Formatting a Romance Manuscript

Update 4/16/13: It’s now acceptable to use italics and other “smart” features of all the Microsoft Word versions, unless otherwise noted by the agent or editor one is submitting to. The basic rule of thumb is, 1″ margins all around, exactly 25 lines per page, start each new chapter 1/3 of the way down a new page. Page breaks at the end of each chapter help to keep them intact no matter how much editing is done to each. 🙂Update: These instructions were written for those using Microsoft Word 2003 or earlier versions.

I wrote these instructions many moons ago for another blog.  I think it’s worthy to include here.  The contest entries I recently judged were formatted in bizarre ways making it difficult to concentrate on the story rather than the structure.

Many new authors need a little help with setting up the actual formatting of their manuscript. It really is easier than it sounds. Before putting that very first word to page, a few simple steps will ensure your manuscript need never go through the frustrating task of trying to get MS Word to stick with the changes you make to your document.

If you’ve already written a story–no matter if it’s complete or partial–you can apply all these settings by first hitting enter at the top of your manuscript until you have a single blank page. On that new first page insert all your title page information.  Highlight the entirety of your writing then apply all the steps from beginning to end. If it doesn’t work perfectly, you may have to fiddle with a few of the tools. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

If you’re starting out fresh, begin here:

The first and most important task is to set your pages to 1″ margins all around. On the tool bar at the top of the screen click on File. Drop down to Page Set-up. If it doesn’t appear, hold your cursor over the double down arrows at the bottom until the entire File list appears. Within Page Set-up there are three tabs. On the Margins tab set Top, Left, Bottom, and Right to 1″. You are done with that tab. Move to the Layout tab. Under Headers and Footers put a check-mark in Different First Page. Click OK.

Now, move on to the Format tool. Drop down to Paragraph. In the middle of this window you will see Line Spacing. Use the drop-down arrow and select EXACTLY. In the At box select 25 pt. Click OK.

Click on Format again and select Font. There are many options that are acceptable, but Times New Roman set to 12 pt. is the easiest on the eye, looks very professional, and is widely accepted. Click OK.

Select Tools and drop down to AutoCorrect Options. On the Auto Format As You Type tab, make sure every item is Unchecked. Click OK. You do not want to replace “Straight Quotes” with “Smart Quotes,” or use any other smart features. Many agents, editors, and contests want your manuscript emailed as an attachment in the .RTF format. When you save your .doc manuscript to this file type the “Smart Features” become odd characters. Turning this function off also makes the copy editor’s job of converting your manuscript to the house standard formatting much easier. He/she will thank you. This also applies to using Italics for words requiring emphasis. Instead, Underline these words.

Setting up your title page is easy once you have your left vertical ruler turned on. To do this select View, then select Ruler. In the upper left hand corner type your name. Tab over to almost the right hand side and type TWC: Leave the total word count blank until you’ve finished your manuscript and then insert the number. Press Enter, then finish under your name with your address, phone number, and email address. Press Enter again until you are half-way down the page then Center your title. Your By Line is centered directly below the title. If you are using an alias, use that here. Now, because the title page is single spaced, you will need to grab and highlight with your left mouse button your entire title page. Go back up to Format, Paragraph, Line Spacing and select Single. Click OK. You may need to ensure your title is still at approximately 4.5 on the left rule.

Now, to keep the title page separate from the rest of your manuscript, place your cursor just below your By Line signature then select Insert from the tool bar, then click Break. Select Section Break, Next Page. Click OK. At the end of each chapter, do the same thing to keep your formatting intact, but instead of Section Break, choose Page Types, Page Break. Now, you can always edit each chapter as you see fit, but it will always remain an individual chapter without getting screwed up. That’s done and out of your way. Remember Each Chapter is to begin 1/3 of the way down each page. This puts it at approximately 3 on the vertical ruler. To format your Header, select View, then Headers and Footers. You have no footer so ignore it. A small bar will pop up with several tool icons. On the one that is Same As Previous, DE-SELECT it. In the header section of your document, type the title of your story then / last name only. Your alias last name will go here. It should look like this: Title/Doe  Tab over to the right hand side. On the Header tool bar that’s still open select Format Page Number. Another small window will pop up. On this, select Page Numbering, Start At, scroll to 1. Next, on the Header tool bar, click the Page Number icon. It should auto insert 1 and you’re all set.

There are other options that are acceptable to various publishing houses, but this is the simplest set-up that works very well across the board. Take each step slowly from the beginning and in no time it will become an easy habit that saves you a mountain of time trying to fix all future manuscripts.


3 thoughts on “Formatting a Romance Manuscript

    • You’re welcome! I think it may be safe these days to actually use italics instead of just underlining–unless you’re asked to submit in RTF format. I still recommend turning off the “Smart” features in Microsoft Word. The problem there is, odd characters appear on the receiver’s copy and it’s a bear for the copywriter to fix them all throughout an entire manuscript. Quote marks, commas, and apostrophes are replaced by little boxes during transmission.

      Happy writing!


  1. Oh, and these instructions were written for Word 97-2003. I’m having fits trying to format headers in the new Word 2007. Why on earth did they have to go and screw up a good thing? 😦


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