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  • Kimber Severance

How to Format a Manuscript for Submission

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

As a copyeditor, here's everything I wish my authors knew before submitting their manuscript to a publishing house.

I work as both a professional and freelance copyeditor. That means, a lot of manuscripts come past my desk and when they do, the format of the manuscript is always different.

As a writer myself, I like to choose my own fonts and formatting style, but when you're about to submit a finished manuscript to a publishing house, it's important to get the formatting right.

Every publishing house has its own style guide that dictates how manuscripts should be formatted. This prepares the manuscript to eventually be formatted in InDesign to be published. Before submitting a manuscript try to ask for a copy or a link to the publisher's style guide so you can format your manuscript according to their standards.

Otherwise, follow the basic manuscript formatting rules I'm about to provide and you should be just fine.

Avoid Creating Cursed Documents

The number one way to create a cursed document is to manually format your text. This creates odd style and format errors in the document that can create strange and seemingly random problems in the document later on.

I come upon cursed documents all the time. Often the author didn't know how to use a built-in formatting feature in Word and tried to manually recreate the style they wanted with the enter button, the tab button, or the document margins ruler.

For instance, it's common practice with manuscripts to start a new chapter on a new page. But if you don't know how to use the page breaks feature, you might end up just pressing enter however many times you need to get to the next new page. This is a problem because then, as you or your copyeditor goes along making edits your new chapters will end up in random spots several lines below the previous chapter instead of on a new page.

When in doubt, leave the formatting to the editors as much as possible and keep your document simple and free of special formatting.

But if you do want to set up your manuscript to be formatted correctly before turning it into a publisher, here are some manuscript formatting tips you should know:

Formatting the Title Page

It's a really good idea to give your manuscript a title page or cover page. The title page should be blank except for a few crucial items that serve to identify your manuscript.

Center-align this information on the very first page of your manuscript and position the text in the middle of the page. Then use the page breaks tool to start the rest of your manuscript at the top of a new page.

Formatting Normal Text

Microsoft Word comes with a style formatting feature you can find in the Word document's menu bar under the Home tab in the Styles section. The first style you'll generally come across is called "Normal." Right-click on this style and select "Modify" in the drop-down menu.

The box that pops up next will let you modify the normal text of your manuscript. You want this box to look like this:

Name: Normal

Style for following paragraph: Normal

Font: Times New Roman

Font Size: 12 point font

Font Color: Automatic

Alignment: Left Aligned

Spacing: Double Spaced

From this box you'll want to click on the drop-down "Format" button in the bottom left-hand corner. From the drop-down menu select "Paragraph."

In the paragraph editor box you want everything to look like this:

Alignment: Left

Indentation: 0" for both Left and Right

Special Indentation: Pick "First line" by 0.5"

Spacing: 0 pts for both Before and After

Line Spacing: Double

Once you have your paragraph styles set up this way you can press ok for both boxes. Now your normal text is formatted correctly for a traditional manuscript.

One final thing you should know for your Normal Text is that you don't need to use two spaces after a period. One single space is sufficient, and that extra space is going to be deleted in the publishing design process anyway.

Quickly get rid of any extra spaces you might have in your text by using the Find and Replace Tool. In the Find What text box just type in two spaces and then hit Replace All. That should find and delete any extra spaces you might have

Formatting Chapters

Once all of your normal or body text is following the proper formatting, you'll want to format the beginnings and endings of your chapters.

Chapter Beginnings

Your chapter headings should use the Normal style, but go ahead and center-align the chapter title:

Making your chapter headings fun colors, fonts, in bold, in all caps, or italicized is all well and good when you're in the drafting stage, but in order to format the manuscript later on for publishing, it needs to be like your normal text, but center aligned.

If your chapters have any kind of subtitle or subheading, go ahead and put that as center-aligned as well, right under the main chapter title.

In addition, the first paragraph of each new chapter or section in your book should not be indented like the rest of the paragraphs in your manuscript. So go ahead and get rid of those indentations as well.

Chapter Endings

The beginning of each new chapter should start on a new page. This means you'll want to add a page break at the end of each chapter. This is a neat feature Word has that will put the beginnings of each chapter at the top of a new page no matter how much editing you end up doing.

