Manuscript Formatting Guidelines for Authors

615x200-Word Formatting Windows 2007

Mastering eBook Manuscript Formatting

Today, I want to reach out to publishing authors, especially those who may be closing in on their publisher submission date with their manuscript nearing its powerful conclusion! I want to share some essentials for producing a clean manuscript file with advance knowledge of the critical publishing element of manuscript formatting.

As a manuscript editor, proofreader and formatting specialist, one of the very first questions I ask my author clients is: “Have you set up your manuscript formatting in advance of getting down to the writing part of the business?” The answer is most often a curious (or nervous) “no”.

When you publish your book in electronic or ‘eBook’ format you must adjust your MS Word manuscript file document to comply with your chosen publisher’s ‘Content & Formatting Guidelines’. This must be done in advance of the writing process in your Word document file to ensure that your interior content for the book has a clean, quality presentation with a high level of comfortable ‘readability’.

First and Best Advice to Authors:  Before you begin to type your story content into your Word file, always preset your document formatting to comply with your chosen publisher’s Formatting Guidelines. I will explain this requirement in more detail below.

Manuscript Formatting Guidelines for Authors

Lasting Impressions Editing; Newsletter No. 3, March 29, 2017

Formatting for eBooks in MS Word

The following book manuscript formatting guide is offered strictly as an overview. Authors or their assigned/engaged editor/formatting specialist should always refer directly to the chosen publisher’s ‘Formatting Guidelines’ as published in the ‘Content and Formatting Guidelines’ section of the publisher website to verify all formatting requirements. Such formatting guidelines can vary between publishers.

Building your manuscript in an MS Word document file goes a long way to simplifying the formatting process. Numerous of the ‘default’ Word document settings will comply with publisher formatting requirements however always refer to the chosen publisher’s guidelines provided to be certain you do not have subsequent submissions issues.

As an editor/proofreader and formatting services professional I have periodically discovered immediate formatting issues where a client has completed their manuscript development in advance of turning the file over to me for my proofing processes. At times the client had not reviewed the formatting guidelines of their chosen publisher with resultant conflict and textual and/or image distortion. If such conflicts in formatting are typical throughout a large manuscript file it can become quite costly for the author to have their editor correct the formatting issues front to back.

It is critical that publisher content and formatting guidelines are adhered to carefully to avoid the possibility of manuscript rejection by the publisher upon submission. The publisher requires quality content submission free of formatting issues which would otherwise compromise the reading experience for purchasing customers.

To alleviate this potential problematic and time-consuming/costly situation for my author clients I have prepared a pre-formatted Word document template, in full compliance with publisher guidelines, such that my client can commence writing their story manuscript directly into a Word file saved from the template that I have furnished them; a clean start right out of the gate!

For an author, these technical issues can be extremely time-consuming and stressful when all they want to do is maintain focus on their manuscript content development without distraction. It is also essential that whoever prepares the pre-formatted template undertakes a full review of the publisher content and formatting guidelines to ensure that they fully understand what is required so that there are no disruptive interruptions experienced during writing process. Also remember that publications periodically update/modify their formatting and content guidelines. It is critical that the chosen publisher guidelines be carefully reviewed before each new publication.

Formatting Tools in MS Word Documents 

For anyone who sets up the required formatting in the Word document ahead of the manuscript writing process, whether the author or their hired representative, it is essential that you familiarize yourself, well in advance of the writing stages, with the numerous functional formatting elements of MS Word documents. You will find the formatting tools across the top portion of your Word document (as illustrated through the visual above). The physical appearance and content layout may appear somewhat different depending on your particular version of Windows/MS Word.

Although numerous of the Windows Word default settings can be applied to your manuscript document, it remains essential that some of additional formatting settings be preset in accordance with the chosen publisher’s formatting specifications found in the formatting guidelines on the publisher’s website. Doing so will help avoid/minimize formatting issues that can delay the publisher’s acceptance of your manuscript submission and costly corrections if you have engaged someone else to address such issues. I am repetitive on this point and for very good reason.

Following are a series of general formatting guidelines to help you get started on the right track:

Home Navigation:

The formatting elements in Word range from the font face, size and color to text alignment, line spacing, textual content ‘styles’ for headings/title and subheads, body text format and more, each typically located under the ‘Home’ navigation key at the top of the Word window.

Insert Navigation:

Formatting elements found in this section include the insertion of page breaks, picture/images, creating a hyperlink, creating a header and/or footer and page numbering or ‘pagination’.

Page Layout:

Under this formatting category you will find page margin settings, page orientation (portrait/landscape), page size (select the page size that correlates with your chosen book ‘trim size’, number of columns if applicable; various types of page, column and text wrapping settings and section breaks. Be very careful to only use those settings permitted by the publisher guidelines.

