looks the same length, like this:
Your final book may be formatted that way, but do not format your manuscript like that.
7. One Space After Periods
You should have a single space after a period, not two spaces.
If you’re under 40 and confused why I would even mention this, it’s because you learned how to type on computers. Many of us olds learned typing on manual typewriters, and the convention for those was to hit the space bar twice and add the extra space to have two spaces after a period.
I know, old people, right?
8. Double-spaced Text Lines
Most editors, regardless of the type of editor they are, prefer to edit manuscripts that are double-spaced. Double-spacing means there is an extra line between each line of text. It looks like this:
This was an editing style that developed when editing was done on paper, but has persisted because this type of line spacing with extra line breaks and blank lines make reading easier on the editor.
To double space in Word do this:
To double space in GDocs do this:
9. Paragraph Classic Style: indented with no line space
There are two ways to format paragraphs, you can choose the one you like. Just don’t mix and match in the same manuscript.
Classic style is paragraphs with an indent at the beginning, and no space between new paragraphs. It tends to be used in novel manuscripts and short stories.
It looks like this:
10. Paragraph Modern Style: no indents with line space
Modern style is no indents at the beginning of paragraphs, and a space between paragraphs. It tends to be used in non-fiction. It looks like this:
11. Page Breaks Between Chapters
When you finish one chapter and start a new chapter, don’t just hit the return key until you get to a new page. Instead, use the “page break” function. What that does is insert a new page, without inserting a bunch of hard returns and space into the manuscript.
To insert a page break in Word do this:
To insert a page break in GDocs do this:
12. Number Your Pages
Editors love to see page numbers. This is for many reasons, most of which I don’t think apply in a modern world with a search function, but they still insist on them, so it’s easier to just add page numbers.
To number your pages in Word do this:
To number your pages in GDocs do this:
13. Send Your Entire Manuscript as One Document
You’re welcome to write in as many documents as you need. That’s common practice to put each chapter in its own document.
As long as, before you submit for editing, combine them all into one document. There is no quicker way to enrage your editor than send them a folder with 15 chapters all in different documents.
14. Use Style Function To Format Headings
When you want to make a chapter title or chapter number or any sort of heading stand out, the best way to do it is to make it a larger or bolder font, right?
Yes, but there is a right and wrong way to do that.
The wrong way is to manually do it. This means changing the font size, or underlining it, or italicize it, by itself. Doing this can get it to “look” right, but you are risking being inconsistent, and making the later formatting very hard on the interior designer.
The correct way is to use what is called the “style function.” What this does is associate the correct heading (H1, H2, H3, etc), which makes everything consistent and easier for the interior designer. But really, it makes sure your book look the way you want.
To use the style function in Word do this:
To use the style function in GDocs do this:
15. Proper Title Page Layout
There are many acceptable ways to layout a Title Page. Generally speaking the Title Page is the first page of the manuscript, and needs to include the book title, the sub-title, the word count, your contact information (including email and phone number). You can also have a physical address as well. This should all be on the first page.
Here is an example of the format we recommend:
The Scribe Method (book title) The Best Way To Write and Publish Your Non-fiction Book (sub-title) by Tucker Max 815-A Brazos St Austin, TX 10001 (512) 555-1212 [email protected] 2,000 words
Note: In this post, I did not include any of the conventions on submitting query letters to a literary agent , or manuscript submissions to publishers, or all the various other forms of submission guidelines that publishing houses can heap on writers. Though things like submission guidelines to literary agents and publishers are important, they’re a different issue than manuscript submission guidelines for editors.]
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How to Format a Book Manuscript, with Examples and Templates (2023)
by Kelly Hart
Updated Sep 20, 2021
It doesn’t matter if you want to be an independently published author or a traditionally published author—submitting a manuscript that follows the industry-standard manuscript formatting rules 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 your manuscript format doesn’t adhere to industry standards, because that means they’ll need to re-format your manuscript before they can start their work.
