This page shows you how to format your manuscript like a pro. Courtesy author
William Shunn (original).
William Shunn about 1,500 words
12 Courier Lane
Pica's Font, NY 10010
Active member, SFWA
Proper Manuscript Format
by William Shunn
No one knows for certain how many good short stories are
passed over because the manuscripts containing them are formatted
poorly, but it is certain that a properly formatted manuscript
will be more eagerly read by an editor than a poorly formatted
one. Here are a few suggestions.
First, use black type on white paper only. Other colors
make your work difficult to read, not to mention calling too much
attention to the manuscript itself. Print on only one side of
For easy readability, limit your choice of font to either
Courier or Times New Roman. Courier (my strong preference) is a
monospaced font, which means that every character is exactly as
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wide as every other. It's easier for an editor to detect
spelling errors in a monospaced font than in a proportional font
like Times New Roman (in which the "i" uses less horizontal space
than the "m" does). With a monospaced font, there will also be
fewer characters on each line, which can make your manuscript
easier to scan. Still, many writers have come to prefer Times
New Roman, and either is usually acceptable. (If in doubt,
consult your intended market's submission guidelines.) Set your
font size to 12 points.
Use nice wide margins all around your pages. There should
be at least an inch to each side of the text--top, bottom, left,
Always double-space between lines. Never submit a
single-spaced manuscript. The editor needs room to make
corrections and other typographical marks between lines--but not
too much room, so don't triple-space either.
The guidelines I've offered so far will give you pages of
about 250 to 300 words apiece. This may increase your page
count, but don't fret about that. It's easier to read a lot of
pages with fewer words on each than it is to read a few pages
with lots of words on each, and as a result your story may feel
as if it reads faster than otherwise.
Now, to the first page of your manuscript. Place your name,
address, telephone number, and e-mail address in the upper left
corner. If you belong to a professional writing organization,
you may list your membership beneath this information, but only
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if it is relevant. If you belong to the Science Fiction and
Fantasy Writers of America, for instance, you would want to
mention that when submitting to Asimov's or Realms of Fantasy,
but it probably wouldn't cut much ice with the editors at The New
Yorker or Cat Fancy.
In the upper right corner of the first page, place an
approximate word count. Round to the nearest hundred words
unless you're edging up into novella length, at which point
rounding to the nearest 500 would be appropriate. The point of a
word count is not to tell the editor exactly how many words there
are in the manuscript, but rather how much space your story will
take up in print. If your word processing software doesn't give
you a word count, you can estimate the total by counting the
number of words on one page and multiplying by the number of
pages in the manuscript.
Though many sources say you should, it is not necessary to
place your Social Security number anywhere on your manuscript.
If the publisher wants to know it, you'll be asked for it after
your story is accepted. Otherwise, it's extraneous--and in fact
Place the title of your story one third to one half of the
way down the first page. The editor needs all that empty space
for writing notes to the typesetter and copy editor. Your title
should be centered between the margins. Many writers type the
title in all capitals, and you can too if you like, though it's
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One double space below your title, center your byline. This
may seem like redundant information, since your name is already
in the upper-left corner of the manuscript, but it's not. The
name in the corner is the person to whom the publisher will make
out the check. The byline is the name that receives credit for
the story when it appears in print. These are not necessarily
the same. Perhaps your name is J. Scott Bronson but you publish
fiction under the pseudonym Everett Stone, or perhaps you are a
married woman publishing fiction under your birth name. Whatever
the case, even if the two names are the same, both must appear on
Begin the text of your manuscript two double spaces below
your byline. The first line of every paragraph in your
manuscript, including this first paragraph, should be indented
one half inch from the left margin. (You can set tab stops or
paragraph styles in your word processor to help with this.) Do
not place extra line spaces between paragraphs, as is the common
practice in blogs and other online writing. The first-line
indentation is sufficient to indicate that a new paragraph has
Place a page header in the upper right corner of every page
of your manuscript except the first. This header consists of
your real surname, one or two important words from the title of
your story, and the current page number. Do not place the header
in the upper left corner because the editorial staff will
sometimes clip your manuscript in that corner as they work on it.
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The surname and keyword are important because sometimes unbound
manuscripts happen to fall off editors' desks and become mixed up
with other manuscripts. The header helps the editorial staff
reassemble yours in the proper order.
Except for paragraph indentations, the left margin of your
manuscript should be ruler-straight. The right margin, however,
should be ragged, not justified. Right justification messes up
the spaces between words and sentences and makes the manuscript
more of a chore to read.
In the days of typewriters, the usual practice was to put
two spaces after the end of every sentence, and also to put two
spaces after every colon. This helped make the separations
between sentences more apparent, and helped editors more easily
distinguish periods from commas and colons from semicolons. With
the dominance of computers, that practice is changing, and it is
more common now to see only one space between sentences.
Ingrained habits die hard, though, so if you're used to hitting
the spacebar twice after a period, you shouldn't stress out about
it, particularly if you're using a Courier font.
If you intend a word or phrase to appear in italics, the
convention has long been to indicate this in your manuscript by
underlining. This practice, too, is beginning to change. In
Courier you should continue to underline, since italics in
monospaced fonts are easy to overlook. In Times New Roman,
though, it's becoming more and more acceptable to use italics
directly. (Again, consult submission guidelines when you're in
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If you want to indicate an em dash--the punctuation that
sets off a phrase like this one--use two hyphens to do so. Do
not place spaces around the hyphens. (Many word processors are
set by default to convert two hyphens to a real em dash. You'll
want to turn that feature off if you're using a monospaced font,
since the em dash and hyphen characters are easily confused by
the eye. In proportional fonts, this isn't so important since
the em dash is noticeably wider than a hyphen.)
"A lot of people ask me about dialog," I told an editor
friend of mine recently. "Do you have any suggestions?"
"Dialog should be enclosed in quotation marks," she said.
"Some writers get away with doing it differently, but they're
"Isn't it also the usual practice to start a new paragraph
when the speaker changes?" I asked.
"Yes, it is. That helps the reader keep track of who's
speaking even when speech tags are omitted."
If you want a line break to appear in your story, then
rather than leaving a blank line you should center the character
"#" on a line by itself. Do this for every line break, not just
for ones that fall at the top or bottom of a page. As you edit
and revise your manuscript prior to submission, those breaks can
move around, and word processors often hide blank lines that come
at the start or end of a page. You don't want your scene breaks
rendered invisible to your editor.
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Finally, though you don't need to make any overt indication,
some writers choose to center the word "END" after the last line
of a story. This can help avoid ambiguity if your final words
fall near the bottom of the page.
While you'll find certain variations in the way different
writers format their manuscripts, no one departs very far from
what I've outlined above. But always check a market's submission
guidelines before sending your work. If their guidelines differ
from mine, follow theirs.
At the very least, these suggestions will guarantee your
work looks professional. How the story itself comes across is an
entirely separate matter--and that part's all up to you. Best of
Now check out a sample excerpt from a novel manuscript.
What similarities do you notice? What differences?
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