Novel Manuscript Format for CBA Publishers

Novel Manuscript Format for CBA Publishers

Things are a bit different between Christian publishers and mainstream publishers, so this article will mostly address the fiction guidelines of the major CBA publishers and agents. (Non-fiction guidelines may differ.)

The following instructions for changing the formatting of your electronic document is for Microsoft Word versions older than 2007. I'm not familiar with Word Perfect or Word 2007, unfortunately, so in order to change your settings to the formatting mentioned below, you will need to do a website search for instructions (for example, you can Google “How to set margins in Word 2007”). Most publishing houses use Microsoft Word, whether the older versions or 2007.

Printer: Use a good printer. Avoid dot-matrix printers entirely. If you do not own a printer, your pages can be printed out at your local print shop or office supply store for a modest price if you bring your document to them on a disk or CD.

Paper: Should be good quality, 20 lb., white or extra-bright, 8.5" x 11". While some people say that heavier, better quality paper is better, a few editors have mentioned that heavier than 20 lb. paper is often too heavy for them to take home to read, so a safe way to go would be straight 20 lb. paper.

Single-sided: Only print or type on one side of the paper.

Margins: Text should have 1 inch to 1-1/2 inch margins on all sides of all pages. Header (see below) can be 1/2 inch or 1 inch from the top of the page, but the text itself should be at least 1 inch to 1-1/2 inches from the top of the page.

To set margins:
Click on "File" at the top, then "Page Setup." A window will pop up.
Click on the "Margins" tab at the top of the window.
Under "Margins" is "Top," "Bottom," "Left," and "Right." In the boxes next to each, change the setting to 1. Optional: the "Top" margin can be 1.5 instead of 1.
Click "OK."

Font: Courier is traditional and still acceptable, but many people (including editors and agents) find a modern font with a serif, like Times New Roman, to be easier to read on paper. (On the web, a sans serif font like Helvetica or Ariel is easier to read on monitors, which doesn't have the same type of resolution as paper.)

Contests will sometimes require one font over the other (sometimes for the purposes of limiting entry length), so read all contest instructions and follow them accordingly.

For Courier, size should be 12 point. For Times New Roman, size should be 12 or 14 point. 12 point is more common. For any other font, size it to be approximately the same as either Courier 12pt or Times New Roman 12pt.

For submissions, an editor or agent will usually not automatically reject your manuscript if you put it in Times New Roman when they prefer Courier, or vice versa. However, they might be annoyed if the font is smaller than 12pt.

Double-spacing (or 25 lines per page): The manuscript should be double-spaced or set to 25 lines per page (this is traditional but not mandatory if the publisher uses computer word count). Do not manually put carriage returns between lines like a typewriter--this can cause formatting problems if text is revised or margins changed. Do not put an extra carriage return between paragraphs.

Highlight the entire manuscript (Edit/Select All or Control-A).
Click "Format" at the top, then "Paragraph." A window will pop up.
Click on the "Indents and Spacing" tab at the top (usually the first tab that shows up in the window)
In the middle of the window on the right side is "Line spacing:" and under that is a drop-down box.
If double-spacing the manuscript, click on "Double."
If formatting to 25 lines per page, click on "Exactly." The field to the right of "Line spacing:" is "At:" with a drop-box. Click in the box and type "25."
Click "OK."

Left side justification (ragged right edges): Make sure justification is on the left and not centered or justified.

Click "Format" at the top, then "Paragraph." A window will pop up.
Click on the "Indents and Spacing" tab at the top (usually the first tab that shows up in the window)
At the top of the window on the left side is "Alignment:" and to the right of that is a drop-down box.
Select "Left."
Click "OK."

Indentation: Use the tab to indent the first line of the paragraph 0.5", not 0.3" (which is standard in some word processing programs) or 5 spaces, especially if you use a proportional font like Times New Roman.

Click "Format" at the top, then "Paragraph." A window will pop up.
Click on the "Indents and Spacing" tab at the top (usually the first tab that shows up in the window)
The second section from the top of the window on the left side is "Indentation" and to the right of that is “Special” and a drop-down box.
Select "First Line."
To the right is “By:” and make sure it is set at 0.5.
Click "OK."

