Formatting Manuscripts

Why Manuscript Formatting is Important

Formatting your manuscript correctly is critically important for getting your work read whether you are an independently published author or one who is traditionally published.

Following a standard manuscript format will cut down your costs for proofreading, editing and typesetting. The professionals that do this work will charge more if you haven’t adhered to industry standards, because that means they’ll need to re-format your manuscript before they can start their work.

Agents and publishers you submit to won’t even look at your manuscript if it’s not formatted according to the industry standard. They get so many submissions, that if your's is not formatted correctly, they won't waste their time on an author who hasn't done the necessary preparation and  they’ll simply move on to the next one without giving your work a second look. 

How to format your manuscript

  • Margins: 1 inch margins all the way around. (Some publishers prefer 1.5 inches on the sides, so check each publisher’s submission guidelines)
  • Line spacing: Double spaced text
  • Alignment: Left alignment, ragged right side
  • Font: Times New Roman or Arial, 12 point  font (The only exception is for writing screenplays/stage plays where Courier 12 point font  is used to conform to one page equalling one minute of film/performance)
  • Paragraphs Indent: Indicated by indents (tabs)- 5 points (.3”, not the normal tab setting) and, not by an extra line space
  • Paragraph Spacing: No spaces between paragraphs (except if switching scenes or a section break, then drop down 2 double spaces)
  • Punctuation:
    • one space after end of sentence punctuation
    • end of sentence punctuation "goes within quote marks.”
  • Page Numbers: The page number goes on the upper right hand side. For a short story, the first labelled page number should be 2, and start with page 1 for a long manuscript.
  • Running Header: Left aligned, contains the author’s last name, a slash (/) and then the title of the piece or if it’s long, a keyword from the title, as well as the page number. NB: Running Headers are expected on articles, short stories, novels and nonfiction book and should appear at the top of every page (except the first.)
  • Printing Paper: Good quality white paper (20-lb. minimum)
  • Text Placement: Single-sided

Prose (full-length fiction or creative non-fiction)

Long manuscripts differ from short story or article manuscripts in that they have a separate cover page and chapter pages starting lower on the page. Subsequent pages follow a standard format throughout.

Cover Page 

The first page of long fiction is the cover page. There are two major acceptable formats: where everything is centred on the page; and, where the contact information is separate on the top left-hand side of the page and the title in the middle.

The more prominently used is the latter one with the contact information on the top left-hand side:

  • Contact information: On the bottom left hand side of the page in a single-spaced, left-aligned block place your contact information: Name and address, phone number and e-mail address, etc.
  • Title: centered, just above the middle of the page, in a larger font than the text (boldfacing is fine)
  • Name or pen name: Skip one double-spaced line and center your name or byline, slightly smaller than the title
  • Word count: Skip another double-spaced line and include the total word count of the manuscript rounded to the nearest thousand (An option is to put the word count below your contact information at the top of the left hand side.)
  • Copyright symbol and year:  Optional – this can go on the same line just before the author's name below the title

Chapter Page

  • Spacing chapter headings: Each separate chapter of the long manuscript starts on its own page, beginning one third to halfway down the page with the title of the chapter (or number, if the chapter has no title). The byline and contact information are not included one each page, but do include the running header.
  • Running header: Left aligned, contains the author’s last name, a slash (/) and then the title of the piece or if it’s long, a keyword from the title, as well as the page number. (Is not included on the title or cover page)
  • Page numbers: Sequential from the first page of the book to the last, except on the title. (Do not number each chapter separately).

Sample Long Manuscript

Prose (short fiction or creative non-fiction)

Short manuscripts do not have a seperate cover page, but instead include all of the necessary information at the top of the first page of the story.

  • Contact Information: On the top left hand side of the page in a single-spaced, left-aligned block place your contact information - Name and address, phone number and e-mail address, etc.
  • Title: Centered, two lines below the contact information, in a bolded text
  • Genre: Include the genre in the top right hand side of the page
  • Word count: Include an approximate word count below the genre

For the rest of the pages include a running header that is left aligned, containing the author's last name, a slash (/) and then the title of the piece, or a keyword from the title, as well as the page number. This running header is not included on the first page.

