Anyone who writes a book – or thinks about writing a book – knows they eventually have to submit their book manuscript for publication. This is the most nerve-racking part of the writing process for many writers. Publishers will tell you not every book is ready to submit to a publisher even when it’s entirely written. In contrast, other books can be submitted when you have little more than a concept and an outline. How do you know when you’re ready to talk to a publisher or submit your manuscript? 

Is It Fiction or Non-Fiction?

There are exceptions to every rule, but you should generally submit a finished book manuscript if it is fiction. This is particularly true if you’re an unknown or first-time writer. Editors want to know you can complete the story arc effectively. They look for a story that’s structured well, is consistent, and doesn’t contain contradictions or inconsistencies.

Non-fiction varies, but an editor may be interested if you have a strong outline and the first few chapters. This is particularly true for non-fiction textbooks or instructional books. Many industry professionals have a great idea but start with an outline to get feedback from publishers regarding the structure before taking on the extensive research and writing needed for a non-fiction book.

Know How Much of Your Book Manuscript to Submit

While most publishers will want to look at your completed manuscript for a fiction book before committing to publishing, your first contact should never be an unsolicited manuscript. Be sure to check out the submission guidelines for each publisher or agent. Write a query letter that introduces you and your book and attach whatever the publisher prefers in the way of a writing sample. They may prefer a synopsis, the first three chapters, an outline, or the entire manuscript. If your query letter intrigues them, they will tell you what steps you should take next. They may want to see a few chapters or the entire manuscript. Don’t send more than they request.

Edit and Proofread

Book publishers receive hundreds of documents every year. They are wary of unsolicited documents that could harbor a computer virus, so they won’t read a document from a suspicious source. They loathe reading a book manuscript that obviously hasn’t been proofread. Make sure you’ve edited your manuscript and had someone proofread for grammar and other minor issues.

Format Your Book Manuscript Properly

There are minor differences from publisher to publisher concerning the format of a book manuscript. Still, a few basic formulas are appropriate for almost any publishing house.

  • Use headers that include your name, the book’s title, and the page number. It should look something like this on every page: SURNAME/TITLE/PAGE #
  • Title your document with your last name, book title, and the date of submission
  • Use Times New Roman, 12 point font
  • Double-space the manuscript and indent paragraphs

Your book manuscript’s cover page or title page should also include specific elements with no unnecessary information. The book’s title should be centered on the page and typed in all capital letters. Go down a few lines and center your name below that, but not in all uppercase. Next, add your name and contact information in the upper left-hand corner. In the upper right-hand corner, add your word count rounded to the nearest thousand.

Organize Your Chapters

Start every chapter on a new page, putting the title halfway down the page. If the chapter shifts location or timeframe put a brief tag in italics two lines above the chapter title. As an example:


Hartford, CT 1928


Chapter 17

Riding Out the Storm 


Follow Each Publisher’s Guidelines

Although the steps outlined above should work well for most submissions, always check out a publisher’s website. If they have specific formatting guidelines, use those, even if you have to format your book manuscript in a few different styles to meet different guidelines from publisher to publisher.

Dudley Court Press

Dudley Court Press works with writers like you every day. As a contemporary publishing company, we help thoughtful people write and publish books for all sorts of reasons. For more information about our Developmental Editing, Coaching, Consulting and Professional Self-Publishing options, please reach us at +1-520-329-2729 or

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– Gail Woodard