Manuscript Layout for Australian Publishers

manuscript and pen

The advice below is meant to serve as help for writers trying to have their work traditionally published in Australia. It can also be used by short story writers entering Australian competitions. 

~ Do not align the RH margin — leave it ragged. The MS is easier to read when the space between words is uniform.

~ Indent paragraphs about 6 bar spaces — unless publisher’s style sheets indicate otherwise. Exception: when the paragraph marks the start of a chapter or a scene, it begins hard out to the LH margin. (This applies to dialogue as well as to narrative.)

~ Use a non-proportional 12 pt font that’s is easy to read, such as Times New Roman. But be aware that other typefaces may be the same size and not 12 pt. For example, Arial 11 pt is equivalent to TNR 12. Go by the size of the type; keep it at least the size of 12 pt TNR, which still seems to be the benchmark. (Don’t use Courier unless you are writing a screenplay for the USA market.) Never submit dot matrix print or draft quality print to editors/publishers.

To know whether a typeface is non-proportional, type:




In a proportional font, the space taken up by 5 of any identical letters would be the same. Thus Times New Roman, in which this page is set, is a non-proportional font. Non-proportional fonts are easier to read.

~ Number your pages in the top RH corner. If the MS is a novel, you can use chapter numbers as well, e.g. 2:13 means Chapter 2, page 13. However, chapter numbers are not obligatory.

~ Put the work’s title and your name as a header on the top LH side of the page. Use 10 pt, so the header is not obtrusive.

~ Remember not to put your name in the header for competitions, which (hopefully!) are judged blind, and always read the small print in competition forms.

~ Use wide margins. The following settings work well:

top margin:                   1.5 inches

bottom margin:            1.15 ins

left margin:                   1.5 ins

right margin:                 1.5 ins

header:                         0.4 ins

footer:                          0.5 ins

Psychologically, the MS is easier to read (all other things being equal), if there is roughly an equal amount of white space to text on each page. Also, wide margins make editorial changes easier for the writer and the publisher’s editor.

~ Use 1½ line spacing unless the publisher/competition requests double spacing. When in doubt, check with the publisher. Most publishers/ magazines have their guidelines on the web or will provide submission guidelines upon request, if the request is accompanied by a SSAE.

~ Use a 3-line space (in other words, skip 2 lines) to indicate a scene break. Don’t use asterisks, cute symbols or anything else. Just the space, plus the next line starting hard out to the LH margin is sufficient to signal a scene break in the MS.

~ Start new chapters on a new page. Put the chapter heading where the first line of text would normally go, leave a 2-line space (skip 1 line) and then begin the chapter. Use 1 bar space only, after a full stop — not 2.

~ Don’t use a wider spacing between paragraphs than the line spacing. Use either 1½ or 2 line spacing evenly throughout your submission. (Exceptions to this are the title page and the 1-page synopsis, which may be set in single spacing if you are desperate.)

~ Use double quotation marks, not single in your MS — even though you know the publisher you are aiming for prints their dialogue in single quotation marks. This is a matter of readability at the MS stage and economics at the printing stage.

~ Always use a title page, even for short stories. On this needs to appear:

  1. Title of work, situated slightly above halfway down the page. Try 18 pt . Not Bold.
  2. Under the title, put a 2-line space — (skip 1 line) — then put the computer word count in brackets in 12 pt, lower case.
  3. As far down the page as possible, on LH side, place your name, posta address and contact details, including your web site if you have one. Make the link to your web site live, if submitting by email.

4.   On RH last line of page, put Copyright © Jane Jones 2019.

The copyright symbol can sometimes be obtained — depending on the program you are in — by holding down ALT + CTL + c, while an em dash — can be obtained in some programs by holding down ALT + CTL and hitting the minus sign on the numbers keypad

Title pages are never numbered.

~   At the end of the ms, skip 2 lines, if space permits, and place END, centred, in 12-14 pt Caps. If there is no room at all on the last page of the MS, and it’s a document you’re printing, place END in the bottom footer space and print the last page separately.

NB If you write short stories for competitions, and you are fond of ellipses, when you are in trouble keeping under the maximum word count, remember that the computer counts every bar space as a separate word. That means that the ellipsis shown here . . . is counted as 4 words. For writers fond of ellipses, this can amount for as much as 500 words in a MS of 70,000 words.



About Danielle de Valera

Award-winning Australian author. Editor, mentor. manuscript assessor since 1992.
This entry was posted in advice about writing, advice for writers, getting published, manuscript layout, manuscript presentation, short story competitions, traditional publishing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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