Story (Manuscript) Formatting

justwriteThe other day, a writer commented how long she decided upon which font to use for just the title of her story. She’s got a long way to go before she publishing stories, but her comment made me realize how often new writers take for granted how their documents need to be laid out. You will find that there are rules to follow.

During the creation process of any piece of writing, you can use whatever font, spacing, and margins you wish. Publishing, however, requires narrow guidelines in which you must follow to be accepted.

When a reader reads your work, they look at content, storyline, and drama. When an editor reads your work, they must also consider how many words, word spacing, and your competence to write, in addition to many other factors.

As a rule, you should always check the submission guidelines to where ever you are publishing. Some rules differ from others. Here are the general rules:

  1. Doublespace your lines. Some publishing companies require triple spaced lines, so the editor can leave marks and comments on your work.
  2. One inch margins.
  3. Select the correct font. The choice of fonts (style of writing) is limited in the world of the published writer. Courier, Times Roman, and sometimes Ariel, but always check submission guidelines.  This should be a 12 point font. Most writers use Times Roman or Courier.
  4. Headers/Footers should include page numbers, your last name, the title of the manuscript, and page numbers. Copyright (c) isn’t necessary and considered to be amateurish, but do add a note to the publisher/editor that its copyrighted.
  5. Words to be emphasized are unlined, not placed in italics. This surprised me, being every book I read had someone’s thoughts put into italics, but rules are rules.
  6. Edit as you go. Its easier to edit the silly words such as its to it’s than go through a second or third time and fix it then. Use proper grammar and spelling at the time, rather than having to use a fine toothed comb to find your mistakes later. I often re-read chapters to edit and change as I go.

There are more, so please read through the provided links. I found the articles very helpful in giving insight on the formatting practices of writers.

Links to Manuscript Rules– Remember that where you submit your work varies in their expectations of formatting the manuscript. Always follow whatever guidelines they demand.

Proper Manuscript Format by William Shunn – An excellent article on the particulars of formatting. He gives precise direction, but follow whatever guidelines are set by the publisher you are submitting to.

Manuscript Formats by John Stith offers how to format but also some very handy tips on proper use of ‘said’, dialog, and many other aspects of writing.


2 Replies to “Story (Manuscript) Formatting”

  1. A quick note on #5:

    You said that you thought it is odd that emphasized words would be underlined instead of in italics, since every book you’ve read puts a characters thoughts in italics.

    The underlining of the text is an instruction to the copy-editor to put the word(s) in italics in the final print. So, if you want the words to be in italics, you indicate this by underlining them in the manuscript.

    Simply put, anything that you underline will be converted to italics in the final product.


  2. Great summary of the general guidelines here. It’s definitely important to go point-by-point through the submission guidelines for each place you’re submitting to. I’ve heard a lot of editors say that they scan the manuscript first for compliance with those requirements and just won’t read any that don’t comply completely.


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