Prepare Your Manuscript for Feedback and Editing: Keep It Simple!
by Matthew Howard
A well-prepared manuscript will improve the feedback and editing stages that come next. A clean, simple format makes it easier for friends, colleagues, workshop participants, editors, and agents to read it, understand it, and offer feedback that helps you improve the content in meaningful ways. You may be working on a book, but beginning with a clean and simple manuscript will reduce your overall production costs and headaches, and improve the quality of the feedback and editing you receive.
Avoid the trap of over-designing your manuscript. Some authors get excited about their ideas for the final product, so they incorporate all kinds of formatting and design possibilities in their manuscript. Rein in that impulse and KEEP IT SIMPLE. In the step-by-step process of making a book, design comes after editing.
These recommendations are mostly based on APA format, which many people think of as a citation style, but is really a guide to formatting an entire manuscript. Manuscripts following these guidelines will be well-received by workshops, editors, and agents.
- 12-point, Times New Roman.
- 5 x 11 page size.
- 1-inch margins.
- Page numbers and book title in the page header.
- Line spacing = Double.
- Zero space before and after paragraphs.
- First lines of paragraphs indented .25 inch. (Never use the Tab key. In MS Word, use “Paragraph” settings for first-line indents.)
Chapters and Sub-Chapters:
- Insert a Page Break before each chapter so it starts on a new page. Never force them onto new pages using the Enter or Return key. Center and bold the chapter titles.
- Bold the titles of sub-chapters. Left-align them and place them on their own line.
- If sub-chapters are broken down further into sub-sub-chapters, bold their titles and leave them in the first line of the first paragraph of the sub-sub-chapter.
Now you’ve established a logical visual pattern of organization for your editor and feedback groups. If your structure goes deeper than sub-sub-chapters, it may be a sign that a topic needs broken out into its own chapter. Once you go more than three levels deep on a topic, readers tend to get lost.
If you are experienced in MS Word, you can set up these recommendations by modifying the Styles known as Normal, Heading 1, Heading 2, and Heading 3. If you are unfamiliar with the Styles feature, your editor should be.
Other Formatting Considerations
Avoid trying to make your manuscript look pretty, and focus on making it look simple. “Pretty” comes later, after the content has been edited.
Sidebars and Call-Outs. Placement of these elements depends on the book’s final page size, so don’t design them. Identify their content by title it “Sidebar” or “Call-out.” This tells your editor and designer what you need without complicating things.
Images. If you are having images created for your book, or pulling them from other sources, they must be a minimum of 300 dpi (dots per inch) resolution for printing. Lower resolutions might look great on electronic devices, but they won’t print well. Consult a graphic design professional before you waste precious time putting low-resolution images in your manuscript!
Covers and Title Pages. It’s great to have an idea about your cover to discuss with your cover designer, because it gives her a starting point. But don’t bother making your title page look like a cover. For printing, the cover and interior need to be separate files anyway, so there’s no point. All you need is a text-only first page showing the book’s title and sub-title, plus your name and contact info.
Spaces. The days of following a period with two spaces are over. They were a holdover from mechanical typewriters and are pointless in word processing. One space is good all you need! Use the “Replace” function in MS Word to replace all instances of two spaces with only one until all the extras are gone.
Spelling & Grammar Tool. Now located on MS Word’s “Review” ribbon, this tool is your friend. You will enjoy two benefits by using it before you hand your editor your manuscript. First, you learn which errors you commonly make, so you can avoid making them again. Second, you improve what your editor can do for you. It can be hard for an editor to know what you mean when sentences are missing crucial words or are poorly constructed. The Spelling & Grammar tool helps you eliminate guesswork and misunderstandings with your editor. And, by correcting obvious errors, you empower your editor to focus on making meaningful contributions to your manuscript instead of fixing minor mistakes.
If these formatting guidelines are a technical challenge for you, don’t fret. A professional editor can help you! But if you are “in it to win it” as an author of many books, then mastering the manuscript format is a skill that will improve your feedback and editing experiences on every book you create.
Matthew Howard is a self-publishing author who supports award-winning authors and business professionals in writing, editing, designing, and self-publishing their work for global distribution in paperback and ebook formats.