What is formatting?
Your book is written, so you can just send it out into the world of publishers, right? Nope! You need to learn how to format your manuscript, so it is looking its best. Believe it or not, there is a whole world of rules concerning manuscript formatting. By following these rules in your manuscript format, you are showing it off and highlighting that you have done your homework. You are also showing your potential audience that you know how to follow directions. All right, you might be saying, how do I go about formatting my manuscript? What does manuscript format even mean? Honestly, it’s not that hard, and we’re going to share some great tips along the way. Ready to go? Let’s learn how to format a book manuscript!
How to Format Your Manuscript
Do you remember the time you had to write a paper and follow the Chicago Manual of Style or maybe MLA with its specific rules and guidelines? Manuscript formatting is like that. In fact, some rules are based on a variation of the Chicago Manual of Style. While it’s always a good idea to check your specific publisher’s manuscript formatting stipulations, there is a standard accepted format. So, let’s get to work and format your manuscript!
But, before we begin, there is an amazing manuscript format template you can download over at Reedsy. However, even if you use that to get started, you’ll want to go through and make sure your manuscript is pitch perfect when it comes to formatting rules.
Correct formatting will help your manuscript be professionally presented on its way to publication.
So, to get started, let’s look at your cover page. This is the first page any or publisher looking at your manuscript will see, so we want to make sure it is looking its very best. To help you, let’s break down where everything goes on that cover page.
The top left corner
Here, you will want to include your:
- Phone Number
Then, let’s move over to . . .
The top right corner
Manuscript word count — most guidelines recommend rounding to the nearest thousand. (Sometimes the nearest hundred is preferred, so check where you want to submit to see if they have a preference.)
Bottom line, round to the nearest thousand or nearest hundred in word count.
Now, let’s move to . . .
A Third/Half way down the cover page, centered:
This is where you will put your:
Manuscript title (If you have a subtitle, put this on the same line.)
Then, double spaced below:
“By [the name you want to be published under]”
Once you’ve added all this information to the cover page, you should be good to go. However, there’s just one more thing you might need to add —a category. This isn’t always required, so take a look at the manuscript format guidelines of where you will be submitting your manuscript. If they require a category, add that at the bottom of the cover page.
Now that your cover page is done, give yourself a high five! The rest of the rules you need to know for formatting your manuscript are relatively easy thanks to the fact we no longer live in the days of typewriters. Your computer/word processor is about to become your best friend.
One note, if you are working with a fiction manuscript, then this checklist is going to be perfect for you. However, if you are working with a nonfiction manuscript, then your indentation, spacing, and formatting requirements might be slightly different than the guidelines below, so make sure to double-check the publisher nonfiction-specific formatting guidelines.
Now, without further ado, let’s go through eight basic things you need to do to format your manuscript.
- Times New Roman rules —All, I repeat, ALL of your manuscript should be in a simple serif font, and Times New Roman is the tried and true standard. Does that mean you need to change all your manuscript’s font? If so, don’t forget that handy CTR + A (or, if you have a Mac, COMMAND + A) to highlight your entire document, then select “Times New Roman” in your processor’s font box.
- Double spaced BUT no double lines —Make sure your manuscript is double spaced, but don’t let that spacing lead to two lines between each paragraph. This might take some fiddling with your processor spacing, but you can do it!
- Single spaced sentences —This is standard, no matter what you automatically remember from typing lessons, so be ruthless and remove all those extra spaces between sentences.
- Margins, and indents, and scene separators, oh my! —Again, this is going to be pretty easy, thanks to the wonders of technology.
- First, check the margins on your document, they should be 1-inch for each side. (This is standard, so they probably already are, but it never hurts to double-check.)
- Half-inch indents are what you need when it comes to paragraphs. So take a look at your manuscript’s indent spacing, and change it to “half-inch” needed.
- What about that twisty scene change in the middle of chapter 3? You don’t want to confuse your readers, but how do you indicate it while formatting your manuscript? Don’t worry, there’s a special provision. To indicate a scene change use either “#” or “***”. This will indicate a scene break to your manuscript’s readers. (Do I need to tell you again to check the publishers’ preferences here? Nahh, you already did!)
5. Justify left, ragged right— Remember how you sometimes made that essay for school look amazing by hitting “justify”? So, set your entire manuscript (cover page aside) on “Left justified.” This means the left lines in your manuscript will all line up (except for those half-inch paragraph indentations) while your right side will look, well, a bit ragged. Honestly, this is probably already the setting you had. See, you were formatting without even realizing!
6. Know thine headers —Take a look at your publisher’s specific guidelines for headers. Typically it includes your surname and the page number, but some guidelines require the book title, too. Once you’ve figured out what is needed, add headers to each page in your manuscript.
7. New chapter, new page —Whenever you reach a new chapter in your book manuscript, add a page break. On the new page, between one-third to half of the way down the new page, add the centered chapter title. Some formats say to use CAPS, some don’t. Check your specific guidelines. Most format guidelines do agree to start your new chapter two spaces below the centred chapter title.
8. Don’t forget the end —No, really, this is a thing! The last thing you need to do to format your book manuscript is to write “The End.” That way there is absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that your book is finished. Think about it, if you are one of those writers who ends on a cliff-hanger, you want the publisher to know this was deliberate and there aren’t any more chapters!
Once you have completed this checklist, your manuscript is going to look GREAT. But maybe you aren’t sure? Don’t worry, we’ve got some help for you.
Editor and Designer Resources
Is formatting not your cup of tea? Or, are you second guessing yourself? Maybe even that Reedsy format template isn’t enough. Here is some good news for you; there’s a lot of people out there who love formatting, editing, and designing. So, if you need some help on that front, or even just a second pair of eyes, take a look at a service like Fiverr.
Maybe, on the other hand, as you’ve looked at it, you realize that your manuscript needs a little more love before you get to work formatting it. Take a look at 5 Essential Book Manuscript Editing Strategies for Authors for some great tips to use while editing.
All right, let’s say you have followed all the rules. You’ve cross-referenced between our checklist and the publisher’s guidelines to format your manuscript. Every sentence is single spaced. You’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s —well done. Your book manuscript is ready to go out into the world, and odds are someone is going to notice it because you did the hard work and learned how to format a book correctly.