How to Format Your Manuscript for Editing and the Book Layout

When you first start writing your book, your primary focus is on getting the message out of your head and onto your manuscript pages. One of the last things you are thinking about during this process is how you format the document.

But if you take a few moments to become familiar with the standard requirements of formatting your book, you can save yourself a lot of money and frustration by following these simple manuscript formatting guidelines.

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)-which is in its 16th edition-is the standard style guide for the publishing industry. So forget what you learn in school about MLA, APA or any other style guide, because your editor and book layout designer will most likely want to work with a manuscript that follows these guidelines. WD Ghostwriting Services also uses the Chicago Manual of Style as a guideline for formatting manuscripts.

Here are the key things to remember when you are formatting your manuscript:

  1. Write your manuscript in Microsoft Word. Microsoft Word is not necessarily the best word processor to use, but it is the universal standard that almost every editor, book designer and publisher with a computer has access to. If you do not have Microsoft Word on your computer, don’t worry. You can write your manuscript using free software like Open Office or Google Documents to write it and then save the completed manuscript as a Microsoft Word document.
  2. Each line of your manuscript should be double-spaced. This should be the only default Word setting that you change. Everything from the margin size, to the font style and font size should stay on the default setting. CMOS will actually tell you that if you are spending a lot of time formatting your manuscript, that you are doing something wrong. The only reason your are double spacing your manuscript is because it makes it easier for on-screen and in print reading. This is especially true after your editor makes his/her comments directly on the manuscript. You will not focus on the layout of the text until after all revisions to the manuscript are complete. Watch this 40 second video to learn how to double-space your manuscript.
  3. Label the bottom of each page with your last name and a page number. For example, the bottom of my manuscript may have this notation, “Fetherson, p 1.” The larger your total page count, the more helpful these identifiers are when you, your editor or book reviewers pour over the words in your manuscript. This is especially true when working with a hard copy of your manuscript. 
  4. Avoid using any special “style” settings for chapter headings, quotes, sub heads, or anything else. You should always check with your publisher or the person doing your book layout to learn about their specific requests, but CMOS says to leave it out, and it’s likely that whomever is doing your graphic design wants you to leave it out too. It saves them time to not have to undo the fancy work you have done before they do the fancy work they are hired to do. And anything that saves your designer time usually saves you, or your publisher, money. If you have more than one level of headers within your chapter, click here to learn how you can distinguish this header from the others without using a fancy style setting.
  5. Don’t use the space bar as a loop-hole to the previous formatting rule. This means that you should not use the space bar to try to create your own indent or spacing. The extra spaces will not translate well during the layout process. Most book designers do not use Microsoft Word, they use a designing software, and that software does not play well with the extra spaces. For each space you add, you are adding more time to the book designers layout time. And the more time you take from them, the more money they will take from you…or your publisher. (Hint: Even if your publisher is paying the bill, it affects you in the long-run because the higher bill means your book will have to sell even more copies to make up the price difference before you can start receiving money from the sales.)

The five tips above should be enough to keep you from getting out of trouble with your book designer/the person doing your book layout.

If you have a formatting question that is not addressed above, please click here to see a more detailed list of formatting requirements from CMOS. It’s a great guideline to go by until you know who your publisher/book designer will be and you have access to their specific guidelines.

Please note that the CMOS requests that each chapter of your manuscript be stored in a separate file. It is best to ask your editor and designer if they want to receive your manuscript in multiple files or condensed into a single document.

Here’s a quick question I’d like to read your reaction to in the comment section below:

Although the book manuscript is not the place to insert book layout designs, it is a good idea to start thinking about what you want the printed book to look like while you are writing the manuscript. What are your favorite book design elements and features that help you enjoy your reading experience? 

Image by: Jenny O'Donnell [CC-BY-SA-2.0-uk (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/uk/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Danielle Fetherson

Danielle helps aspiring authors become published authors. She believes that everyone has at least one book on the inside of them that can make a positive impact on someone else's life. If you have been thinking about writing a book, learn how to start your book today with the free resources at DanielleFetherson.com.

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