Manuscript presentation

Standard fiction manuscript is important and I’m asked about it so frequently that I’ve uploaded a sample document. Click on ‘Presentation’ :


I really wanted the document to appear, shazam! on the page, rather than as a link. But clicking the link works OK.

Presenting your manuscript to an electronic publisher

Lynne Connolly, prolific author of contemporary, historical and paranormal novels for the world of e-publishing has been kind enough to share the tricks of submitting work electronically:

Sue’s guide is excellent, especially for printed documents, but fewer publishers are asking for those these days. Not as many offices packed with towers of paper!

I keep a template for each publisher, set up the way the publisher wants it.

  • In general, headers and footers are to be avoided in the electronic version – not as much of a chance of dropping the whole shebang on the floor and needing the page numbers.
  • Single line spacing unless the publisher’s guidelines say otherwise (double spacing makes the document much bigger, and the recipient can easily change it for herself)
  • Keep the formatting as simple as possible.

A publisher asking for electronic documents is more likely (though not always) to ask for the whole thing, not just a partial (first three chapters and synopsis). It doesn’t take up space like a paper document does.

My thanks to Lynne Connolly for all that valuable stuff.


But, on the other hand …

I do think good manuscript presentation is important in the same way that washing your hair and shining your boots can be important when you’re attending a job interview. Editors and competition judges work with words and they notice poor presentation. The ‘rules’ are there for excellent reasons, too – double line spacing is quick and easy to read; large margins allow for notes to be made; a clear font is easy on the eye; ‘empty’ lines between paragraphs disrupt the smooth flow of your story and make the reader think they’re reading a succession of scenes instead of a succession of paragraphs. (One of the greatest disservices that the creators of Word have done to writers is to make it the default for ‘empty’ line space to appear whenever you press ‘return’. But it’s easy to fix – look at the presentation document for details.)

But what if you find good presentation a challenge?

Maybe you’re dyslexic or left school at 14 or were never at the same school long enough to learn properly?

Don’t let the preparation of the manuscript put you off. The storytelling is waaaaay more individual and creative and … and what you’re all about. You can always get someone to help you with the technicalities (offer to wash their car in exchange or something).

The story is the creative thing – the formatting is boring necessity.



81 responses to “Manuscript presentation

  1. Thanks, Sue, for posting this advice. Very useful/helpful.


  2. Thanks, Sue! This is FAB.


  3. Penny

    Definitely A Good Thing, Sue! Funny, too, which always appeals.
    A neat reminder that writing somehow requires that you remain secretarial while also cutting loose with the imagination.


  4. debutnovelist

    Hi Sue – what a good way of showing us using the ‘model’. BTW I have always put my name and story title in the header with page numbers at the bottom. I didn’t know about the ‘mf’ thing. Do you prefer page numbers at top?


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  6. Thanks for highlighting this great presentation Sue, it clears up those areas newer writers sometimes get confused with and I’ll certainly recommend this blog post to those in need.


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  8. Ruth Edwardson

    Thanks for this very useful info. However, I’m still having problems with getting the identing of paragraphs to work using Format>Paragraph function. I’ve set the indent to 0.5 cm. I started the first paragraph, with no ident, as you said, no problem. The beginning of the second paragraph indented OK but then, every subsequent line was also indented. How do I stop it doing that? Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks.


    • HI Ruth,

      Versions of Word vary but, looking at my Word for Mac, I wonder if you need to change something in one of the other boxes under Format>Paragraph. For example, in Word for Mac there’s a box called ‘special’ and that should be set to ‘first line only’. There’s also an image of how the paragraph will come out as you change things in the various boxes so you should keep an eye on that for clues as to when you’re getting it right.

      Another way would be to ignore the Format>Paragraph option and make your horizontal ruler visible, instead. (View and then tick Ruler.) The top slider on your ruler governs the indent so if you drag that along a bit (just the top one! The little triangle) then it should give you the indent if the bottom triangle stays where it is on the margin.


  9. Bill Dunnakey

    Hi Sue,
    I found your manuscript presentation very useful but it raised a few more queries with me. You seem to suggest a large margin – 5 or 10cm – on the left and the normal margin – 2.5cm – on the right. My only problem with that is, being old-fashioned, I tend to keep filed paper copies of some of my stories especially if they have been commented on – this means that the file holes would go through the comments. For this reason I keep the left margin as standard and a wide margin on the right. Is this acceptable? Also is page numbering in the style ‘page 1 of 8’ acceptable in lieu of ‘mf’. For the font type is ‘Bookman Old Style’ acceptable, as opposed to the standard ‘Times New Roman’. And finally, should the text alignment be ‘Left’, giving a ragged right edge, or ‘Justified’ giving a straight right edge, to the body of the text?
    I am new to fiction writing and would like to get these basics sorted out before going much further.


