What Are the Guidelines for Formatting a Manuscript?

Before sending your novel out to potential agents and publishers, be sure to follow these important formatting guidelines.
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Q: Before sending my fiction manuscript off to agents, I want to be sure I have it formatted correctly. Can you offer up any specific guidelines on the specific manuscript format that agents and publishers want? —Anonymous

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As an editor, I can tell you that queries and manuscript submissions (unfortunately) come in all shapes, sizes, fonts and (I'm not making this up) colors, making it a pain to sift through them. Sometimes the manuscript formatting has been so jarring that I've had to reject them without even looking at the overall idea—mainly because I couldn't find the pitch through the clutter. Editors generally prefer submissions of any kind to be neat and uniform, like an online contacts folder, so they can find exactly what they want as easily as possible.

According to Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript, here are the specific rules to formatting a manuscript you should adhere to before shipping your work off to potential agents and publishers.

Use a 1" margin on all sides
Use a title page, set up the same as the title page in your package (see page 159).
Don't number the title page. Begin numbering with the first page of the text of the book, usually the introduction, prologue, or chapter one.
Use a header on each page, including your name, the title of your novel in all caps, and the page number.
Start each new chapter on its own page, one-third of the way down the page.
The chapter number and chapter title should be in all caps, separated by two hyphens: CHAPTER 1—THE BODY.
Begin the body of the chapter four to six lines below the chapter title.
Indent fives spaces for each new paragraph.
Double-space the entire text.
Use a standard font, 12-point type. Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier is fine.
Use 20-lb. bond paper.

It's important to note that guidelines may vary a little based on who you talk to or what you read, but by following the ones stated above you will make sure that your manuscript looks clean, is easy to read and won't get rejected because of sloppy formatting.

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

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