Preparing Your Manuscript for Submission

As many first-time writers know, completing your book is only half the battle for publication. You still have to prepare your manuscript for submission, find a literary agent, write a cover letter, prepare a synopsis, find a publisher, and get ready for some back-and-forth between you, your literary agent, and the publisher as you hammer your book into publication-perfect shape.

Largely, this has to do with formatting.

Book submission guidelines

Submission guidelines vary from literary agent to literary agent and from publisher to publisher. This is why you should always contact literary agents and publishers to find out about their submission guidelines so that you can give your book or manuscript every chance of being read and not recycled.

There are, however, certain submissionguidelines that are more or less common for submitting all types of written work, from graphic novels and children’s picture books to magazine articles and papers for academic journals.

Submission guidelines include:


  • Use the correct font; which means font that is easy to read. The most preferred fonts include Times New Roman and Courier. Sometimes you can get away with Arial or Verdana, but it’s best to play it safe.
  • Use the correct font size. Don’t go smaller than size ten or larger than size 12. The most preferred size is 12.

Basically, get over your font bias and give the people what they want.

  • Use double-spacing, which makes it easier for literary agents and publishers to read your manuscript.
  • If you have to submit a hardcopy of your novel or manuscript, ensure that you use standard A4 size paper and print only on one side. If you’re submitting your manuscript or novel electronically, find out what file type to use and protect your work from malicious tampering – PDFs are commonly accepted.
  • Demarcate paragraphs with indentation and not with extra line spacing. The indentation should be five spaces.
  • Demarcate scene breaks with a blank line and the # symbol in the centre.
  • Start new chapters on a new page.
  • Always, always, always number the pages. You’d think that page numbering should go without saying, but it doesn’t. You’d be surprised how many first-time authors forget this very basic step. The placement of the numbers is also important. Unless otherwise specified, place them on the bottom right.
  • Don’t justify the pages; keep everything aligned left.
  • Don’t use hyphenation because it will play havoc with the typesetting at a later stage.
  • Include your name and the title of your book on every page. Opinion is divided whether this information should be in the header or the footer. It’s possible that the header gets slightly more votes. This is perhaps something else you shouldn’t leave to chance, so ask about it when you contact the agency for submission guidelines.
  • Don’t forget to end with The End.

Title page

Every manuscript must be submitted with a title page. This contains your contact details, including full name, address, phone numbers and email address. Also include your literary agent’s name and contact information. Add some basic details of your novel, such as the total word count and the genre and sub-genre. This information should be on the top left of the page.

In the centre of the page you will have the title of your manuscript. In the next line (double-spaced) include your name, as in, “A novel by …”

The title page does not get a header or footer or a number.

Don’t start your story immediately on the next page. Rather go halfway down where you’ll add the title and your name, again. And then give yourself a double space and start with chapter one.

The cover letter

You’ve probably already sent the literary agent or publisher a cover letter, which is why you were invited to submit the manuscript in the first place. This is a different cover letter. It’s even shorter than the initial attention-grabbing letter because you no longer need to try and sell your idea.

Address it to the correct person and spell her name correctly, which shouldn’t be a problem because you’ve done it before. Mention that you are submitting your manuscript based on previous communication (and then include their letter inviting you to send your book). You can give another one or two sentence summary of your book if you want. It’s recommended, but isn’t always necessary. Thank them for their time and consideration.

Bonus manuscript preparation and submission tips

Only submit your book when you are completely happy with it, which is after several drafts and merciless self-editing. When you think you’re done, give your manuscript to someone else to read and invite constructive criticism. You can ask a friend or family member, if their grasp of structure, character development and syntax is impeccable; otherwise hire a copyeditor to do it for you. Freelance copyeditors aren’t that expensive and they can save you the pain of harsh rejection letters.

Make several copies of your manuscript. Literary agents and publishing houses are unlikely to send your book back to you and you don’t want to be caught short.

Don’t staple your manuscript before you submit it. Don’t bind it or tie it with string or do anything to it other than keep the pages separate and place them in cardboard manuscript box. This makes it easier to read and literary agents and publishers like manuscripts that are easy to read.

Only ever send what is required. If only a cover letter and the first two chapters are required, don’t send a two page synopsis and any two random chapters that you think are the best.

Finally, don’t take rejection personally. It could just mean that your manuscript wasn’t right for the agent or publishing house concerned. The only time to brood on rejection is if the majority of the letters come back with a common criticism. Then it’s time to either reconsider your angle, character and plot, or take up horticulture instead.

Plainly, a great deal of effort goes into preparing your manuscript or book for submission. So, before submitting your book, do yourself a favour and conduct your research thoroughly.