    • Hi Bill,
      Mine is just one form of standard manuscript presentation – you do find variations, such as 1 of 8 instead of mf, as you suggest.

      I’ve been and looked at the document and I feel that the margins are the same left and right – do they look different, to you? The same is standard, I feel.

      I use Bookman Old Style most of the time. It’s plain and sensible and nobody has every complained.

      Most publishers dislike justification on the right hand margin and it’s standard to set your document to the left and let the right margin be uneven. I believe this is because it’s easier for them to justify at their end.

      Hope you enjoy your writing! I think you’re wise to get your presentation as professional and ‘clean’ as possible.

      Best wishes,


      • Bill Dunnakey

        Thank you Sue,
        That has clarified everything. I am going to set up a template in Word for my fiction writing based on that info.
        Just one other thought, if the ‘Title Page’ shows the title is there a need to duplicate the title at the start of the story? Or, have you indicated a chapter heading in your example?


  10. Hi Bill,

    Yes, the title should be on both title page and page 1. Some magazines ask for it to be on every page. Legend has it that if they decide to buy your story they rip off the front page and give it to their accounts department to effect payment as it has all your contact details.


  11. Deborah Rickard

    Hi Sue,
    Thanks for this wonderful idea. Very useful. I have a question though. Being a secretary I was taught to type two spaces after a full stop. I notice in novels there doesn’t seem to be a long gap between sentences. Should we stick to one gap or doesn’t it matter? (By the way, in being so used to this practice I nearly always type two spaces, unnecesarily, at the end of every paragraph – a practice which can cause extra space between paras when the MS is sent elsewhere).



    • Hi Debs,
      I was trained the same way but trained out of it again when I went to work for a sports paper and two spaces made a paragraph every time. V unpopular habit. Don’t think anyone likes two spaces these days. But you can easily take them out at the end doing find and replace. Just tap space bar twice in find box and once in replace box.


  12. Marc

    Hi Sue,

    I just have two questions relating to itacalising and underlining.

    In the manuscript, if I want to place particular emphasis on a single word, which would normally be italicised in print, do I italicise it or underline it?

    Secondly, if a book, newspaper, journal is referred to, which would normally italicised in print and academic writing, should it be italicised or underlined in the manuscript? Let’s say, for example, my character is reading Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, would the title be italicised or underlined in the manuscript? Or something else?

    Many thanks for an excellent and helpful document.


    • A certain amount depends upon house style. House style is what the publisher of that book or magazine chooses to do – so one magazine will choose to italicise the title of a book but another one won’t. I usually do and if the publication doesn’t want it, they take the formatting out.

      Italics for emphasis always used to be underlined, because typewriters couldn’t italicise. But that has largely gone by the board with the advent of computers and I always use italics where I wish them to be used. I’ve even seen a blog from an editor saying, ‘Why use underline when I just have to change it to italics?’


  13. Heather Pelmore

    Thankyou Sue. Ihave just read your email on Presentation and will use a few of the points made when I send off my next manuscript.


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  16. Claire

    Hi Sue,

    I was sent your model manuscript after entering the short story competition for writeres forum, so that I could clean up my story. It’s been really useful and I’ve tried to take on board all the advice in it, so thank you very much. I just have one teeny tiny problem – the mf! I’ve been wrestling with Word trying to make it appear throughout the manuscript except on the last page using the headers and footers function, but I’m afraid Word has me in a head-lock and it’s going to floor me soon. Any advice?


    Claire Thomson


    • Hi Claire,
      Glad the presentation page is helpful. 🙂

      In some word processing packages there is an option to change the footer for the final page – but those packages seem to be in the minority. A student did once send me instructions, using a page break, or section break, but I got in a mess with it. So, if I’m printing the manuscript, I print the last page with no mf, then go back and put the mf in and print the rest. If I’m submitting an electronic story I just take mf out and hope that the page numbering and the word ‘ends’ will be sufficient.