Hyphenation: Turn off. (optional)

Select the entire document (control A).
Click "Format" at the top, then "Paragraph." A window will pop up.
Click the "Line and Page Breaks" tab at the top of the window.
Select the "Don't hyphenate" check box.
Click "OK."

Widows/Orphans control OFF: (optional) A "widow" is the last line of a paragraph printed by itself at the top of a page. An "orphan" is the first line of a paragraph printed by itself at the bottom of a page.

When Widows/Orphan Control is ON, then Microsoft Word will eliminate widows and orphans in order to keep paragraphs together. So you won't have that single line from a paragraph at the top of a page (widow) or that first line of a paragraph at the bottom of a page (orphan).

However, this varies the number of lines per page, which can be misleading to someone reading the manuscript because a page with one or two less lines looks like a section break or the end of a chapter when it is not. It's usually better to turn the Widows/Orphan Control OFF. Then each page will have the same number of lines.

However, you have to make sure the entire document is selected (Edit/Select All) before you change Widow/Orphan Control for it to affect the entire document. Kind of like fonts--you need to select the entire document to change the font.

In your manuscript, go to Edit (at the top) and click Select All (or press Control A)
Click on "Format" (at the top), and click on "Paragraph." A window will pop up.
Click on "Line and Page Breaks" tab near the top of the window.
Make sure "Widow/Orphan Control," "Keep with next," and "Keep Lines Together" boxes are UNCHECKED.
Click OK. The bottom margin should be 1 inch after that, or close enough.

Header (no footer): Most headers are only one line, since a book title, your last name, and the page number can usually fit all on one line.

There are several ways to format a header, but the most common is:
Right side: page # or just the #

You can have Last name/TITLE instead on the left side.

You can also have TITLE/Last name/e-mail@address on the left side. Some publishers appreciate it when each page has your contact information.

Set the header margin:
Click on "File" at the top, then "Page Setup." A window will pop up.
Click on the "Layout" tab at the top of the window.
Under "Headers and Footers" near the middle of the window is "Header" and "Footer."
In the boxes next to "Header," change the setting to 0.5 if your top margin is 1, or change the setting to 1 if your top margin is 1.5.
Click "OK."

To insert the header:
Click "View" at the top, then click "Header and Footer." The header box will appear.
Type in the header.

If the header text isn't left justified, highlight the header text.
Click on "Format" at the top, then "Paragraph."
Select the "Indents and Spacing" tab near the top.
Under "Alignment" (near the top) set the box for "left."
Click "OK."

To insert page numbers, click on "Insert" at the top, then "Page Numbers." A box will pop up.
Under "Alignment" make sure it says "right."
Make sure the box that says "Show number on first page" is checked.
Click "OK."

To exit the Header/Footer view, click "close."

Typically, fiction manuscripts do not have footers.

Numbering: Number pages consecutively. The title page (see below) should NOT have a header or page number, but you should start numbering your manuscript (and include the other things in the header) from the FIRST page of text (prologue or chapter one). This is different from traditional formatting taught in high school and college, where they instruct writers to not number page one and start numbering on page two. Since manuscripts are not bound, if several fall from a table, there is no way to know the manuscript's title if there is no information about the manuscript on that first page of the prologue or chapter one. Therefore, your very first page (prologue or chapter one) should have your header (manuscript title, your name, page 1).

Title page: Most novel manuscripts have a Title Page that includes the title, estimated word count (see below), your name and contact information or your agent’s name and contact information (the book FORMATTING AND SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT says not to put both your information and your agent's information, probably so that the editor isn't confused about who to contact).

The title page is single-spaced with 1” margins all around. It does NOT have a header or page number.

Word count should be in the top right corner of the page. You can also include the novel's genre and/or sub-genre, such as "Inspirational Contemporary Romance" or "Inspirational chick-lit mystery."

Your information (name (not pseudonym), address, telephone number, e-mail address, website (if you have one)) goes in the top left corner.

In the center of the page with center-justification, type your novel's title in boldface all caps (no quotation marks). Skip one line, then type "by." Skip another line, then type your name OR your pseudonym if using one.

Agent information (name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, website) goes in the bottom right corner.

