Tips for: Formatting a Manuscript

So you finished writing your book, had trusted friends or professionals give you feedback, built your style guide, completed all your final revisions, and feel like your manuscript is ready to be submitted? Or maybe an agent or publisher requested a full or partial copy of your manuscript? Congratulations! Take a moment to appreciate all the hard work and long hours it took to get to this point because, like every stage in this sometimes grueling process, this deserves to be celebrated!

Now that you’ve done that, hold on just a second before you send that manuscript anywhere. You need to make sure that the document itself is clean and formatted correctly. I know—there’s so much to keep track of in this industry. But that’s what editors are here for! So take a deep breath, and I’ll try to make this as painless as possible. (But if you decide that hey, maybe formatting this document just isn’t for you, you can contact me and I’d be happy take care of it for you!)

Note: Some publishers or agents have unique requirements, so always follow that first if they’re the one you’re submitting to. If they don’t list anything in particular, then the following is a default, CMOS-approved guide that you can feel safe following.

Also, I use a Mac, so while all Google Docs instructions will stay the same, there might be some variation in locations of tools with Word if you’re on a PC. When in doubt, use the Search function and type in the name of the tool you’re looking for. Word will direct you to it.

  1. Page size: In the United States, the standard page size is 8.5 x 11, commonly referred to as letter size or U.S. letter size. However, if you’re submitting to editors or agents in a different country, look up their standards! To change this in Microsoft Word, go under Layout > Size > U.S. Letter [or whatever size is appropriate for whom you’re submitting to]. In Google Docs, you can find this, and the next few features, under File > Page Setup > Paper Size.
  2. Page orientation: If you proofed your document yourself and followed my tips for editing your own work, it’s possible you changed the orientation to landscape. Go ahead and make sure that it’s in portrait mode. In Word, this is still under the Layout tab. In Google Docs, this is under Format > Page Orientation. It is also under File > Page Setup > Orientation. Again, you want portrait.
  3. Margins: Just like in school, 1-inch margins along all four sides is what you’re looking for here. In Word, it’s under Layout > Margins. In Google Docs, you can find this under File > Page Setup > Margins.
  4. Page color: You want your page color to be white. In Word, it’s simply under Design > Page Color. This feature exists in a few places on Google Docs, but the simplest is, once gain, File > Page Setup > Page Color.
  5. Text alignment: Your text should be left-aligned, not justified. This creates a “ragged edge” along the right side of your page, but it prevents awkward and uneven spacing between words, which makes reading easier.
  6. Hyphenation: You’ll also want to turn off automatic hyphenation. In Word, this will be under Tools > Hyphenation… > Automatically hyphenate document [uncheck]. As far as I am aware, this is not an issue in Google Docs.
  7. Line spacing: Your work should be double-spaced between lines. Do not add a blank line between paragraphs. Instead, indent new paragraphs. Note, though, that you should not double-space between sentences. (If you believe you may have done this, don’t despair! You can quickly fix this by using the Find and Replace feature to find instances of ” ” [two spaces] and replace with ” ” [a single space]).
  8. Cover page: Your document should begin with a cover page. In the top left corner, write your name, your mailing address (optional but suggested), email, and phone number. This corner should be single-spaced. Skip one line, and then write your word count (an approximation, just like in your query letter, is acceptable). Then, about one-third of the way down the page, center your text and write your book’s title. If your book has a subtitle, add a colon after the title, go to the next line, and write the subtitle. Your main title may be bolded for emphasis, and if you do add a subtitle, make sure to use double-spacing for these two lines. (To double-space just these lines and not the entire page, highlight the lines before altering spacing.) Then, insert a section break. In Word, this is under Layout > Breaks > (Section Break) Next Page. In Google Docs, it is under Insert > Break > Section Break (Next Page). The next page function is important so that your actual story begins on its own page and your cover page remains independent. It also helps with the next step.
  9. Page numbers*: Every page except your cover page should have a page number on it, located in the top right corner. In Word, make sure your cursor is placed somewhere in Section 2 (any of your story pages; i.e. any page that is not your cover page). Then, go to Insert > Page Number. In there, select Position as Top of Page (Header), and select Alignment as Right. Then select Format, and under Page Numbering, select Start At and set to 1. Once you hit OK, your story’s pages should be numbered starting at 1. Now go back to your cover page. If there are no page numbers here, then that’s wonderful! Skip this next bit. But if your cover page does have a page number on it, you’re going to want to get rid of it. Enter the Header settings (you can do this by double-clicking anywhere in the Header area on your cover page) and make sure Different First Page is selected in the menu at the top of the program. That should take care of it. For Google Docs, the system is a bit more intuitive. With your cursor selected on any page that is not your cover page, go to Insert > Page Number. There, it will give you four visual options and will do all the work for you. Again, you want the option with no page number on the first page, and the page count starting with 1 on your document’s second page (the first page of your book). It should default to this, but make sure the page number is in the top right corner of the document.
