how to format your manuscript

THIS ARTICLE APPLIES TO ALL CHILDREN’S BOOK MANUSCRIPTS – INCLUDING PICTURE BOOKS.

Here’s what I do in Microsoft Word. (If you need a visual, an example is included in the book version of my Crash Course.)

Font and Paragraphing

  • Twelve point font. Times New Roman. (Courier is another acceptable option – but that font hogs up the paper). Whatever you do, please don’t try to flag the attention of an editor by using splashy font. All that will do is make you look like an amateur.
  • Double space your manuscript. How? – hit ctrl+A to select the body of your text, then go to the menu at the top of Word and select Format->Paragraph. A new window will pop-up. Under Line Spacing: select EXACTLY. Under At: enter “25″ Click OK. This will make your line spaces just over double your font size. And there you have it.

Page 1 Header information

You will want the header of the first page of your manuscript to be different than the rest of the manuscript. To accomplish this, go to File->Page Setup. Then click on the Layout tab. Check the Different First Page box.Now go to the first page of your document and put your contact information in the HEADER.

  • To get to the header, from the menu up top, click View->Header and Footer. Your header will “open” on the page.
  • On the left side, enter your first and last name. Hit enter.
  • Enter your street address. Hit enter.
  • Enter you city, state and zip. Hit enter.
  • Enter your phone number. Hit enter.
  • Then your email address. Hit enter.

On the right side, you’ll want to specify your word count. Like “Word Count~ 500″. To place this statement on the first line of your header, you’ll need to set a Right Tab.

  • To do this, click on that first line after your last name so your cursor is there. Then select from the menu Format->Tab. A pop-up window will appear. Under Tab Stop Position: enter 6″. Under Alignment, click on Right. Then click the SET button in that window.
  • Now hit the tab key on your keyboard and notice what happens. Your cursor will flush right.
  • Enter your word count and click out of the header.

Title your work

Now hit Enter 10-12 times- you should be about half-way down the page. Enter your title in all caps. NO BOLDING. NO UNDERLINE. I never bother with a byline since it’s assumed from the header. Hit enter twice and begin. And please, DO NOT PUT A COPYRIGHT on there. There is no need and some say, the appearance of a copyright on the manuscript will flag you as an amateur. Want to know why? Your text is automatically copyrighted as soon as you write it. So putting the symbol on your document only points out to an editor or an agent that you might not know this. If you want to know more on copyright, read this from Wikipedia.

Chapter Titles for Chaptered Books

If your book is chaptered, center the chapter title and write “CHAPTER ONE–CHAPTER TITLE” in all caps.

Then hit enter twice again. Your subsequent chapters should each begin a new page, so learn how to insert a page break. Select Insert-> Break. Click Page Break. Done. Eight hits to the enter key will be where you start with the chapter title. Two Enters to start the text.

Your story text

Indent paragraphs. To indent, it’s as simple as hitting the Tab key on your keyboard. Please don’t hit the space bar five times. This is a real pain in the neck and totally unnecessary. This was the old school way of doing things before the arrival of the personal computer.

The same goes for spacing between sentences. ONE SPACE is the standard now. Two spaces is what you do on a typewriter. So with that in mind, if you ARE using a typewriter, then follow the old rules. But everything I am describing here assumes we have a computer and we’re using Word or Works.

Do not double-space (hit enter key twice) between paragraphs unless this is intentional for your story-telling.

Slug and Page Numbers

On page 2 and every page thereafter, a slug (your last name, a slash, then keywords from the title) and a page number should appear in the header. To do this, click into the header as described before.

  • Enter your SLUG in the upper left. This is LAST NAME / KEYWORDS FROM TITLE. Like LIU / JOHNNY’S DAY OFF
  • Next, insert a page number by setting a right tab like we did before and clicking the # icon in the header/footer toolbar.

Now your slug and page number will appear in every page header after page one automatically.
Phew! Your done!

