Sunday, 21 February 2021

Writers’ Questions: How should I format my manuscript?

Since the sale of my debut novel, Bronte’s Mistress, in 2019, I’ve been sharing advice for writers on this blog as part of my Writers’ Questions series. Today, I’ll be talking about how to format your novel manuscript to set yourself up for success when submitting to agents and/or editors. Please note that this advice is aimed at writers seeking to be traditionally published vs. those preparing books for self-publishing.

First up, a word on software. I’ve written a whole post on this topic, which you can refer to here. I personally use Scrivener while drafting my novels. However, Microsoft Word is still the standard word processor, and .doc/.docx the required file format when submitting manuscripts. So, as soon as I’m ready to share my work with others (writers’ groups, my agent, my editor etc.), this is the software I move to. Now, let’s get into the formatting.

Cover Page

Your manuscript should begin with a cover page that features your book’s title, your name, and the manuscript’s word count. If you’re submitting your manuscript to someone who doesn’t know you (e.g. you’re querying vs. submitting to an agent you’ve already signed with), it’s a good idea to also include your contact information (most commonly an email address and maybe a phone number). Make it easy for the reader: at a glance, they should be able to tell what it is they’re reading and how to get in touch with you.

Font

I submit in Times New Roman at size 12, but any classic font (e.g. Arial) should be fine. Courier I see more often as the number one choice for screenwriters vs. novelists. Please be aware though that agents and editors may have their own preferences and change the font to read your manuscript. For this reason, I don’t recommend using multiple fonts in your book e.g. to convey different points of view or formats (letters, newspaper clippings etc.). 

Header

After the cover page, I include a header on every subsequent page in the format LAST NAME/BOOK TITLE, e.g. AUSTIN/BRONTE’S MISTRESS. Agents and editors will almost certainly be reading multiple books in any given week, so make their jobs easier and label your work.

Page Numbers

Include them! Books are long and page numbers make them more manageable. I put the page number in the footer in the bottom right corner.

Chapters

Should begin on a new page. I start each new chapter five lines down the page.

Sentence Spacing

Should be double. The aim isn’t to make your manuscript look like a real book yet. It’s all about making an editor or agent’s life easier and the spaces make for cleaner editing. 

Paragraphs

Each new paragraph should begin with an indent. 

Scene Breaks

I use three asterisks (***) between scene breaks that occur within a chapter. In a published book, these may be indicated by fancier symbols, or no symbol at all, just white space, but in a manuscript, clarity is key, so I go for this standard marker.

And there you have it! There’s no need to get fancy when formatting novel manuscripts, and, in this instance, blending in with the crowd is much better than standing out for all the wrong reasons. A manuscript is a working document and adopting the right formatting is a great way to show that you’re professional and know what you’re doing. 

Do you have any other topics you’d love me to cover in my Writers’ Questions series? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist. Want to read my novel, Bronte’s Mistress (now in beautiful book vs. manuscript form)? It’s available in hardcover, audiobook and e-book now. And don’t forget to subscribe to my monthly email newsletter below. 

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