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.


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.). 


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.


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. 


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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Monday 8 February 2021

Review: Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days That Changed Her Life, Lucy Worsley (2018)

Despite being “the Secret Victorianist” and running a blog dedicated to all things nineteenth-century literature and culture, I’ve not spent much time reading about Queen Victoria herself. So I was excited to read Lucy Worlsey’s unconventional biography, which looks at the life of this influential monarch through the lens of twenty-four specific days.

Worsley examines Victoria as a daughter—the winner of the so-called “baby race,” which saw the children of George III scrambling to produce a royal heir. Next, she focuses on Victoria as a wife, from her first impressions of her cousin Albert to the early years of their marriage, to its tragic end. And, finally, she turns to Victoria as she is now best remembered—as the dour and unsmiling widow, who has come to symbolise the age she in some ways defined. 

In her introduction, Worlsey writes that popular culture has given us “two Victorias, bearing no clear relationship to each other”—the young and the old. She tries to draw the through-line between the two, although the biography’s premise naturally leads to jumps through time, especially following Albert’s death.

What I enjoyed most about the book was its readable prose (this isn’t the sort of non-fiction read you have to slog through!) and the wide appeal I think it would have. There are enough tantalising details in here to please a dedicated Victorianist, but knowledge of the period, or the British Royal Family, is not a prerequisite. 

I also appreciated Worsley’s candour in her introduction where she answers the question biographers must get tired of hearing. Does she like her human subject? She writes: “The answer is yes, initially hesitant, but ultimately resounding.” 

This should clue you in that this biography isn’t going to deliver a critique of monarchy, or Britain’s colonial activity under Victoria’s rule. Worsley approaches this book with scholarship, but also with the reverence dedicated royal watchers accord to The Firm today. Page time is given to wedding dresses, pageantry, and Christmas traditions, as well as to British and global politics. And, whatever you might think of them, Worsley gives us a convincing argument that these trappings form an important part of Victoria’s most enduring legacy.

If you’ve enjoyed Netflix’s The Crown and want to understand the woman who set the stage for the current queen the century before, this could be a good read for you. And, if you know the broad strokes of Victoria’s life, this will offer new, very human insights. But, be warned, if you lean more republican than monarchist, you might want to stay away. 

Do you have any recommendations of books for me to read and review next? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist. Want to read my (Victorian-set) novel? Bronte’s Mistress, the story of the “bad woman who corrupted Branwell Bronte” is available in hardcover, ebook, or audiobook now. And make sure you sign up for my monthly email newsletter below. 

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