How to format a manuscript

Many authors, especially newbie authors, think that making their unpublished manuscript pretty will impress agents, publishers, their new editor should they be lucky enough to get past the first two.


What it will more likely do is make agents and publishers shake their head in pity, annoy the editor and piss the hell out of the poor sap who has to format the finished ms into a tree book and/or eBook. All that time you spend putting spaces down the page below the title/author name to get to the new page, all those hard page breaks and section breaks, all the obscure fancy fonts you downloaded for free, all the centered chapter headings, all the centered lyric fragments used as sub-headings, all the centered dedication or right justified epigraphs, all the Part X on a new page all by its little lonesome, all the embedded hyperlinks, all the highlighting, all that stuff you spent time carefully inserting in the false belief your unpublished ms needs to be pretty is all going to end up on the cutting room floor. All of it. Every damn bit of it.

So stop it. Right now. Here is how an unpublished ms should look:

12 pt, Times New Roman font is preferable. Titles, parts, chapters, sub-headings, body. The only time you need to change a font is if your character is sending a text message (Arial or Courier is fine, nothing fancy, it’s going to get changed anyway) or hand writing a letter (Bradley Hand works and it comes standard with Word). And don’t center anything. And no damn hard page breaks or section breaks, just one line after another with a carriage return between the end of a chapter and the start of the next one.

And here is the format, plain and simple, all 12pt font size:

Dedication (if you have one)
Epigraph (if you have one)
{carriage return}
Part (if there is one)
Prologue or Chapter or nothing for the first one if that rocks your boat, Chapter thereafter. The number can be alpha or numeric, whatever makes you smile.
Sub-heading (if there is one)
{All the above along the left edge)
{Carriage return}
Repeat Chapter/body/carriage return until you reach The End.

If you have scene breaks, a simple *** on a line all by itself will suffice.

If you absolutely positively feel the need to have Title/Author, Dedication and Epigraph on separate pages, fine. It’s a small annoyance and will likely pass with but a few mumbled curses from the formatter.

As regards any photos, line drawings, maps, etc.: Don’t insert them in your unpublished ms under consideration. It’s not going to impress anyone. If your manuscript does get accepted, that is the time to bring those things up. But don’t put them in the ms itself because they will only get deleted in the formatting. Instead, put a little {insert name-of-image.jpg here} between two curly brackets at the point you think they should go. Whether they actually end up there is up to the designer. At some point you will need to send the images separately to the editor. Make sure the file name matches the name you used between the curly brackets. If the plan is for them to be included in a tree book, make sure the images are a minimum of 300 dpi in resolution. If eBook only, 72 dpi is fine.

Please share this post with any writer friends you have. Only you can prevent some poor formatter from having a high blood pressure stroke.