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How to Format Your Novel Manuscript
The Purpose of a Manuscript
Creating a novel manuscript is an essential part of the publishing process, but it is also one of the scariest. The image of a plain, black and white stack of papers lying in a mountain of other submissions is too much for some writers. Often, these writers will choose to color fonts, stylize paragraphs, and add pretty borders or images that will make their manuscript stand out.
This is a bad idea. A potential agent is reading your submission for writing quality, not your arts and crafts ability.
This guide will cover all the manuscript-formatting necessities, helping you to transform your novel into the professional, minimalist standard that will meet most agents' expectations (and explaining how to submit to the oddballs). Remember, agents and publishers receive countless submissions every month; improperly formatted manuscripts are usually marked and destroyed on sight.
Make sure you're not missing any opportunities for publication!
Creating a Title Page
The title page of your manuscript identifies both you and your novel. If your agent cannot find the information needed on this first page, it is likely that he/she will not read a single word further. Fortunately, the standard for manuscript title pages is relatively straightforward:
- Insert your contact information—name, address, phone number, and email—in the top left corner of the page, single-spaced.
- Include the approximate word count of your manuscript under your contact info or in the top right corner.
- In the center of your page, type the title of your novel in all capital letters or with mixed capitalization.
- After your title, create a new, double-spaced line with the word "by." Add another double-spaced line and type your name/pen name.
- If you have an agent, include his/her name after your own on a new double-spaced line.
There should be no header or footer on your title page.
Spacing is Important
Remember, your contact information/word count is the only text that should be single-spaced! Every other line, including your title information, should be double-spaced.
Setting Margins, Headers, and Alignment
Proper margins, headers, and alignment create an easy reading experience without distracting your potential agent. Some of the following settings are standard in word processing programs, and you may only need to review them:
- Ensure you have one-inch margins on all four sides of your text.
- Align body text to the left on every page.
- Insert a header with your name, title keywords, and page number for display on every page but the title. Separate the information with slashes (/) and align it to the right.
Your page numbers should begin with 1 on the first page of the novel, not the title page. In Microsoft Word, you can include a self-updating page number using the "Insert" tab—make sure to check the "Different First Page" option. Also, remember not to justify your text; the right sides of your paragraphs should be jagged, not even.
Starting New Chapters and Scenes
New chapters—and scenes, if you use them—require their own spacing and format to set them apart from your body text. A new chapter must
- Start on a new page
- Begin a third of the way down
- Have a center-aligned title
- Leave two blank lines after the title (before body text begins)
If you have two chapter titles—"Chapter One" and "The Beginning," for example—leave each title its own line on the page.
Scene breaks are much simpler than new chapters. Just insert a new line between body paragraphs and add a center-aligned number (#) sign to the space. You can also use the number sign to end your manuscript instead of writing "The End."
Choosing Font and Paragraph Styles
It is possible to get away with using a font such as Calibri for your novel manuscript; however, it is usually safer to type in the traditional Times New Roman. Your font should always be black and in size 12, including titles, headings, and other information.
As previously mentioned, ensure that you entirely double-space your text (excluding only the contact information and word count on your title page). Indent each body paragraph by half an inch, and do not insert extra space between any of the lines.
Obsolete Requirements and Desired Variation
There are some formatting requirements that you may still hear about but are no longer required. The following rules are obsolete, and you do not have to worry about including them while editing your manuscript:
- Underline words instead of using italics. This practice was used for clarity in the past and is no longer required—feel free to italicize as you please.
- Leave two spaces after every full stop. This rule is a throwback to the age of typewriters and is no longer needed; it might even throw you off when you return to regular projects.
The only time you will need to apply these two rules is if the agent/publisher you are submitting to requests them. It is extremely important to check all relevant websites and documents before submitting your novel manuscript, as there may be a request for specific formatting variations lurking about.
If you do not account for these variations in your submission, it will appear as if you have not put the effort into preparing your manuscript (or that you have shot off copies to hundreds of agencies at once). Be personal in your submission.
Format When Finished
If you have already finished your novel and are looking to edit it, this is the ideal time to use these guidelines; if you have not finished yet—or haven't begun—it may not be ideal. While writing, it can be distracting to have formatting confine your text; in fact, it can sometimes be wise to turn off spelling and grammar dictionaries until the editing phase begins.
The formatting stage can wait. Write freely, and enjoy the time with your novel!
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