For authors going down the route of traditional publishing, correct manuscript format is also an important step—the agents and publishers you submit your writing 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 manuscript a second look.
What is manuscript formatting?
Manuscript formatting is the way in which the text of your book or novel is presented on the page. The same text could have a larger or smaller font; it could be set in Times New Roman, or Courier, or another font; it could be on a white page, or a cream page; the page size, or the size of the margins could vary; and so on. The words and sentences themselves haven’t changed, only how we present them—that’s formatting.
When submitting your manuscript to agents, editors, and publishers, they expect your writing to be formatted in a specific way. This makes it easier for them to read through the tens and hundreds of submissions they get every week.
Manuscripts that don’t follow these industry-standard formatting rules are much more likely to be discarded unread, because not only does it waste the reader’s time, but and it also suggests that the writer is an amateur. You don’t want that!
How to format a book
Luckily for you, correctly formatting your book manuscript can be summarized in just a few bullet points.
Some of your recipients might have their own special rules that they’d like you to follow when formatting your manuscript. If they do, then you should of course follow their requirements. But if they just ask for “industry standard manuscript formatting,” then these are the rules you want to follow to the letter:
Set a margin of 1 inch (2.5cm) on all four sides of your manuscript. This is usually already the default setting in Word, but double check on your computer to make sure.
Align text to the left; the right hand side should remain ragged. (I.e., don’t set your text to be justified.)
Use Times New Roman font, at 12 point size. Courier and Arial fonts may also be acceptable, but to be safe stick with Times New Roman unless otherwise specified.
Black text on a white background only. Don’t get creative with colors.
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 .
Double space lines, with no extra space between paragraphs.
Single space between sentences, after periods.
Use a blank line to indicate scene breaks , and center a hash mark (#) in the middle of the blank line.
Create a header in the top right corner by using your last name, then selecting a keyword from your manuscript, followed by the page number. For example, Hart - Manuscript - 1 . You can add headers and page numbers in Word automatically.
Begin chapters on new pages. Center the chapter title, even if it’s only Chapter One, about one-third of the way down the page. Skip a couple of lines and begin the text of the chapter.
At the end of the manuscript, center a hash mark (#) one double-spaced blank line after the last line. Or, simply write The End . This will reassure the reader that pages aren’t accidentally missing.
Use italics when necessary, but never underline in novel manuscripts.
Title page format for manuscripts
Your manuscript should always include a title page. It should follow the same formatting conventions as the body text, including margins and font size. It should include:
Your contact details at the upper left of the title page, formatted in the same font and size as the manuscript text.
The approximate word count, to the nearest hundred, at the upper right of the title page.
The name of the novel, about a third of the way down the title page and centered.
Your name just below the novel’s title, preceded by the word by .
Copyright details if applicable, centered at the bottom of the page.
An example of correct manuscript formatting
A well-formatted titlepage looks like this:
Body text that follows correct manuscript formatting looks like this:
If you’ve followed all of these bullet points, then congratulations! You now have a manuscript formatted to the industry standard, and it’s ready to be sent to agents, editors, and publishers.
Things to do before you send in your manuscript
Check with the recipient to make sure they don’t have any special formatting requirements that you should follow before sending it in.
Keep an exact copy of the manuscript file you sent in, backed up separately from your master document. For example, if your master manuscript file is named my-novel.docx , keep an exact copy of the file you submitted named my-novel-penguin-submission-feb-3-2023.docx . It’s important to track exactly what text you submitted to which recipient, in case you make changes to your master manuscript later.
Download a manuscript formatting template
We put together a useful Word document template for a manuscript submission. Use it as a base for your own writing as you get ready to submit to agents and publishers!
Download the manuscript formatting template (docx)
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How to format a book · Set a margin of 1 inch (2.5cm) on all four sides of your manuscript. · Align text to the left; the right hand side should