How to Format Your Fiction Submission

When the sample is formatted poorly, it does not motivate us to read it.

Digging through the slushpile is hard work. For every query an agent answers, two more come in. We must get through them quickly or risk drowning, so as horrifying as it may be, often those that are formatted poorly go straight to the rejection pile. In the interest of giving your submission a fighting chance out above the hundreds of others, your best bet is to have a clean concise query letter and a well-formatted writing sample.

This particular post focuses on how to format your sample writing. First, remember that your sample/partial or full manuscript is a draft, not a published piece, so you are looking to create pages that are stripped down to just the writing. You want the quickest and cleanest read for the reader without all the fancy parts. (And yes this is true of picture books too!) Here are some tips on how to format your sample correctly.

First page:

  • Top left hand corner has your name, contact information (address, phone, email, and website)
  • Top right hand corner has the word count of the ENTIRE novel, not of the sample
  • A few spaces down has the title
  • Directly following is the opening line of your manuscript
  • Do not include a table of contents, an acknowledgments page, quotes, title page, or any other front matter. It is unnecessary and simply takes the reader longer to reach that important first line.


  • Double spaced
  • First line of each paragraph should have a 0.5 indentation
  • Simple font, (Times New Roman or Arial are safest), black, 12pt, you may use italics or bold for emphasis, but avoid using colors, different fonts etc.
  • Page number, title, your last name in the top right header
  • Do not include images, fancy headers, or blank pages between chapters. Do not use underline for italics or double spaces after a period (these are outdated).

There are reasons for these formatting requirements, if you don’t know them ask in the comments. Samples of a front page and body page below.

Clean Manuscript Format Front Page

Clean Manuscript Format Body Page


  • Carl Steele

    January 12, 2016 at 4:05 am Reply

    That’s great information, thanks very much Mary!

  • Carl Steele

    January 10, 2016 at 7:09 am Reply

    That is very clear and self-explanatory. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to do this.

    Are these requirements pretty much universal among agents in the USA and UK ?

    Presumably the word count should also be included in the query letter. Do the name and contact details go only on the first page of the writing sample or might this vary depending on whether the sample is an attachment or in the body of the email?

    • Mary C. Moore

      January 10, 2016 at 11:09 am Reply

      Hi Carl, yes this format is standard for all submissions to editors or agents. There may be slight variations depending on personal taste, but if so these differences will be posted in their submission guidelines.

      And it is a bit more relaxed when you paste the sample in an email. Since all of the header info should already be included in the query, you only need to start with the title and then first line. *Tip: indicate in your query email that you’ve pasted x amount of pages below or attached the sample, so the agent knows to look for it.

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