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Writing

How to Format a Book Manuscript

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 5 min read

When you’re writing the first paragraph of your new manuscript, it’s easy to ignore the formatting. After all, when your eyes are the only ones observing your work, worrying about things like proper page layout, mirror margins, section breaks, and whether or not your hyphens are in the right place can feel like obstacles to simply putting your ideas down on paper. However, once you’ve completed your manuscript and you’re ready to show it to other people, it’s important to make sure it follows certain formatting standards.

A properly formatted manuscript is easier to read and tells your reader that your work is to be taken seriously, especially if they are reading your work for the first time.

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What Is a Manuscript?

The term “manuscript” has its origins in the Latin term manu scriptus, which means “written by hand.” At the time, all novel manuscripts or other written works were handwritten. Today, a manuscript refers to a preliminary draft of a novel, short story, or nonfiction book.

Why Is Proper Formatting Important?

Book formatting may seem like a boring or superficial aspect of manuscript submission, but proper manuscript formatting is a crucial indicator of whether or not your editor, reader, or literary agents will take your work seriously. Adhering to the industry standards of formatting guidelines will demonstrate to your reader that you are thoughtful, careful, and professional in the way you present your work, thus increasing the likelihood that they will apply the same thoughtfulness while reading. Also, if you’re working with an editor and send them something that is not in standard manuscript format, they will have to spend time correcting your work while proofreading—a process that can be time-consuming and (if you’re paying them by the hour) expensive.

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How to Format Your Book Manuscript

Some people decide to begin formatting their work the moment they open the first page of their Microsoft Word document. Others prefer to complete an entire manuscript before worrying about paragraph indents or page setup. While there’s no wrong time to format a manuscript, there is a wrong way to format a manuscript. Follow these rules to make sure you’re adhering to standard formatting practices and common submission guidelines for fiction and non-fiction manuscripts alike:

  1. Font: Your font should generally be 12 point Times New Roman. Though some agents and editors may prefer different serif or sans serif fonts like Arial or Courier New, Times New Roman with a 12 point font size is the industry standard.
  2. Margins: Your pages should include one-inch margins on all sides (so your top, bottom, left, and right margins should all be uniform). These should be the default margins in MS Word and other word processors like Scrivener.
  3. Indentations: For the first line of a new paragraph, you should indent a half-inch. For most word processors, you can do this by hitting the tab key once.
  4. Line spacing: All lines should be double spaced. Double-spacing your lines makes the manuscript easier to read and mark up. Do not add an extra space between paragraphs.
  5. Alignment: Your words should be aligned on the left-hand side of your page, but not justified. The right-hand side of your page will not be uniform.
  6. Page numbers: Page numbers begin with the number one and are numbered continuously, beginning with the first new page after the title page. Pages in the front matter, such as the table of contents, copyright page, or ISBN info are numbered with Roman numerals.
  7. Scene breaks: For scene breaks, add a blank line with a hashmark or three asterisks in the center to indicate a new scene.
  8. Italics: In the past, writers used underlining to indicate words that they intended to italicize. Nowadays, writers simply use italics.
  9. Sentence separation: Use one space between sentences after a period. Though many people instinctively hit the space bar twice to put two spaces between sentences, this is not the correct practice.
  10. Ending: To indicate the end of your manuscript, write the word “END” and center it after the last line.
  11. Page size: You should use the standard page size of 8.5 by 11 inches.

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How to Create a Title Page

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Whether you’re self-publishing your book or submitting a manuscript to an editor or outside publisher, you’ll need to include a title page. Here is what you should include to ensure that your title page is properly formatted:

  1. Title and author name: Your book title should be in the center of your document and anywhere between one-third of the way to halfway down the page. Below your title, on the next double spaced line, include the author’s name with the words “by” or “a novel by” preceding it. If you’re using a pen name, then your real name should come before your pen name (for instance, “Michael Lipschultz writing as D.S. Sarbonis”).
  2. Contact information: Contact information such as your name, address, phone number, and email address should be placed in the top left hand corner of your word document. This information should be single spaced and left-justified.
  3. Word count: The word count of your book, rounded to the nearest thousand, should go one double-spaced line below the author name in the center of your document.

How to Format Your Chapters

With each new chapter, there are a few rules to follow to ensure that they are formatted in the correct way. The chapter title should be centered halfway or one-third of the way down the page. For the first chapter, write Chapter One (or Chapter 1) and write the chapter title below. Continue this chapter headings format for each subsequent chapter number. New chapters should start on a blank page. You can accomplish this by inserting a page break.

How to Print Your Book

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Once you’ve completed your properly formatted manuscript, it’s time to print your book. If you’re planning on making your manuscript available exclusively through epub-friendly readers—or a print-on-demand (POD) service—then you may not have to ever worry about printing. If you want to publish a print book, or your agent or editor requests a printed copy, it’s advisable to print it properly.

  • Use high quality white paper (something in the 20- or 24-pound range).
  • Set brightness score somewhere in the upper 90s.
  • If possible, use a high quality laser printer to print your manuscript.
  • Be sure to print it single-sided.

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