For an example of what your final product might look like, see the paperback version of WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS: A CRASH COURSE.

If you’re taking my online crash course, you may return to step three – write.

»crosslinked«

41 thoughts on “how to format your manuscript”

  1. I really appreciate you taking the time to share this technical information. Headers are something I’ve been toying with for a while now, and you’ve made them so easy to understand. Thanks for giving me one less thing to stress about.

  2. This info and your website are incredible! Do you have any information about how to format a picture book manuscript? I’m confused as to whether a page should be used for every page of the book but that seems wrong. I am trying to format for the upcoming free-tique…help!

    1. The article above is how you format a picture book manuscript as well. There is no need to actually break the page where you think the page breaks are. A common mistake for many new writers. Doing so (unless you know the editor has some strange preference for seeing it that way) will flag you as an amateur.  The STANDARD PRACTICE is to write your text like any other manuscript. Leave the page turns up to the editor to decide.)

        1. You are right! Text is about 50% of the story, when taking the illustrations into account. Your picture book text must allow the illustrations to tell at least half the story (visually!).

          BTW, Dragonfly specs provided in this link you sent me are fairly atypical for major trade picture book publishers. Almost all major trade picture book publishers publish to the 32-page format. While Dragonfly requests brief illustration notes per page, most major trade publishers actually discourage this unless the illustration note is absolutely necessary to understand the text. So do keep that in mind when you submit to other publishers who do not specify specific guidelines such as these.

  3. Hi Cynthea
    I have a quick question for you – well maybe the question isn’t quick but hopefully is quick to answer :)
    I am in Australia, we have a publisher that does “Aussie Nibbles” their description is as follows:
    “manuscripts should be around 1200 to 1500 words, with an interest level for six to eight year-olds as they tackle their first chapter books”
    My question with this description in mind is: would you format the story into chapters or leave that up to the editor &\or illustrator (as I would imagine there would be significant illustrations in this type of books). I can divide my book into “chapters” of a couple of hundred words quite easily but not sure if it looks strange having 1-2 pages per chapter.

    Thanks

    1. In chapter books, it’s very common for chapters to be short (1-2 manuscript pages or longer, depending on the book.) Your best bet is to look at Aussie Nibbles and see if their existing books are chaptered – how long is each chapter? Try to model their books as much as possible to increase your chances of your manuscript fitting into the line.
      Hope that helps! Sorry it took me so long to respond. Somehow I missed this one.

      Cynthea

  4. When publisher requests ms be sent email, but NOT as attachment, how do I send it and preserve formatting?
    I’ve sent ms to myself and seen that formatting gets messed up.

    1. One simple trick is to paste your submission in a Notepad or a similar text editor to strip your text of formatting. Then paste THAT into your email and format from there. But even that does not deliver perfect results because people use different programs and services to receive their emails.

      When I sent in submissions by email, I just Copied and Pasted. Screwing with it only made it worse. Also keep in mind: many agents expect these pasted email submissions to come out wonky on their side and tolerate it quite well. So don’t try to fix it if you don’t know how. Mucking with it can indeed make things worse.

      But if you are a perfectionist, try the tip I mentioned in the beginning of this reply. But if it’s not working for you, don’t apologize for your formatting or anything. Just copy and paste. I promise you, the agent or editor receiving it will not spaz if the formatting is off.

      Take care, Cynthea

  5. Thanks for clearing that up.

    I’ve been reading on Verla Kay that it’s still taboo to submit anthropomorphic stories to publishers. What is your definition of a “really well-written story”?

    Also, I haven’t been able to find one single agent in Ireland who deals with children’s writers and the SCBWI Ireland haven’t updated their website since 2007! Should I still try to submit to agents in Britain?

