How to Format a Manuscript

Ever wonder how to format a manuscript? Here are 5 common formatting mistakes to avoid when you submit your manuscript for publication, or consideration.

Often, when I’m considering taking on a client, they’ll send me their manuscript—or whatever they have so far. I’ve noticed some errors people consistently make when formatting their manuscripts that are easy to avoid and must be fixed before you submit your manuscript to anyone—especially a literary agent or publisher. But this is also true when you submit your manuscript to a book packager—or a book coach (I thank you in advance).


Mistake #1: Formatting It Like a Business Letter

This is the most common mistake by far.

A manuscript is NOT a business letter. It’s a manuscript. So don’t format your manuscript like it’s a business letter. That means, don’t format paragraphs with a flush left margin and single-spaced with hard returns in between paragraphs.

Instead, think back to how you were required to format a term paper in high school—double spaced, tab indent with each paragraph, with no hard returns in between, unless you’re separating a chapter with sub-headers. Book manuscripts must be formatted the same way.


Mistake #2: Using Funky Fonts

Never use a funky font for your manuscript.

I know, Lucida Calligraphy is so fun, but save it for your birthday party invites. For your manuscript, stick to the industry standard, which is Times New Roman. Not Comic Sans, not American Typewriter, not even Arial. Times New Roman.


Mistake #3: Using Fonts in Various Sizes

Speaking of fonts, the industry standard is to use a 12-point font. When you format a manuscript, every word should be in a 12-point font. Including your chapter titles and subheadings. Don’t try to design your book in the manuscript. Interior designers will do it once the manuscript is finished, edited, and proofread. Changing the font’s size only adds a step for your editor who will need to change them all back to 12-point anyway.


Mistake #4: Sending a Marked-up Manuscript

While you’re writing, and while you’re working with an editor or coach, tracked changes and comments are a great tool to facilitate the writing and editing process. But be sure to delete all the comments and accept or reject all changes before you send your manuscript to anyone in the industry. Submit a manuscript as clean as you can get it.

On a related note, if you’re submitting a manuscript for consideration by an agent or publisher, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve edited it, be sure to have it professionally proofread before you send it.


Mistake #5: Adding Formatting Flourishes

The manuscript you submit should have as little formatting as possible.

Don’t hyperlink your table of contents. Don’t format your footnotes as endnotes.

Not only do these make the manuscript harder to work with, someone absolutely must remove them before your manuscript goes to the layout and interior designer. Otherwise, they can’t load your text into the layout and design software. Once the manuscript is in the design program, it’s easy for the book designer to convert your footnotes to endnotes. Please save them the major hassle of converting your endnotes into footnotes, so they can get your manuscript into the software, so they can convert them back to endnotes.


The Bottom Line is This: 

Before you submit a manuscript, avoid these 5 Most Common Formatting Mistakes. It’ll save you time, it’ll save your editor and layout designer time and frustration, and it will show literary agents and publishers that you’re a professional they should take seriously.