Format and Forget

I’ve read dozens of books on writing. Invariably they have a chapter on formatting, which they invariably make a huge deal of. There is some good reason—an incorrectly formatted manuscript marks you as an amateur, and suggests you don’t care enough to learn your trade—but on the whole, I think the stress is overblown. I’ve even had aspiring writers ask if their book would be rejected because they didn’t number the pages.


Formatting just needs to be clean, easy to read, and professional. There’s no single universal standard; it’s more like variations on a norm. As long as you hit within that spectrum, you’ll be fine. That means:

  • Double space. If you want to be a fetishist, set the lines-per-page to 25 and disable widows and orphans. No one will notice, but knock yourself out.
  • Twelve-point type, either Times New Roman or Courier New. Yes, there many other attractive fonts, but these two are the gold standard for manuscripts. Personally, I like Times. It takes less space, which saves paper when you print it.
  • One-inch margins all the way around.
  • Indent the first line of each paragraph.
  • If you want to emphasize a word, use italics, not bold. Also, while there was a time when authors underlined to represent italics, that’s no longer the case.
  • No blank line between paragraphs.
  • Create a header with your name, the title, and the page number, (e.g., Sakey / THE TWO DEATHS OF DANIEL HAYES / 231). I often set this in italics so that it’s easy to tune out.
  • A cover page with the title, along with your name and contact info, is a good idea. You can make the title larger, but don’t add clip-art or imagery.
  • Use good quality, clean, white paper.

That’s it, I promise. Above all, your formatting should not call attention to itself. Done right, it disappears, leaving the story front and center.

Where it belongs.