How to format your manuscript for submission

lasceax prizeThis post is a follow-up to the previous post on why indies need to write short stories. That article sparked some questions that I will answer to the best of my ability. All of this information was gleaned by searching the internet when I first wanted to know why my manuscripts were so regularly rejected.

First of all, a properly formatted manuscript shows that the author did her research and knows what the editor wants. That will help your ms make it past the first hurdle.

You will find that each publisher, magazine, or contest website will have a page or section called “Submission Guidelines.” That page is your friend, because within the words on that page will be the rules specific to that particular publication or contest:

  1. length of submissions in word count (Do not exceed or fudge this. Stay within their parameters.)
  2. how they want you to format your work for their best use.
  3. where to submit the work
  4. what dates submission will be open
  5. if it is a contest, fees will be listed there

If you are building a back-log of of short-fiction there are some short-cuts you can take to enable you to have submission-ready work that requires minimal adjustment to fit  various requirements. This is because most publishers use what is considered the industry standard, Shunn Manuscript Format. William Shunn didn’t invent this, but he made this knowledge available to all would-be authors via the internet.

First, if you are submitting this to a publisher that publishes hard-copy your manuscript should look typed, not typeset. If you are composing your manuscript on a computer, don’t succumb to the temptation to use fancy fonts. For hard-copy publishers use a Courier font. Every word processor and printer comes with Courier, so you have no excuse for not using it.

Use a 12-point Courier. This means it prints out at a pitch of ten characters per inch. Don’t use a 10- point Courier, which prints out at a pitch of twelve characters per inch. That is far too small and editors who have to read a lot of manuscripts won’t want to struggle to read yours and it will be summarily rejected.

On a side note, something I have learned through this publishing life is that in printing, point size refers to the height of the characters in a font; pitch refers to the width. This is critical knowledge, because the font that the publisher wants the ms submitted in is the only one that will make it past the first editor’s inbox.

If you are submitting this to a publisher that is publishing in an electronic format, they may require 12-point Times New Roman font. Times New Roman is easier on the eyes, when viewed on a monitor. As an editor I prefer submissions in Times New Roman, as I rarely work from hard copy.

The preferred font will be clearly stated in their submission guidelines.


  1. Set the margins for your document at 3cm (1 inch) on all four sides.
  2. Align to the left hand side only; the right hand side should remain jagged. (THIS IS CRITICAL)
  3. Use twelve point Courier in black type only. Times New Roman or Arial fonts may also be acceptable—check the submission guidelines of the magazine or anthology.
  4. Lines should be double spaced with no extra spaces between paragraphs. (THIS IS CRITICAL)
  5. Single space between sentences after periods. (this is also critical)
  6. Indent new paragraphs and each new section of dialogue, with the exception of a scene break paragraph.
  7. Indicate scene breaks by inserting a blank line and centering the hash sign (#) in the center of that line.
  8. Center a hash sign # one double-spaced blank line down at the end of the manuscript. Or simply write The End. This assures the reader that no pages are accidentally missing.
  9. Use underline for italicized words if you are using Courier font. If you are using Times New Roman you can use proper italics. (Again, check the submission guidelines)
  10. William Shunn says, “You should place a header in the upper-right corner of every page of your manuscript except the first. This header will consist of: the surname used in your byline, one important word from the title of your story, and the current page number. Do not place the header in the upper-left corner, because the typesetter will often have your manuscript clipped in that corner as he or she transcribes it and will not be able to see what the current page number is.” (end quoted text)

Your first page should include:

  1. The name of the work.
  2. The approximate word count, some will want it only to the nearest hundred.
  3. In the upper left, your contact details formatted in the same font and size as the manuscript font.

prnt scrn Fairybothering 1

MANY contests and e-magazines want your manuscript formatted in a similar fashion, but may require a different font. Some will want the header on all pages, and some will want your full author name in the header:

prnt scrn Fairybothering 2

TO Format your header in MS WORD:

  1. Go to the Insert Tab and click on: page numbers>top of page
  2. From the drop down menu select plain number three (the upper right hand corner)
  3. Type your name and title just before the number
  4. Click on the body of your document and the header/page number is set, and will appear to gray out.

TO Format your ms so the page numbers start on page two: click on this link to go to this page at MS Office Help if you are using WORD 2007 or 2010. Later versions also have help pages there. The process is a little more involved, and I don’t want to fill this post up with that, so use the resource offered by Microsoft–that is how I learned. Most hard-copy manuscripts must be formatted this way, so learning how to do this is critical.

anthology sci fiWhen you submit your work to an anthology or contest, if your work is accepted you will receive a contract. That contract will have the terms of payment, conditions of use, and all the pertinent information you, as the author, will need to know. Most are simple, and don’t require a law degree to understand. If you receive a complicated contract, seek a literary agent or attorney for advice.

Also be aware that ALL contests  and magazines will want original work that has never been published before. Many anthologies, will too, unless they are promotional anthologies put out by publications showcasing the most popular stories they printed during the previous year. Often these collections are the editors’ favorites.

Most contracts will state that you can reuse or republish the work 3 months or 90 days after the date of their publication. When you do so, you must include on the copyright page a caveat stating that it was originally published in their anthology or magazine, and what issue/year.

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One response to “How to format your manuscript for submission

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