    Thanks for any information. By the way, your book has been great inspiration to me.
    Talk to you soon,

    Fiona
    PS: I would pass on my greetings from the cat but he’s benn curled up asleep all morning. Hi to Snoop

    1. For me, the definition of a well-written anthropomorphic story applies to most published “animal” stories that are doing well in the marketplace today. So use that as your standard when judging your own work (at least that’s what I do when I consider my own anthropomorphic stories.)

      It is NOT taboo to submit anthropomorphic stories. It’s just harder to sell talking-animal stories because most people don’t write them well. If YOU write them well, do not worry about the naysayers. Just keep chugging and find your editor/agent match.

      If you can not locate an agent in Ireland, feel free to extend your search beyond your borders!

  6. Hi,

    Hope the weather is better where you are. I am sitting in Ireland coffee shop, very wet. However, I am being creative it’s not all bad.

    I have started writing about the “thoughts” of an family pet who has just arrived in the home. The animal is not talking, only voicing his thoughts to the reader. Would this fall into the anthropromorphic category?

    Thanks,
    Fiona

    1. If you show thoughts of a pet, that is also considered anthropomorphic. Attributing human-like qualities to animals, such as showing us thoughts from the POV of an animal, counts, too. They don’t actually have to talk-talk to be anthropomorphic. Hope that helps explain it better!

  7. Thanks for that, Cynthea,

    I’ve been suffering terrible writers cramp recently since I’ve been very busy doing just that! Writing that is! This one quite long, but some of my stories are only 1200 words. Would this be considered to short for an 8 year old to read?

    You also spoke in your book about the layout of submission. Is it still advisable to use double line spacing or is single appropriate these days? One more thing, when writing the thoughts of a character, what font should you use and is it correct that you DON’T use inverted commas?

    Thanks!
    Fiona

    PS: Belated Happy Easter!

  8. I am writing an easy reader book, but I am sending it to the publisher without the photographs that I intend to use. I know that it has been said not to include page breaks. If my sentences are only three to five words long, do I put one sentence on each page or just submit them as a string.

    1. Do you mean, one sentence per LINE? instead of page?

      You can break the sentences according to how the text would be broken in a real picture book. But you shouldn’t break a page for just one sentence.

      For example, you could do this:

      Johnny and Mabel went to the store
      to buy milk.

      OR

      Johnny and Mabel went to the store to buy milk.

  9. Thank you for this site. I was wondering how would I do a manuscript to include drawings? Would I include them on every other page, or at the end?

  10. hi Cynthea
    I am having trouble putting the page numbers in the top right page header. I follow the steps that you say above but the same number is repeated on every page…I am doing something wrong…….

  11. I would love more information on formatting a picture book manuscript. Is there a title page, what page do we start the story on, can you provide photos of the actual layout so we can see?

    Thanks

    1. The format for a picture book manuscript is provided in the book related to this web site. Unless you are doing a picture book dummy (you are both author and illustrator), you do not need to layout the book like an actual picture book. Check out the manuscript format guidelines provided here and in the book, if you need a visual.

  12. I am writing a childrens educational book (Kindergarten through 2nd grade). Ideally, how many pages should the manuscript be. How many illustrations should there be?

    I appreciate your kind help. Thank you.

    1. It all depends on the publisher for that educational book. For nonfiction, the rules are somewhat different. You may want to locate a publisher first for the idea you have, write a query, develop a proposal, and include sample chapters based upon the kinds of things the publisher publishes and the format they typically use for your kind of book. There is no predefined rule for nonfiction books for K-2 since nonfiction has a huge range, so right off the top of my head it would be misleading to give you manuscript page recommendations.

      1. Thank you for your kind and quick reply. I appreciate your quality website and the fact that you freely offer detailed assistance.

        Thank you so much.

  13. A professional illustrator and I are putting together an E-Book. (We hope to print some copies from the E-Book to make some hard cover books.) The plan then is to find a publisher, or to have someone feature the E-Book on a special website.

    Question: Since our work will be in a finished form but will still need to be submitted to a publisher, should we still use names and addresses etc. on the first page, and slugs with names and key words on following pages?

