Proper Manuscript Form 2.0

Jacob Haddon
Approximately 650 Words

Proper Manuscript Form 2.0

by Jacob Haddon

In this day and digital age it may seem odd to format your submission in a particular way, but yet over and over it is requested.

William Shunn ( has, perhaps, the most famous resource online for formatting. However, it is written for paper submissions. This is an attempt to update it for the more digital world.

Despite the fact that your story will be read online, it is important to remember that it will still be read by a human. We hold the computer / tablet further from our face than we would a book, and as such, your font choice and size should reflect this.

Courier is still the font of choice for this, for all the reasons Shunn mentions. It is easy to read, makes things clear, and, from experience, doesn’t strain the eyes as much as proportional fonts.

Because of distance to the screen, you should make it at least 12 pt. Double space your lines. Either double space between paragraphs, or indent them, but make sure paragraph delineation is consistent and clear. Left align your file, rather than use justification. This is for ease of reading, and really, you want to make your submission as easy to read as possible.

It is preferred you do not use italics, but rather underline. Why? again, readability. Not only for the first time through, but if your story is chosen, it is easier to see underlines to reference the document with the production layout than it is to see italics.

Remember, you are not formatting for layout–that is the job of the publisher. This formatting is designed to make it as easy and clear as possible for the content and layout editors.

Despite the digital submission, we still have ‘pages’ in word processor documents. Keep them about normal, so letter or A4 depending on what suits you best. Use 1 inch margins all around. This is probably the default setup when you start your word processor.

Shunn talks specifics about headers, but don’t bother with them. Headers are best for print submissions in case the pages get separated, but that is not going to be the case in this situation.

Let’s talk the about the first page.

Put your name on it. Just like grade school, put your name right at the top. Do not trust that the file will be kept with the email / submission website / etc, it was sent with. This is to be your legal name.

Under your name, put your email address. Under that an approximate word count. Rounded to the nearest hundred is usually fine, though if it is a flash piece, the exact number of words is probably better.

There will be some publications that ask for blind submissions (no information in the file), for these, exclude these bits, but make sure you include the title of your story and the file name in your cover letter.

Put the title next, center it. Under the title, put your byline. This is how you want your name to appear in print.

Give a space, then your story.

If you have section breaks, again go for consistent and clear delineations. An extra space can sometimes be lost in a page break, so an actual marker is better. I use “* * *”, for example. The singular “#” is also a common choice.

And now your story is ready for reading. Good luck! For reference, here is the original Shunn article:

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  • Use Courier (or Courier New), 12pt
  • Double space lines
  • Either double space or indent paragraphs, be clear and consistent
  • Standard page size, 1 inch margins
  • No page headers
  • Use underlines instead of italics

Front page:

  • Name, Legal
  • email
  • number of words (approximately)
  • Title
  • Name, Byline