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Professional Writers Toe the Line of Publishing Format Standards

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Author: Barbara G. McNichol

You've written, retooled, and revised. Now it's time to turn your manuscript over to an editor to be refined before you submit it to the "critical eye" of a publisher. You want to ensure that your content is error free and compelling, of course. But you also want your manuscript to be formatted using generally accepted industry guidelines. Otherwise, the publisher may not even consider it.

Your editor will check both content and format. However, you'll come across more professionally and save your editor time (and thus yourself money) if you've already formatted your manuscript according to industry standards. These guidelines aren't carved in stone, but they've been gleaned from acquisition editors, various printed sources, and two major publishers:

• Put only one space between sentences. Two spaces is a holdover from the days when writers used typewriters. Computers use proportional spacing, eliminating the need for two spaces between sentences.

• Double-space text, and use a 12-point serif type (such as Times New Roman, which is standard).

• Leave about seven line spaces before each chapter head.

• Use a centered # or an extra line space to indicate a topic or scene break.

• Make margins a standard 1inch left, right, top, and bottom. The default for MS Word is 1.25 inches for the left and right margins, so you'd be wise to change the default to 1 inch.

• Set the alignment flush left, ragged right; never justified.

• Indent five spaces on the first line of a paragraph rather than putting a space between paragraphs.

• Don't center titles using tabs or spaces; use the centering function.

• Use all caps sparingly; they're hard to read.

• It's more common to use italics than bold for emphasis. Avoid underscore—it looks amateurish and can be confused as a hyperlink.

• Learn to use the automated Table of Contents function. It's a tremendous help as you add and update chapters. To do that, you need to embed Styles into your headings. That function is worth learning on Word. So is Insert Footnotes, View Headers/Footers, and many others. Take a Word tutorial or class, if necessary. You may discover functions you weren't aware of that will save you time and help you to work more professionally.

• Show an ellipsis as three periods with a space both before and after and between each period. Add a fourth period when you want a thought to trail off at the end of a sentence.

• When you print out your document, use only one side of the page.

• Put your name, the working title of your book, and page number in the header at the top of each page. In the footer, include your phone number or email in a small font size in case pages get separated from the title page. Some authors add the copyright symbol and year.

These format guidelines are basic good policy if you want to submit your manuscript to a publisher as opposed to self-publish. Your editor will appreciate your professionalism, and a clean, consistent manuscript is easier to read and polish to a shine.

About the author: Barbara McNichol helps nonfiction authors through expert editing and her searchable e-guide, Word Trippers: The Ultimate Source for Choosing the Perfect Word When It Really Matters, available at

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