Guidelines to format a manuscript

If you submit manuscripts to publishers or agents, you have probably come across the demand that you use “standard manuscript format” (or “SMF”) for your submissions. However, it isn’t always spelled out what this actually means. Generally speaking, the term indicates that you should format your document with the following guidelines in mind:

  1. Type your document, don’t write it.
  2. Use a single, clear font, 12 point size. The best to use is Courier or Courier New. At the very least, ensure you use a 12 point, serif font and not something like Arial.
  3. Use clear black text on a white background.
  4. If you are printing out your submission (rather than submitting it electronically), use good quality plain white paper and print on only one side of each sheet.
  5. Include your name and contact information at the top left of the first page. Put an accurate word count at the top right. Put the title half-way down the page, centred, with “by Your Name” underneath. Start the story beneath that.
  6. If you write under a pseudonym, put that beneath the title but your real name in the top left of the first page.
  7. Put your name, story title and the page number as a right-justified header on every subsequent page, in the format Name/Title/Page Number. Generally, you can also just use a key word from your title and not repeat the whole thing on each page.
  8. Left-justify your paragraphs. Right margins should be “ragged”.
  9. Ensure there is at least a 1 inch (2 centimetre) margin all the way around your text. This is to allow annotation to be written onto a printed copy.
  10. Use double spacing for all your text.
  11. Don’t insert extra lines between your paragraphs.
  12. Indent the first line of each paragraph by about 1/2 inch (1 centimetre).
  13. If you want to indicate a blank line, place a blank line, then a line with the # character in the middle of it, then another blank line.
  14. Don’t use bold or italic fonts or any other unusual formatting. To emphasise a piece of text you should underline it.
  15. Put the word “End” after your text, centred on its own line.
  16. If you are submitting on paper, don’t staple your pages together. Package them up well so that they won’t get damaged and send them off.

It’s always worth checking the exact requirements of any market you submit to, but if they don’t specify any formatting requirements, or just say “standard manuscript format”, follow these guidelines. This will make a good impression and help mark you out as a serious, professional writer.

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Posted in Formatting, Manuscript format

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