After weeks, months, or even years of queries and rejections, an agent has finally surprised you with a request for a partial or full manuscript. Your big chance to have an agent look at your work has arrived. In order not to sabotage yourself by submitting your manuscript in an incorrect format, there are a few things you need to know.
Send exactly what the agent asks for. If the agent wants five pages, do not send four or six pages. Send five. If the agent wants the first three chapters, do not send the best three chapters. Send the first three. An exception to this advice is when an agent requests, for instance, the first 50 pages, but your chapter ends on page 53 or 54. If there is such a natural break near the end of a large chunk of requested text, it is appropriate to submit slightly more than was requested.
If you are submitting a partial manuscript electronically, you will most probably be expected to cut and paste your text into the body of an email (rather than attaching a file), thus, much of the following may not apply. However, it is a good idea to use as much of these standards as feasible in your electronic submission. If you are submitting a heftier chunk of text or the entire manuscript, the agent may expect and prefer an attached file (though do check their specific submission guidelines), in which case, you should use the industry standard formatting described below.
Printed manuscripts (or electronically attached files) should first be formatted according to the particular agent’s requested standards. If the agent’s request and website do not list any standards, follow the industry standard. Failure to follow the appropriate standard puts your manuscript at an immediate disadvantage, and maybe even at risk of outright dismissal. Why? Because not using the standard format or submitting a manuscript that attempts to re-create the look, format, or layout of a published novel will expose you as an amateur uninterested in working with the established system.
Standard 8.5” x 11” white paper.
Printed on only one side.
Printed using only black ink.
Unbound, unstapled, and otherwise unattached pages (except, for shorter works, with an easily removable single clip or a rubber band).
Upper left (single spaced): name (actual), address, phone, email, relevant writing organization memberships.
Upper right: approximate word count (rounded to nearest 1,000 for novels).
Center of page (double spaced): Uppercase title, followed below by your byline (pseudonym acceptable).
Use 12-point Courier, New Courier, or another monospace, non-proportional font. Many agents now accept proportional fonts like Times New Roman. In fact, many prefer Times New Roman. However, if there is no word on the matter in the agent’s submission guidelines, it is best to stick with the traditional 12-point Courier.
Traditionally, use no bold typeface, no end-line hyphens to divide long words, convert italics to underline, and convert em-dashes to double hyphens. These rules are likely not necessary anymore and are remnants of a pre-computer age.
1" margins on all sides.
Single character space after periods rather than two spaces (this is a contested rule, but the rationale for much of this formatting, which is explained below, suggests single spaces are preferred.).
Each page after the first must have in the upper right corner: author’s name / SHORT TITLE / page number.
Use no images / decorations / graphic section dividers / graphic borders / etc.
Double-space every line (except for name and contact information on title page).
No extra spaces between paragraphs.
Use a single indent (standard half-inch) at the start of every new paragraph.
All text must be left-justified (never right-justified and never full-justified).
Chapter / Section Format:
Use a page break before every chapter.
Section breaks within a chapter are indicated by a centered “#” sign alone on a line. (a blank line is also acceptable, though the “#” makes it clear a section break is intended.)
Center the word “END” at the end of the novel (optional, but helpful to avoid possible confusion.).
A lot of these rules are relics from the days of typewriters. However, these rules still aid agents both in reading your manuscript and in estimating the printed length of your book.
Providing a readable manuscript and an easy way for agents, editors, and publishers to estimate the published length of your book are not the only reasons to follow the industry standards. First and foremost, it shows that you took the time to research the industry and to apply the preferred format. Second, you want agents to think less about your formatting and more about the actual content of your book.
As long as you double-space and left-justify text, any other deviation from the standard will likely be forgiven. Such shortcomings may mark you as slightly unprofessional, but an agent generally will not change his or her mind about reading a requested manuscript even if you have inserted pictures, used Garamond font and scented the pages with your favorite perfume. A great novel is a great novel, and an agent should see beyond your formatting failures. But why take the chance, when you can easily format your work correctly and show it off to its best advantage?