Manuscript Basics

When you’re submitting, you want your manuscript to stand out from the crowd. When you’re self-publishing, you want the freelance editors, illustrators, marketers and others you work with to be assured that you are interested in making the best book you possibly can.

There are certain manuscript basics that can help you do that. The links here will get you started. More will be added as time goes on.

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Manuscript format for submission to agents or editors (picture book to novel):

These guidelines apply to most manuscripts from picture book to adult fiction.

They apply whether you’re sending a manuscript to a freelance copy editor or developmental editor (like me), to a publisher, or to an agent.

Always read the submission guidelines carefully and send what the particular recipient requires.

Use Times New Roman 12 point font, in black throughout.

Double space your entire manuscript, other than the address information on the title page. Don’t put extra spaces between paragraphs.

Use a one-inch margin on all sides. If your word processing program defaults to 1.25″, that is fine.

Leave the right side ragged (not justified).

The first page is the title page.

  • Put your name and address in the top left corner, single-spaced.
  • In the top right corner, indicate word count and date last revised.
  • Halfway down the page center your title (usually all upper case) with your byline two lines down, also centered.

For a novel, use a page break to move to the next page, go down a couple of inches from the top margin, and begin your first chapter (double spaced).

For picture books, you may start your double-spaced document immediately following the title, OR you can start it on the page after the title page. Type the text as a continuous document. Typically a 500-word picture book will use two or three pages. This is completely acceptable.

Create a header that gives your surname, the title of your book, and the page number. When you format the page number, ensure that it is formatted not to print on the first page. This will keep the entire header off the title page.

Format the header like this, with the page number on the far right of the page (there are generally three tabs in a header — use the third for the page number):

Surname/Title of Book                                                                                                                                                                                               2

In an email submission to a publisher or agent, DO NOT send your manuscript as an attachment. For a picture book, simply append the text of your manuscript in the body of the email after your query letter. For a novel, append the sample the submission guidelines require in the same way.

For a submission by regular postal mail, something that is increasingly rare, print your manuscript in black type on white paper. For picture books, send query and manuscript folded into a regular #10 white envelope. For novels, send query and sample of the length the guidelines require in a 9×12 envelope, unfolded.

N.B. Regarding illustrations for picture book and chapter book writers

  • unless you are also an illustrator, do not submit or include illustrations with your manuscript.
  • If you are seeking traditional publication, the publisher will choose your illustrator.
  • Do not arrange for an illustrator on your own unless you are planning to self/independently publish.


A good guide for any kind of submission is Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript by Chuck Sambuchino and the editors of Writer’s Digest Books.