Whether you’re submitting a short story or a novel, formatting your work correctly is one of the simplest things you can do to give your piece a fighting chance at acceptance. The hard truth is that agents and editors are looking for reasons not to accept your work. They receive dozens of submissions every day, and incorrect formatting makes for an easy rejection. Why?
1. Correct formatting proves you can follow directions.
If the agent or publication has formatting specifics listed on their website, following them is easy. They don’t want to work with a writer who can’t or doesn’t care to follow simple instructions. If you can’t format your piece correctly for submission, you’re likely not going to be fun to work with during revisions.
2. Incorrectly formatted work is difficult to read.
Formatting rules are not arbitrary. When you’re poring through large amounts of submissions, readability is paramount. Formatting guidelines are designed to make the text easier on the eyes. The goal is to keep the agent or editor from thinking about the formatting at all. If they’re concentrating on how much the font hurts their eyes, they’re not thinking about your work.
Note: Yes, agents and editors can change fonts and formatting. But if you received dozens of submissions per day, would you go to the trouble?
Standard Manuscript Format
Now that we’ve discussed why correct formatting is important, let’s get into the nitty-gritty. Individual publications often have their own formatting guidelines, which always trump any other standards. But in the case that specific guidelines are not listed, entirely or partially, you want to follow the industry-standard formatting guidelines, known as standard manuscript format:
- Letter-sized page
- 1-inch margins
- Left align text (not justified, which creates awkward spacing)
- 0.5-inch header and footer
- 12-point Times New Roman (or other serif font)
- Indent first line 0.5 inches
- Double space
- No spaces after paragraphs
- Single space after sentences
- Top left, below header: name and contact info
- Top right, below header: word count
- No header on the first page
- Centered halfway down the page: title in all caps
- Line below the title: your name
Including your contact information is important, especially when dealing with attachments. If your file becomes separated from your email, you want the agent or editor to be able to easily contact you. For novels, round your word count to the nearest thousand words. For short stories, typically round to the nearest hundred words.
- Header (after first page): Last Name / TITLE / page number, right aligned
- About a third of the way down the page: CHAPTER 1—CHAPTER TITLE
- Centered pound signs to denote scene breaks
- Page break before new chapter
- Use italics for emphasis, but no bold
- Close the manuscript with centered triple pound signs
Format for an Acceptance
Following this formatting guide will help you ensure the agent or editor is focused on your story, rather than on the formatting. Why give them an easy reason to reject your work? Do the little things to make your writing stand out from the crowd. And don’t forget to always check the individual publication’s submission guidelines.
Photo by Tom Carmony