  17. Roy Ernest Hare

    Thank you Sue for your comments on ‘Ever Bean Had.’
    I think the reason for not wanting to write descriptions is because if I am reading a book I skip over them. Years ago I was told to use descriptions because my readers would not have an imaginative mind like mine.
    I shall take your advice and try harder even though I will suffer.
    I have you on my favourites list now.
    Commaless Roy.


    • Hi Commaless Roy,

      I know what you mean about descriptions – some turn into a list of facts, which is tedious, and doesn’t move the story forward. The answer is to tuck little bits in here and there, so that you don’t get those great chunks that you tend to skim over. You can sometimes weave description into characterisation, too, such as ‘worried blue eyes’, which tells us two things about the character in question.

      Thanks for the ‘favourite’.


  18. 13artiag

    Hi Sue,
    Thank YOu so much for this link. I think this should really help.
    Arti (LSJ)



  19. Hi Sue,
    Great advice and I’ve shared this link with some loops. Your Presentation link is excellent.


  20. Hi Sue, Thank you so much for your helpful critique of my short story ‘Dance Like a Butterfly’ and this great advice on presentation. I have a question about inverted commas. I notice in your example you use single speech marks. Are there any rules for when I should use single or double? One magazines asks for double for speech and single for thoughts. Would I be penalised in a competition if I get it wrong? Thank you.


    • Hi Tana,

      I don’t think you’d ever be penalised, but different magazines do have different house styles, so there’s no harm in conforming to them. I like single quotes but some magazines ask for double. The only time I use double is for quotes within quotes. That is: ‘Your “friendly insults” are really not that friendly.’ If I used double quotes for the dialogue, then I’d reverse that and use single for the quote within a quote. “Your ‘friendly insults’ are really not that friendly.”

      Glad that the critique was useful! 🙂


  21. I’ve skimmed all the comments here but see nobody who’s mentioned that, contrary to your own advice in your Presentation sample, the footer on the last page was not empty. You did indicate the end of the story with the “ends” but you also left in the “mf” and the explanatory footer on the last page. Confusing.


    • Hi Peter,
      You’re absolutely right. But I have simply failed to find a way to get my Word package (Word:Mac 2008) not to have the footer on every page. In other versions of Word I’ve had, there was a box to tick if you wanted to omit the footer from a certain page, but, from what others have told me, Word has simply stopped offering this option. If you know a way that I can do it, I’ll be happy to hear.

      NB When I send mss out in the post, I remove the footer, print the last page, put the footer back in and print the rest.


  22. Suzie Dodd

    Hello Sue,
    Thank you for advising me to read your presentation page; it has been really helpful. After all this time I thought I had cracked the presentation of my MS, however, it appears I’ve been getting a few things wrong without realising it! I was taught typewriting skills and have been treating Word in the same way. I do find some computer techniques a bit problematic to master, but I’ll keep trying. The habit of leaving two spaces after a full stop will be a tricky one to break, so I’ve put a post-it note on my lap top to remind me.
    Thanks for my story critique and the useful info on this site.


    • Hi Suzie,
      Glad it’s helpful. The two spaces thing is a problem. I was trained as you were, but then I went to work in preproduction for a sports newspaper and when you get shouted at every time you leave two spaces in, it speeds up your training substantially! Worst case, you could always do a global Find & Replace on each document. Just tap the space bar twice in the Find box and once in the Replace box.


  23. Suzie Dodd

    Hi Sue,
    will try your suggestion – many thanks. Can I ask; I have written a children’s novel in the typewritten way. Do you think I will have to re-type the entire MS in ‘computer speak’ or is there a way around this problem? Any help is much appreciated.


    • I would try and avoid retyping the whole thing. There must be ways around it. One that springs to mind is to highlight the entire document (you might want to work on a duplicate, now I think of it!) and strip it of formatting. The way in which you do this will vary from version to version of Word but, in mine, you would go to the Styles menu and click on ‘strip formatting’. (Look it up in your Help menu, if you can’t find it. Or search on YouTube for a tutorial.) You can then work on the document afresh. For eg, highlight the entire document and do the Format>Paragraph>first line indent thing to get the majority of the manuscript in shape. Do the Find and Replace on two spaces that I recommend above. NB If you strip the formatting, it strips EVERYTHING. So any italics or bold or underline instructions will have to be put back in manually. But, still, better than retyping the entire document, in my view. NB again, if you are making changes to the whole document, highlight the whole document. This is easily done by clicking Control (or Command, on a Mac) and A. Or Select All from your Edit menu.
      Good luck!


