Formatting a Fiction Manuscript

This one’s been done to death I know, but there’s no harm in going over it one more time. When you give your work to a publisher, the editor will almost always expect you to follow certain conventions regarding the format of your manuscript, and in some cases it can make the difference between acceptance and instant rejection. Therefore, I’ve come up with this straightforward guide to tell you what you ought to look for.

(DISCLAIMER! If the publisher or agent has his or her own specific guidelines that differ from the standard, follow those to a tee before submitting to that particular agent or publisher. Use this only as a default for those points they don’t address in their guidelines.)


Your book should have been checked beforehand to ensure everything is used correctly. However, in some word processors there are features that don’t fit in with standard manuscript guidelines that ought to be changed before submitting. These include:

⦁ Em dashes (—) should be turned into a double hyphen (–).

⦁ Ellipses (…) should be typed out as three separate dots (…) rather than as one character, and they should be neither followed nor preceded by a space.

⦁ A single number sign (#) should be placed on each blank scene break line. (Some folks will put three, but I see no need to overdo it.)

⦁ Quotation marks will ideally be straight rather than curved, but I’d call that a minor point overall.

⦁ No double spacing after the punctuation mark and no adding a space before the last word in a sentence and the punctuation mark–unless you’re doing your manuscript on a typewriter.


The layout is even more straightforward:

⦁ 1-inch margins all around ad minimum.

⦁ Use black, 12-point Times New Roman or New Courier font. No fancy styles or colors.

⦁ Double space between lines.

⦁ Align your text to the left side of the page; leave the right edge ragged.

⦁ Indent each new paragraph half an inch.

⦁ On your title page, place contact info in the top left and the word count in the top right (rounded to the nearest hundred in flash fiction or short stories; rounded to the nearest thousand in longer works). Place the title halfway down, with ‘By [Your Name]’ on the line below (if you have a pen name different from your real name, this is where you put it).

⦁ Begin book chapters (including prologues and epilogues) halfway down the next page, and start each new one on a new page. Begin short stories halfway down on the title page.

⦁ Place your name, the story name (or just keywords, if it’s rather lengthy), and page number at the top right of each page (except the title page).

⦁ Type three number signs or ‘The End’ at the end of your manuscript a couple lines down from the last line of text.


Ideally you should have checked spelling as well as punctuation in your final read-through. However, if you’re the kind who likes to submit to international markets, keep in mind that while most publishers don’t care which spelling system you use (American, Canadian, or British), they do want you to be consistent.

Admittedly it can be a bit tricky at some points to decide whether book or short story guidelines are better to use with novellas, but as a general rule, I’d say follow a reasonable combination of the two.

And, there you have it. Follow these simple rules, and at the very least your manuscript won’t be tossed aside on a technicality.

Next month: secondary languages in secondary worlds!

Published by J. S. Allen

J. S. Allen is a writer, linguist, historian, and nature-lover from Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of the young adult series Sauragia and Knights of Aralia, as well as the 'Woodland Tales' anthology for children. Several of his shorter works have also appeared in various print and online periodicals over the years. In between writing and publishing, he likes to draw, spend long hours outdoors, and read. His favorite authors include M. I. McAllister, Brian Jacques, and Alexandre Dumas.

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