A number of Word ‘default’ settings (as you find them preset when you open your new Word document) can be used but always refer to the publisher formatting guidelines first. There are absolute restrictions or reference to ‘minimal use’ of ‘forced formats ‘ stipulated by most publisher guidelines i.e. bold, italics etc. because the publisher wants your readers/consumers to be able to set their own reading preferences for their best reading experience. Overuse of certain ‘forced text’ formats can result in poor content appearance and readability.


Click open the ‘Paragraph’ drop down menu to preset ‘Indents’ and ‘Spacing’ defaults, again with reference to the publisher guidelines.


If you need to use tables in your book manuscript, select ‘Insert Table’ in your Word formatting panel and choose the appropriate settings.

Font Face:

Most publishers only allow the use of three or four font face types i.e. Times New Roman, Calibri, Arial or Cambria because they are the most simplistic visually and convert best when the manuscript is submitted to the publisher through their conversion software. The noted fonts are considered by the publishers as best suited for optimum readability. Always check the publisher’s formatting guidelines to be sure which fonts are acceptable before you begin the writing process.

Page Breaks:

This is critical!  At the end of each chapter of your book, ONLY USE ‘INSERT PAGE BREAK’ to advance your cursor to the first line of the next (new) chapter page. NEVER ADVANCE THE CURSOR USING THE SPACE BAR OR TAB KEYS! If you do use the space bar or TAB key to advance the cursor either down the page or to the next page/chapter you will actually create serious formatting issues (not visible in Word) that will have to be corrected later on before submission).

Chapter Name or Number:

Always consistently use the first line of a new chapter for your Chapter Name or Number (as preferred).


Always set your top, left, bottom and right margins in accordance with the publisher’s formatting guidelines. The interior or ‘gutter’ margins setting will vary depending on your book’s page count and details regarding the determination of this setting are found in the publisher’s guidelines.

First Line Indent:

Be sure to preset your desired ‘First Line Indent’ via the ‘Paragraph’ indentation settings provided through the ‘Paragraph’ drop down menu.

First Line Text:

Always be consistent with spacing between your Chapter Name or Number and the opening line of body text for each new chapter i.e. 4 or 5 spaces maximum using the ‘Shift + Enter’ keys only.

Line Breaks:

Do NOT hit the ‘Enter’ key at the end of each line. Word automatically wraps text to the next line while you are typing. To insert a line break part way through a paragraph or sentence press ‘Shift + Enter’ together to ensure that spacing between sentences is not altered.

Image Placement:

Be very careful with image use in the body of the manuscript and only as directed by the publisher guidelines. Pay particular attention to all specifications in the publisher’s guidelines in this regard.

Insert a photo image using JPEG formatted images with center alignment. Do not copy and paste images into your manuscript. Disregard the guidelines here and you will have a horrible time with altered, misaligned, blurred, missing or otherwise distorted images.

In Word, go to ‘Insert’ > Picture and then select an image file that is saved to your Pictures folder on your PC’s hard drive to upload into your manuscript file. Be careful to be aware of color restriction in eBook formats. Images are generally displayed in multiple shades of gray only for optimal contrast and clarity.

Cover Image:

Do not include your cover image(s) in your manuscript file. They are to be uploaded separately at the time of submission to the publisher. The cover image file is only submitted once (unless a subsequent cover design/change is made). At the time of publishing submission and republishing of your book, the publisher will automatically add the cover image again.

Spelling & Grammar Check:

Publishing authors are encouraged to use Word’s built-in spelling and grammar check utility but publishers strongly recommend that manual proofreading and desired textual editing be exercised as well because current content scanning software does not necessarily capture/detect all errors in English spelling and grammatical content for correctness.

Active Table of Contents:

An active Table of Contents (TOC) in your book is typically located immediately following the ‘front matter’ of the book. The TOC provides for ease of navigation throughout the book for your readers.

Note: Page numbering is not used in eBook formats because content (like Kindle) is re-sizable and displays differently during the conversion process. Page numbering can be adversely affected by the use of page numbering or ‘pagination’ in electronic publishing.

Chapter Name/Number Formatting: By highlighting each chapter name (or number) and setting each individual chapter name or number to the Heading 1 (H1) format, the Table of Contents will detect and display sequential chapters in order once activated.

Time is of the essence and critical to all authors, most understandably. Still, take the time right up front before you begin the writing process to understand the importance of formatting for electronic book publishing today and going into the future. If this is not within your wheelhouse as an author, engage a formatting professional to do it for you.

Regardless, make sure that your Word document is pre-formatted so that you start out on a clean slate and be fully conversant with formatting guidelines so that you do not inadvertently introduce formatting issues/errors to your manuscript file.

© Don MacIver, Editor, Writer, Lasting Impressions Editing 2017; All Rights Reserved


Leave a Comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s