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A badly formatted manuscript can earn you a rejection letter before the agent or publisher has even read the first word. But the good news is, it’s an easy problem to avoid if you know what is expected of you.

When I first read about standard manuscript formatting, I thought “This is simple! I bet hardly anyone makes big mistakes with this”. Turns out I was very, very wrong. A friend of mine, who had recently completed a brief internship with a literary agency, told me that even in her short time there she had seen queries written in illegible fonts, on pink paper or delivered in holographic envelopes. Some of them even opened their query letter with “I know I have broken your submission rules but…” As you can guess, these were almost always sent a form rejection letter right away.

Many people who submit in this way are no doubt hoping to give the impression of being creative or original but, unfortunately, it just makes them seem like they haven’t read the submission guidelines, are undisciplined, or are not confident enough in their work to let it speak for itself. That might not be the case, but it is what an agent or publisher will probably assume.

So now you know what you shouldn’t do, here’s what you should do – it’s as easy as following these instructions;

Query Letters

  • These should be formatted like a regular business letter, with your address and contact details at the top, and the recipients address underneath
  • The rest of the letter should be formatted with a line gap between paragraphs and no indents
  • There’s plenty of material out there on business letter formatting, so I won’t dwell on this area too much

The Synopsis

  • This should be double spaced, with no gap between the paragraphs, but an indent at the start of each one
  • “Synopsis” as a title, centered at the top
  • In the header, put “[Your Name]/[Book Title]” on the left (eg. “Mildred Rimpleweed/ Tales of a Grouchy Shopkeeper”) and the page number on the right

Title Page

  • Manuscripts should start with a title page, which will have your contact details at the top left and word count at the top right (formatted as “Word Count: XXX”).
  • In the middle of the page will be the below, centered

[Book Title]

by

[Author Name]

Manuscript

  • The header should have “[Name]/[Title]/[Page Number]” at the top right. This should start on the first page of the actual text, not the title page
  • Aside from the title page, everything should be double spaced.
  • There should be no gap between paragraphs, but each one should start with an indent
  • Margins should be one inch all around – this is standard in Word
  • Use a basic font: Times New Roman is the standard. It should be size 12.
  • Scene breaks should be marked by a centered hash/pound symbol (#) with no empty lines on either side
  • If sending a full manuscript, mark the end with “END”, centered

A bonus tip, if you are wondering how to change the paragraph format to indents with no line break in Word. You need to select all, right click and then choose the “Paragraph” option. Here, tick the box next to “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style” and from the “Special” drop-down list, select “First Line”. It took me ages to figure that out. I hope it saves you some time.

Above all, make sure you check the agent/publisher’s submission guidelines before you submit as some of them deviate from the standard layout.

I think that’s everything, but feel free to comment if you think I have missed anything. I know this has been a bit of a bland post, but getting the basics right will put you a step ahead of your competitors who haven’t taken the time to do their research, so make sure you get it right.

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