Formatting Your Manuscript Like a Pro

Terry Wright is a Colorado Gold judge and an independent publisher. Here are his tips for making your manuscript formatting shine.

Formatting Tips from an Editor and Publisher
Microsoft Word is the most common, and most accepted, word processing tool writers use to ply their trade. This program creates .doc (document) files that when formatted properly create the file formats necessary to produce ebooks and PDF files for printing paperbacks. It is imperative that writers know how to use this tool properly.

Learn how to use the Page Layout features
**Set the document’s margins at one inch all around and headers and footers at one-half inch.
**Insert page numbers in the header on the far right then double click in the header and type the title and author name on the left. (The Colorado Gold contest requires authors to omit their names.)
There are some tricks to doing this, so experiment and practice until the header comes out right.

Learn how to use the paragraph formatting feature of Word.
For example, the “TAB” key is NOT used to indent paragraphs. Nor is the spacebar used.
**Set up paragraph indents by using the paragraph dialogue box on the “Home” tab. Click the arrow at the right of the “Paragraph” section to open the dialogue box. There are two tabs in this “Paragraph” window. On the “Indents & spacing” tab, set the Indentation “Special” dropdown to “First line” and the “By” dropdown to “0.5”.
Now every time a new paragraph begins it will automatically set the first line to a half-inch indent.
* *Also in this dialogue box, set paragraph spacing to “0 pt” before and after (so there’s no extra space between paragraphs) and set the line spacing to “Double."
To be sure that there are the same number of lines per page, click the second tab, “Line & Page Breaks” and be sure the “Widow/Orphan control” box is NOT checked.

Learn how to use the styles boxes.
In order for the document (.doc) file to convert to an ebook file (mobi or epub) properly, the entire document (every paragraph) must be the “Normal” style.
1. On the “Home” tab, right click the “Normal” Styles box.
2. Click “Modify."
3. Set the font to Courier New and set the font size to 12 point. (Why Courier New? It’s easier on the editor’s eyes than a proportional font like Times New Roman).
4. The “align left” button will probably already be highlighted.
5. On the lower left, click the “Format” button, and then click “Paragraph." The paragraph dialogue box will appear as mentioned before. Set up the paragraph format the same way.
6. Click “Okay” and “Okay” again.
Now the “Normal” box will be highlighted, and if the cursor lands on a paragraph where the “Normal” box is not highlighted, simply click the “Normal” box, and the paragraph will reformat, thus highlighting the box.

The “Normal” Style can be altered without turning off the box highlight. Say a line (or paragraph) needs to be centered instead of left-aligned and indented. Click the "center text" button and slide the “indent tab” on the top ruler to line up with the left margin tab. The “Normal” box will remain highlighted, however, clicking the “Normal” box while the cursor is on the newly modified line (or paragraph) will reformat it back to the “Normal” Style, thus undoing the alteration.

Learn how to use page breaks properly.
Insert a page break at the end of every chapter so the next chapter always starts at the same place on the next page no matter what is added to or subtracted from the previous chapter. Never use a section break in a manuscript.

It’s important to understand that a manuscript should look like a manuscript and not a printed book.

  • There should be NO bold fonts anywhere in the manuscript.
  • All fonts should be 12 point.
  • There should be only one space after a period, not two spaces as was taught in typing class.
  • Do not underline text that’s meant to be italicized. Use the italics font. Otherwise a publishing editor will have to go through the entire manuscript to remove the underlining and change the font to italics (or return the manuscript to the author).
  • Use *** or # to mark scene breaks or POV shifts, no matter how small. Do NOT drop down an extra line, as blank lines get lost in the editing process or conversion to ebook formats.

Remember: Microsoft WORD is a writer’s TOOL, and like any tool, writers need to learn how to use it properly. The same goes for any word processing program. Help can be found online, or it never hurts to ask a fellow writer who may have more experience with setting up Word to achieve the proper formats.

Presenting a professionally formatted manuscript will set a writer apart from those who don’t bother to learn how to use the tools of their trade.

2 thoughts on “Formatting Your Manuscript Like a Pro

  1. Set a style for Heading 1

    Take off all the formatting so that it looks like any other chapter.
    Use the layout options to insert as much space as you want above the chapter title.
    Tag each chapter title with Heading 1

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