Sample Short Manuscript


  • Write and submit poetry in a Microsoft Word Document (.doc file type)
    • DO NOT submit work in the body of an email, PDF, Google Doc shared links
  • 12 pt. font size, Times New Roman font style, 1” (2.54cm) margins all around the page
  • Page Number: Write page numbers in the top, right-hand margin of each page
  • Contact Information: On the top, left-hand side of the first page in a single-spaced, left-aligned block, write your name, address, and contact information (e.g. e-mail, home and/or cell phone number)
  • Title: Write the poem’s title in bolded text, all caps, center of page, and two lines below the contact information
  • Running Header: Write your full name, a slash (/), and the poem’s title on the top, left-hand margin of each page of your submission
  • Poems: each different poem should start on a new page (insert page breaks)
  • Spacing: Single space between individual lines, and double-spacing between new stanzas

Cover Letters

  • Write and submit cover letters in a Microsoft Word Document (.doc or.docx file type)
    • DO NOT submit cover letters in the body of an email, PDF, Google Doc shared links
  • 12 pt. font size, Times New Roman font style, 1” (2.54cm) margins all around the page
  • Double spaced
  • Write the date of submission at the top left-hand side
  • Write your own name, address, and contact information as a letterhead beneath the date
  • Write the name, organization, address and location of the person you address the letter to
  • Address the letter to a specific person, group, or position name (e.g. “Dear Hiring Manager”)
  • First paragraph should include a brief “Statement of Motivation”
    • State what you are submitting
    • Explain why you are interested and highlight your potential contribution
    • For writing submissions, include the title, approximate word count, and genre
  • (Optional) self-declare as a member of an equity group (e.g. BIPOC, Person with Disability). In an effort to support and provide opportunities to diverse writers, the SWG will often ask applicants to self-declare their diversity.
  • In the body of the letter, write about your recent, relevant and applicable strengths, knowledge, accomplishments, and experiences
    • Use exact keywords included in the posting’s guidelines and criteria
    • Demonstrate you have some general knowledge from reading and researching about the organization or publication
    • Describe your qualifications (e.g. writing experience, informal and formal training, formal education)
    • Describe your experiences (e.g. teaching, mentoring, writing, editing, professional development)
    • Mention some recent examples and details
  • Last paragraph should include a thank-you, a reminder of what and why you are applying, and how to contact you
  • End with a sign off and your name

Selected Literary Curriculum Vitae (CV)

CVs are similar but different from resumes. A CV provides comprehensive, specific, and selected detail about your qualifications and experiences. It highlights how you fit specific application requirements. A Literary CV is all about writing. Follow the general guidelines below to help design your CV:

  • Recommend 12 pt. font size and Times New Roman font style
  • Follow these best practices when creating your CV:
    1. Review the specific guidelines, criteria, and qualifications from the application
    2. Write down keywords included in the application (e.g. evaluating, critiquing, proofreading)
    3. Sort key words into categories (e.g. editing)
    4. Name the categories and use each as a section heading on your CV (e.g. Editing Experience)
    5. Write short, bullet points or 3-sentence statements describing how you’ve demonstrated and fit the specific guidelines, criteria and qualifications
    6. (Optional) provide specific examples and describe details
    7. Order section headers based on importance and customize or add new ones as needed
    8. Prioritize relevant headings and recent examples so your CV is not more than 4-6 pages long
  • Use your own judgement to decide what sections or components are important to include, but here are some section headers to strongly consider:
  • Personal Information
    • Create a letterhead that includes your name, address, and contact information
  • Education and Training
    • List informal and formal writing education experience (i.e degrees or certificates, professional development opportunities like classes, Sage Hill or other writing experiences)
    • List any recent informal or formal training
  • Publications
    • List any recent and relevant single publications and books you’ve published
    • (Optional) list works accepted for publication
    • Format according to basic MLA styling for citations:

Author. Title. Publisher, Publication Date, (genre).

  • Literary Scholarships/Awards/Grants/Funding
    • List name, date, and awarding institution of recent awards
  • Teaching Experience and Interests
    • State your area of specialization and competence
    • List recent formal and informal creative writing teaching experiences (e.g. lectures, courses taught, writing groups, facilitated retreats and workshops)
    • List recent mentoring positions
    • List recent residencies
  • Professional Development
    • List any recent literary conferences, presentations, workshops, seminars, and retreats you’ve presented at or attended (please make the distinction)
  • Readings
    • Please be selective in listing recent and relevant readings
  • Professional, Academic and Administrative Experience (Literary Specific)
    • Customize and prioritize based on application’s requirements
    • List recent and relevant paid and unpaid work on committees, executive positions, volunteer roles or juries.
    • List any paid or unpaid work editing, critiquing or evaluating manuscripts or writing.
    • Write brief statements of examples about related knowledge, special skills, abilities, and accomplishments
  • Professional Membership / Membership & Associations (Literary Specific)
    • List recent or current memberships to literary organizations and writing groups
  • References
    • Read if list of references is required in application
    • If not, write “Available Upon Request” or “Available at Interview”

Basic submission methods

Paper/Mailed Submissions

  • Manuscript pages may be paper clipped or held with an elastic, but it is best to leave them loose in a 9” x 12” envelope.
  • Do NOT staple, bind or otherwise confine pages to folders or manufactured covers.
  • Very large manuscripts may be placed in larger envelopes or boxes.

Electronic Submissions

  • Attach the manuscript Word document in the email to the publisher
  • Attach each photograph/visual separately in the email

More on submitting manuscripts

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