Find the end of each chapter and place your cursor on a new line. In the Word documents menu bar, under the Insert Tab, in the Pages section, you'll find the Page Break button:

Press this button to create a page break and the beginnings of your chapters will always appear at the top of a new page.

Formatting Dialogue

Basic dialogue formatting rules are as follows:

  • Start a new paragraph with new quotation marks when a different person starts talking.

  • Unless it will cause confusion about what goes with what, punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.

  • For paragraphs of dialogue from the same person, the end of each dialogue paragraph has no quotation mark until the final dialogue paragraph. The beginning of each dialogue paragraph does have a quotation mark.

Letters and other larger, often multi-paragraph sections should be put in block quotes. Block quotes can be scary to deal with, I know they were for me when I was in high school and first learned about block quotes. But they're actually really simple:

  • Leave an empty space at the beginning and end of the block quote.

  • Write the text like you normally would, then highlight the text and indent it once more by 0.5 inches.

  • Don't use quotation marks for the block quote, unless there is quoted material or dialogue within the block quote. That's it!

Formatting Section Breaks

Not all writers use section breaks but some do. Section breaks are smaller breaks often within a single chapter. They aren't a new chapter, but rather a new section.

When formatting a section break in a manuscript use ten asterisks (stars) with one space between each star, and then center this set of stars.

Now you have a simple and efficient section break that most copyeditors and publishers will readily recognize.

The first paragraph after a section break should also not be indented like the rest of your paragraphs.

Formatting Citations, Footnotes, Endnotes, and Bibliographies

I copyedit lots of different genres from fantasies, to memoirs, to academic books. Sometimes the more academic manuscripts I receive will include citations and sources.

There are millions of ways to format citations and sources. But unless you are publishing with a journalism publisher or an academic publisher, you'll probably want to follow the Chicago Manual of Style's rules for citations and sources.

Here is the basic CMOS format for citing your sources in a FOOTNOTE OR ENDNOTE:

1. First name Last name, Title of Book (Place of publication: Publisher, Year of publication), page number(s).

For a work within a work, like a specific chapter or article:

1. First name Last name, "Title of Inner Work," Title of Outer Work (Year of publication), page number(s).

For a website source:

1. Firstname Lastname, “Title of Web Page,” Name of Website, Publishing Organization, publication or revision date if available, access date if no other date is available, URL.

Here is the basic CMOS format for citing your sources in a BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Last name, First name. Title of Book. Place of publication: Publisher, Year of publication.

For a work within a work, like a specific chapter or article:

Last name, First name. "Title of Inner Work," Title of Outer Work (Year of publication), page number(s).

For a website source:

Lastname, Firstname. “Title of Web Page.” Name of Website. Publishing organization, publication or revision date if available. Access date if no other date is available. URL.

You should also know the difference between a footnote, endnote, and a bibliography.

Footnotes are citations at the end of a page.

Endnotes and Bibliographies are citations at the end of a work.

Many people don't know how to use the formatting tools available for footnotes in Microsoft Word. It's actually really easy and if you're not using the built-in Insert Footnote feature in Word then you're actually making your life a lot harder than it needs to be.

All you have to do is go to the References tab in the menu of your Word document. Under this tab, there's a Footnotes section and in this section, there's an Insert Footnote button. Place your cursor at the end of the word you want to attach your footnote to and press the Insert Footnote button.

This will automatically create a footnote for you to put your source information in. It will also take care of the numbering for you so you don't have to manually make sure you numbered your footnotes correctly.

Chapter Titles List

It isn't required, but including a chapter title list is also really helpful for copyeditors. That way they can know what each chapter title is supposed to be and make a note if any chapters seem to be missing in the manuscript they received.

Character Name List

Also not required, but you actually make the copyeditor's job a lot easier when you include a master character name list in your manuscript. That way, the copyeditor knows which spelling you want to use for each name and can easily make corrections if a name gets misspelled.

The End

It might seem cheesy, but it's actually really helpful when authors include the words "The End." a the end of their manuscript. This helps the copyeditor to know that they really have reached the end and that there aren't any pages missing.

The End.

See what I mean?

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