Monday, January 9, 2012


By Lisa Dale

Formatting Fiasco

When it comes to formatting most literary agents aren’t actually that picky, in my experience. However, bad formatting acts as a red flag to agent and editors, and that flag says “amateur.”  There aren’t really set rules about formatting a manuscript for submission.

But there are guidelines:

1. Use a clear, easy to read font—one font only. 12 pt, double-spaced, standard one-inch margins.

2. Put something like this in the upper left corner (in the header) on your manuscript pages: Your Last Name/Your Title/page number.

3. Chapters begin about three double spaces down the page with a page break between chapters.

4. If you include a title page, keep it simple: Your title, by your Real Name, writing as Pen Name. Then include your full contact information in the lower right corner.

Common mistakes I’ve seen

1. Compile all your chapters into one file.

2. There’s no need for a table of contents/chapter outline unless you’re writing prescriptive nonfiction. As a side note, there’s no need to write a chapter-by-chapter synopsis…but that’s a story for another time.

3. Don’t try to make your manuscript pages look like a book—you know, wide margins, 1.25 spaces between lines, etc. Even if you manage to make your word processor look bookish, agents will know the difference.

4. If you’ve self-published your book, don’t submit your PDF page proofs in lieu of submitting your typed pages. Also, don’t submit your full book or your bound book unless requested.

5. Your last name should appear on every page.

6. Courier’s time has passed. Yes, it’s a great, nostalgic font. But it’s kinda dated, and using it on your manuscript is like showing up to a party in a ruffled cummerbund.

Happy formatting!♥

Lisa Dale is the author of SIMPLE WISHES and IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (Grand Central), and SLOW DANCING ON PRICE’S PIER (Berkley, 2011), which was a Top Pick and Barnes and Noble and BookPage magazine. Her newest release, A PROMISE OF SAFEKEEPING (Berkley), received a warm review from Publisher’s Weekly, which used adjectives “emotional… surprising… spectacular… hooray!”
Okay, maybe that last word was Lisa’s.


  1. Thank you so much for the tips! Is using microsoft's autoformat manuscript format ok?

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