  10. Name and title: Next, you’re going to want your author name and the title of the work (shortened, if your title is lengthy) in the top right corner, placed to the left of the page number. This is pretty simple, and done the same way in both Word and Google Docs. First, enter the Header section by either double-clicking anywhere within the Header, or by going to Insert > Header. Then, on any page other than your cover page, click your cursor just to the left of the page number. Type in the author name you’d like to use, a comma, and then the title of your book. Again, if it’s a bit of a lengthy title, you are encouraged to shorten it.
  11. Font: Please use a simple, easy-to-read font. Times New Roman is a classic for a reason. Word’s and Google Docs’ defaults (Calibri and Arial, respectively) are also acceptable. If you have narrative elements in your story that you call out by using different fonts (“hand-written” notes, text messages, etc.), either use quotation marks or paragraph blocking to offset the text instead. This way, if there are any glitches in the file that affect font, your text will stay offset. A standard 12-point font size is perfect.
  12. Chapter headings: Your chapter changes should absolutely be marked in some way, and even if they’re named, at this stage, I recommend you number them as well (e.g. Chapter 10: Insert Chapter Name). Also, do not put a blank line between the chapter heading and the first paragraph of the chapter, and do not indent the first paragraph of your chapter. Beyond that, there are two ways to format your chapter headings. The first is perfectly acceptable, although not my recommendation: simply place a blank line between the last paragraph of one chapter and the heading for the next chapter. The other option is a bit more work, but I prefer it as it makes your document smarter (and look cleaner), thus giving you more formatting and viewing control later on. In Word, place your cursor on the beginning of your chapter heading, just the left of the “C.” Then, go to Insert > Page Break (this can also be found under Layout > Breaks > (Page Breaks) Page). Now center your chapter heading. In Google Docs, go to Insert > Break > Page Break. Now center your chapter heading.
  13. Spelling and grammar check: It isn’t the be-all, end-all and it won’t save you from everything, but it is still good to do a quick run-through to see if there are any glaring mistakes. Something else you can do is add your unusual or invented words, correctly spelled, to the program’s dictionary so that it can call out any misspellings! In Word, you can find the feature under Review > Spelling and Grammar. In Google Docs, it’s under Tools > Spelling and Grammar.
  14. Find and replace: You can use find and replace for any error you think might be in your document (and you can even make the search case-sensitive!). As I mentioned under “line spacing,” there should not be double-spaces in your document, between words or sentences. This is just one error find and replace can help you efficiently eliminate. In Word, it’s under Edit > Find > Replace (alternatively: Advanced Find and Replace). Then, insert whatever mistake you’re looking for into “find” and whatever it should actually be into “replace” and go. In Google Docs, it’s under Edit > Find and Replace. Then, insert whatever mistake you’re looking for into “find” and whatever it should actually be into “replace” and go.
  15. Saving and naming: The final step is to name and save your document. If you are sending in your full manuscript, I recommend naming it Manuscript_Title of Book. If you received a partial request, I would name it Partial Manuscript_Title of Book. Then, unless the publisher or agent has listed specific requirements, save it as both a Word document and a PDF and send both of those in, just in case. To save a Word document as a PDF, hit File > Save As > File Format > (Export Formats) PDF. To save a Google Doc as a Word document, go to File > Download > Microsoft Word. To save a Google Doc as a PDF, go to File > Download > PDF Document.

Congratulations! Your document is fully formatted and ready to submit to any agent or publisher who requests it! Need someone to give it that final polish before you send it off? My services are currently open! Otherwise, as always…

Happy writing. You got this.

❤ Elanna

*These instructions are based on CMOS standards for manuscript formatting. But unless it’s a guideline the agent or publisher specifically lists on their website, don’t over-stress about stuff like this. Most agents are nice and understanding and will not reject you because of which corner of the page you put your page numbers! Most of them probably don’t even notice (well, until they drop the printed pages and need to put them back in order!). Take Eric Smith, a prominent agent, for example:

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