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10 Tips on How to Properly Format Your Manuscript

Editors love authors who submit a properly formatted manuscript because 1) it makes their work a little easier, 2) they can focus on the work of editing and not formatting, and 3) well, just that, it makes their work so much easier to do. Formatting takes time. This means that your editor will factor that into their editing quote, making you pay more for a job you probably could do yourself if you had the following tips:

Use 12-point, serif font in black ink

During the editing stage, your editor needs access to your words. Having to read red ink, italics, bold fonts or anything other than the standard font can be very distracting and frustrating, costing you time and money. Save the stylistic font for the design stage.

How to do this: Open up a new Word document. In the main tab at the top of the page, select font and make sure the right font and size are selected and click OK.

Use 8.5x11 (letter-sized) page layout and set your margins to 1 inch on all sides

Using bigger margins and smaller page layouts can make a task look daunting, and a 100-page document can easily become 300 pages. If your editor charges by the page or the hour, you’re in for a bigger bill than it should cost you. When you open a new document in Word, the default setting will already be set to these dimensions. If it's not, see instructions on how to set your page settings below.

How to do this: In the main tab at the top of the Word page you just opened up, click on Layout. In the Page Setup tab, select Size. A scroll-down tab will appear. Click on Letter (8.5" x 11"). Click OK.

Double-space your lines.

This used to be the standard back when editors required printed copies of an author’s manuscript. That’s largely no longer the case, so 1.5 inches or more should suffice. I prefer 1.5 inches because it decreases the page number count and doesn’t make the writing seem bulky. So, again, check with your editor to find out what their preference is. The general standard, however, is double-spaced.

How to do this: In the main tab of your Word document, click on Paragraph. Under Line Spacing, scroll down and click on Double. Click OK.

Use single spaces after a period.

Back in college, I remember the standard being double spaces, so I had to retrain myself to type single spaces after a period. The use of double spaces after a period is quickly fading, so now is the time to retrain your mind and your fingers to use single spaces. It’s tricky, yes, but practice makes perfect.

How to do this: When typing out your story, use the space once and not twice. But if your manuscript already has text with double spaces, here's how to fix it. Go to Replace in the main tab and click on it. A window will open up. In this window, under Find What: type in two spaces by hitting your space bar twice. Under Replace With: type in one space by hitting your space bar once. Click on the Replace All tab. Spaces will automatically switch from double to single.

Number your pages

This might seem like such a simple task but it’s very important to the editing process. Having your pages numbered allows your editor to easily point you to specific areas within your manuscript in their notes and reports. Note that page numbers begin on the page where your story begins. Don’t number your title page or front matter. Those will be properly formatted by your design team.

How to do this: In your Word document, click on Insert in the main tab. Look for Page Number in the Header & Footer volume and click on it. Click on the option you wish to choose (in this case Top of Page). Select one of the styles under Simple and click on it. Make sure Different First Page and Different Even and Odd Pages are unselected and click on Close Header and Footer tab. Your pages should now be numbered, automatically.

Indent paragraphs

The beginning paragraph of a chapter, subheading, after bullet points, etc. are not indented. Every other paragraph should have a 0.5-inch indent after the first paragraph. Guidance varies by genre. Fiction authors can use indented paragraphs without full paragraph breaks, while nonfiction authors may choose to either use or not use indentation so long as their paragraphs are separated by a full paragraph break. I typically go to published books on my bookshelf for guidance on formatting, especially traditionally published books.

How to do this: In your open Word document, in the Home tab, click on a Paragraph. Under Indentation, look for Special: and select First Line (automatically set to 0.5"). Click OK.

Use page breaks to separate your chapters

To properly begin a new chapter on a new page, use the page break tab instead of hitting ‘enter’ multiple times. Using the page break feature cements your chapter pages whereas using enter moves your content around making you have to keep formatting as you go along.

How to do this: In your open Word document, click on Insert in the main tab. Under Insert, look for Page Break in the Pages tab to your left. Place your cursor at the end of the text that you wish to separate from the next chapter and click on Page Break. The pages will automatically separate with any new text you type beginning on a new blank page.

Send your manuscript as a single Word document (.doc /.docx) file

Many editors still lean heavily towards using “track changes” in Word as their default editing tool. (Click here for tips on how to work with your editor in track changes.) Yes, Google Docs is great, but many still prefer to work in Word, so ask your editor how they would like to submit your manuscript for editing. You may draft your manuscript using whatever software you prefer, but keep in mind that when it comes time to submit, you might have to send it as a single Word file.

Note that the general standard used to be, and still is mostly, 12-point (Times New Roman or Courier) font, double-spaced, on an 8x11 letter page with 1-inch margins. These guidelines are generally required for both fiction and nonfiction manuscripts. Most editors factor in the time it takes to properly format a manuscript, so taking time to do it yourself will save you money in the long run. At Amma Edits, I follow the industry standards set above as well as my own preferences (also stated above). I hope you find these tips helpful as you begin working with your editor.

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