  24. Suzie Dodd

    Many thanks, Sue, I will give that a go!


    • Bill Dunnakey

      A point worth mentioning to Suzie’s editing of a whole document. It is worth saving a new copy of your document, under a new file name (ie original file name, revision1.doc), to work on. Then you still have the original document if anything goes wrong


      • Suzie Dodd

        Hello Bill,
        Yes, thanks for that helpful comment. I’ve already copied my doc in another name as I’m trying to strip formatting the doc as I speak. I hope I get it right!


      • I agree, Bill, which is why I said that Suzie might like to work on a duplicate. Then the original is always there to go back to, should disaster strike. Another good thing is to email the document to yourself, or, even better, to a web-based email address if yours isn’t. Then that version will be backed up away from your computer. Dropbox works, too.


  25. Suzie Dodd

    Thanks for all the great advice; much appreciated!



    Have just read your LOVE WRITING – what a great book. Full of r eally helpful stuff. Have passed it on to another writer. Can[t thank you enough, even though I consider myself an established romance writer, have learned new stuff. Thanks. Christine Franklin.


  27. Nikki Copleston

    I’ve published my own crime novel as a Kindle e-book, but although I’ve sold a few copies, I would love it to reach a print publisher or an agent. What’s the best way to make that happen? I tried sending the MS to agents a while back, with no positive result, and e-published myself just because I wanted it OUT THERE being read – but is there a way to still get a print publisher interested?? I’m working on a sequel (reluctant to let my beloved Detective Inspector Lincoln go) which I will also publish as a Kindle even if I don’t get anywhere with getting into print.


    • Hi Nikki,
      There’s no easy routes, I’m afraid. The facts are that some books that are good enough to be published traditionally, aren’t picked up. As well as writing a publishable novel you do have to get it on the right desk on the right day etc etc. It’s a tough and competitive market. I would say that you should persist – I approached ten agents before one took me on, and the books she handled went in to many acquisition meetings. Also, give yourself the best chance – go to writer conferences/talks where you can meet or have one-to-one appointments with agents and editors to get your work in front of them. York and Winchester are good for this.

      Good luck!


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  29. Richard Buxton

    Hi Sue,
    All really useful stuff thanks. Just one query from me. A creative writing tutor of mine strongly advocates NOT copyrighting work sent to agents as she says they find it insulting and it would count against you. Would you agree with this either for competitions or sample work to agents?
    kind regards,


    • Hi Richard,
      Yes, I would agree with your tutor. There is a copyright notice on my presentation tips document, but that is to suggest to people that this document is in my copyright – not that they should send their documents in bearing the copyright notice. Sorry if this causes any confusion.

      On the upside, as a comp judge and a somet-time editor, I never take a blind bit of notice if someone has put their copyright notice on something they send me.

      Best wishes


  30. Richard Buxton

    Thanks Sue. All clear.


  31. Lisa Plowman

    Hello Sue,
    back in November I sent in my story, The Call, and you gave me this link in your feedback about manuscript presentation, for which I am very grateful.
    I am, however, getting myself into a bit of a pickle with certain things, as I’m not too good with the technicalities of word. I’m having problems with numerous aspects, one of which is getting the header and footer right all the way through the document. It’s mainly to do with the mf, because when I get to the last part to put end, all the other mf’s I have inserted change to end too. I also wondered if your example is also double spaced?
    I want to get this perfect before I send my story, and possible another one in to you. Would appreciate your advice. Thank you so much, and Happy New Year!


    Lisa Plowman.


    • Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for visiting the blog.

      I’m afraid that in many versions of Word it’s well-nigh impossible to make the header or footer change part way through a document. I’m told there IS a way, involving inserting a page break somewhere, but I’ve never been able to do it. We generally just have to have mf in the footer everywhere including the final page for an electronic document. However, if you’re printing a document it’s easier: print everything but the final page with mf in the footer, then remove mf from the footer and print the final page.

      And, yes, my example is double line spaced. Very occasionally you get an editor saying that they 1.5 line spacing or something, but double is the default. It makes reading easier and also writing remarks or instructions on a printed manuscript.

      I hope you have a Happy New Year, too, with lots of success.



  32. Lisa Plowman

    Hello Sue,
    Thanks very much for your reply and much appreciated advice. I’ll be printing my stories because if I try and send them electronically, I think I will more than likely end up getting more of a pickle than I already have!