    If names and addresses are not to be used on the first page and in slugs, then where should contact information be included?

  14. I really enjoy how friendly your site is. My question is this: when writing a picture book, it is said to write as a story rather that suggesting page breaks in your writing.
    Does that mean my book will look like one large paragraph?
    Ex:
    “Pick me, Pick me,” shrieked Lilly, as she wildly waved her hand. “Show and Tell is my favorite, please, please me, Mrs. McMann!” I can’t believe she pointed directly right at me. I felt my freckles beaming “Come on up Lilly, …1…2…3.” I exploded from my classroom chair. My curls danced around my face. I visited Grandma this summer, And WOW, Chicago’s the place!
    Do I indent? Do I continue forming one large paragraph? To me, this was 3 pages (3 groups of 4 lines). I want to make sure I don’t look amateur when submitting. Thanks so much for your help.

    1. No. There is a difference between a page break and a paragraph break. Write your story using standard paragraph breaks. Indent them as necessary. What some newbies do is to break up the actual manuscript into pages and pages. (E.g. If they think their book is 32 pages, they turn in 32 sheets of paper with their story on it to the publisher.) Typical manuscripts don’t do this. The story is written according to standard paragraph forms (unless its poetry or something, in which case poetry formats like stanzas are used) and the page breaks (when published) are not indicated.

  15. Thank you so much for posting this :) I’ve always wondered what a manuscript is supposed to look like… And thank you so much for this website, too! I’m learning so much about the publishing industry I never knew about before! I have a question…do you think the author should write their story in this format? Or do you think that they should change the format of their story to this AFTER they’ve written it?

    Thanks so much :)

  16. It’s much easier to use a typical manuscript format from the very beginning than doing it after the fact. To go back and try to reformat everything sounds like a tedious process to me!

  17. Hi! How do I include my illustrations in a manuscript? I have a picture that corresponds with each page of my book… When I put my story into a a normal book format, there is text on the left page and an illustration on the right page…but how do I submit this properly in a manuscript form to a publisher? Thank you so much for your help!!

  18. Are you a professional illustrator? If this is the case, you’ll need to create a dummy. If you are not, please see the FAQ about including pictures with picture book manuscripts. Generally this is discouraged if you are not a professional illustrator yourself. Exceptions might be related to non-fiction work, but this site is primarily focused on fictional children’s works.

  19. Thank you Cynthea! This is very helpful. I have two questions… 1) there is a part in my story where I have written it two ways – is it unreasonable to put a note and include both ways in the manuscript to let the editor decide? 2) I conducted a survey with readers of my story that included great feedback (both positive and constructive) – some edits I made, and others I didn’t. Is there any reason an editor/ publisher would want to see this? I’m assuming no, but hate to assume.

    1. I would not include two different versions or information about surveys in a manuscript submission. Make your best call and let the manuscript speak for itself.
      Also, keep in mind, editors are already thinking of things they would do to make your manuscript better as they read the work and evaluate its potential. So there is no need to show them where you have doubts, etc. Instead, put your very best out there, in your opinion, versus showing them your doubting-self.

      Also let them be the judge of your story, not other people. They are more interested in what they think about it themselves (after all, this is their job), versus some of your biggest fans or critics. Hope that helps!

  20. A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment.
    There’s no doubt that that you need to write more on this
    subject, it might not be a taboo matter but usually people don’t talk
    about such issues. To the next! All the best!!

  21. Hi there!

    I was wondering.. I want to include a recipe at the end of my story and also a pronunciation page in the beginning of my manuscript for words that are not in English. Is that something that should be included, or not? Also, does that count as part of the manuscript?
    Thanks so much for your help in advance!

    Nicole

  22. I think this is among the most significant information for me.
    And i’m glad reading your article. But wanna remark on few general things,
    The website style is perfect, the articles is really excellent :
    D. Good job, cheers

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