For a contest, the title page will probably not need your pseudonym (use your name instead) or agent information. However, author info, novel genre or category, word count, and title is usually needed. Follow contest instructions exactly if they say to include word count or not, genre or not.

There is a sample title page here in .pdf format.

Important note: Because the title page does not have a header or page number but the manuscript has both, I would suggest that you either have a Section Break between your title page and your manuscript, or an easier way is to have your title page in a different Word document file entirely. This makes it easier to insert the header and page numbers to the manuscript pages.

Word count: Traditionally, and still in effect for several mainstream publishers, word count was approximated by assuming 250 words per printed page of Courier font, 12 point, with one inch margins and 25 lines per page. This would take into account not just words but also white space, which still takes up printing paper.

Nowadays, CBA publishers and agents use the computer word count. However, some mainstream publishers still use the 250-word-per-page approximation.

When stating word count, average to the nearest thousand.

Chapters: Indicate new chapters by typing Chapter One, Chapter Two, etc. You can also have them in ALL CAPS: CHAPTER ONE, CHAPTER TWO, etc.

Start each new chapter on a new page--insert a page break after the last sentence of the previous chapter. Do not continue a chapter on the same page as where the last chapter ended.

To insert a page break in Microsoft Word, click the page so that the cursor is after the last sentence of the previous chapter. Then go to "Insert" at the top, and click on "Break." A box will pop up. Click the button next to "Page Break" and click "OK."

On the new page, drop about one-third (6 double-spaced lines) or halfway (12 double-spaced lines) down the page before typing Chapter One, Chapter Two, etc. This is the only time you will need to add extra blank lines.

Spaces after a period: The latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style instructs writers to put only one space after the period instead of two, and most CBA publishers refer to the CMS for their in-house standards.

If you have two spaces in your manuscript, they are easy to replace. Click on "Edit" at the top, then "Replace" (or simply type Control-H). For "Find what:" put two spaces. For "Replace with:" put one space. Hit "Replace All."

Italics, bold, underlining, ALL CAPS: Italics for words being emphasized is the new standard according to the Chicago Manual of Style, but underlining is still acceptable if you are consistent. Do not use both italics and underlining--just use one or the other. Most editors and agents frown on using boldface or ALL CAPS when a word is being emphasized.

Scene breaks: Use one pound sign (#) or three pound signs (###) centered on a line to indicate a scene or section break. Do not insert extra blank lines (paragraph breaks or carriage returns) above or below the pound signs. Another option is to have a blank line instead of a line with pound signs, but the pound signs more clearly indicate the scene break.

Copyright: Don't put copyright information on your novel--it might make you look like an amateur. Everything you write is copyrighted as soon as it's on paper or in your computer.
Copyright basics:

Binding: Do not staple or punch holes in your manuscript--use extra-large clips or rubber bands to bind it. You can separate sections with a single sheet of colored paper.

There is a sample title page here in .pdf format.

There are sample manuscript pages here in .pdf format that show header, page numbers, prologue, chapter, and a scene break.

If you have any questions about this article, just e-mail me: camy [ at ]

This article is compiled from other online articles, interviews with published authors from various houses, and also from the book FORMATTING AND SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT (2nd edition) by Cynthia Laufenberg (Writer's Digest Books). If you've heard something drastically different from the info in this article, then definitely please e-mail me.


  1. Good job, Camy. Nice, concise resource. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for sending the link for this to the loop. This is fabulous. Thanks a bunch

  3. I needed to have a few questions answered. Now I can fix my M/S.

    Satisfied & Grateful

  4. You're welcome! Thanks, guys. I appreciate the kudos. :)


  5. Wonderful help! Thanks so much.


  6. WOW! I've been searching for what seems like forever for a concise guide to formatting my manuscript and here it was on your site all along! I just wasn't looking in the right place!


  7. Great job. I think you've done a good job of getting all the pertinent together and presented it in a nice, concise manner.

  8. Hi Camy, I've pored through your site over the last week and I am simply amazed at all the great help you provide. Thanks so much!!

  9. You're very welcome! I'm glad you've enjoyed my blog posts!

  10. Thank you for such a useful post. I am so glad I found your blog!

  11. You're welcome, Glynis! I hope you enjoy my other blog posts!


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