    Just one last question. Is the left alignment set to 0.5cm or does it have to be 5cm? I’ve put the latter one on one document, but the margin looks huge and nothing at all like your example, so I’m guessing I’ve done it completely wrong. I’d rather ask to make sure before I send my manuscripts off to Writers’ Forum again.

    Thanks for your help and advice.

    Best wishes,

    Lisa. 🙂


  33. Lisa Plowman

    Thanks Sue. I don’t know why, but I’m still struggling with my manuscript. I have been trying to compare it to yours in the example, but for some reason, the margin on the left looks as if it’s too far over than yours. I have put my margins at 1.5cm all the way around, Left Alignment, double spacing and 3.17, but it still doesn’t look right! I think I will have to persevere with it a little longer and do it the best I can, so it resembles yours. I’m really not very good with the technical side of it.

    Thank you for your help and time, and the good luck 🙂


  34. Lisa Plowman

    on my word it doesn’t have anything to tick, but I think it’s automatic that it is already on ‘print view’. I have the page at 100%. I have Microsoft Word 2010.


  35. Lisa Plowman

    I’ve just had another look, but there is nothing to tick. Thanks Sue. I will print a page off and see. If, it’s still not right, I will do the best I can.
    Thank you again for your help 🙂


  36. Lisa Plowman

    Okay, will give it a go, but won’t hold my breath 🙂


  37. Lisa Plowman

    I’ve had my husband to have a look at this, and it seems that Works 2010 contradicts things. When I put double spacing in as advised, the spaces between lines are too big! So have put it to ‘single’ spacing and now my document looks more like yours! Indent is 3.5ch and the margins I’ve had to put at 1.27 all the way around. No wonder I have been getting so confused with it all, but I’m getting there 🙂
    Hopefully I will be able to print off both stories and post them soon!

    Thank you for letting me pick your brain with this, and sorry for all the confusion. Your brain, like mine, can now unpickle itself 🙂



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  43. Lee J Dawson

    Hi Sue. I apologise if this has already been asked. I will be ready to submit a story for the Writer’s Forum Short Story Competition within the next few weeks, but I have recently adopted a pen name. In the event that I win a prize, do I state in my email that I’m using a pen name, or on the first page of my submission along with my other details?


    • Hi Lee,
      The norm is for you to put your real name at the top of the cover page, with your other contact details. Then you put your pen name with the story title:

      A Really Great Story
      B Goode

      for example. I prefer those details on the first page of the ms, too. Then your story should appear in the magazine under your pen name but the prize money will go to your real name. The prize money isn’t my end of things but I’d imagine the magazine pays electronically. In the event that they send a cheque, I’m sure they’d check the details.
      Good luck! 🙂


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  46. annr33

    Hi Sue, I have been signposted to your valuable website by Writers’ Forum. Your ms presentation shows single speech marks. How do I present the thoughts of a character, without the tag he thought ? May I use italics for thoughts without the tag? Thank you.


    • Hello Ann,
      There are various ‘house styles’ but this is the technique I use:

      If you’re deep enough within your character’s mind (writing from his or her point of view) then you frequently can do without ‘he thought’ etc. Let me try and illustrate:

      Mags clenched her hands until her nails dug into her palms. She would not let Jake intimidate her again. She would just pack her bags and go. She was an adult wasn’t she? But what if that big fist crashed into her face again …?

      At least the final two sentences of that paragraph are Mags’s thoughts but I haven’t included ‘she thought’. I could, if I felt the rhythm was better but I feel that writing from within her simply means that we know her thoughts. This is the big difference between the page and the stage. On stage or screen we can only watch the characters and hear what they say – we can’t KNOW their thoughts we can only deduce them.

      In my opinion, there is a case for using italics, but not for every thought. I reserve this for when a character is thinking something AS IF they’re saying it out loud … but they’re not. Example:

      Mags clenched her hands until her nails dug into her palms. She would not let Jake intimidate her again. I’m going to just pack my bags and go. I’m an adult aren’t I? But what if that big fist crashes into my face again …?

      (I hope the correct part of that comes out in italics – the formatting for these comments is a bit basic.)
      Anyway, I hope this helps. It might be a good idea to analyse a few recently published books in the genre in which you write and see how the publisher has handled thoughts in each of the above cases.

      Best wishes,


  47. annr33

    Thank you, Sue. Your advice is much appreciated. I like the use of italics as in your example. I have checked stories in Writers’ Forum and this is the method used, so I’m very happy with that!
    Good wishes,


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