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How to Format a Book for Publishing

The word Content appearing behind torn brown paper.

If you’re a first-time author or you’re wanting to explore your self-publishing options, then knowing how to format a book for publishing is critical information you need to have. There are specific guidelines that are considered to be industry standards which must be used when formatting your manuscript.

Please Note: Some publishers and literary agents may have specific formatting standards which are requested upon submission of materials that are different that the industry standards. You should follow all specific instructions and rely on the industry standards only when no instructions are present.

#1. Always make your manuscript, pitch letter, or online query as uniform as possible.

You’ll want to set the same standards for every document that you submit for considerations to a literary agent or publisher. If you are self-publishing, your entire manuscript will need to be formatted in the same way for it to be properly converted.

#2. Use a 1-inch margin on all sides of your documents.

You can set the margins for your document by going into the Layout commands of your preferred word processing software. In Office 365, you simply click on the “Layout” tab at the top of the screen. You’ll then be able to adjust your margins with the first command option on the left.

#3. Create a title page, but don’t number it.

Your title page should just contain the title only – hence the name of this page. Adding your name and any other authors would also be appropriate. If there is a tag line or secondary title to your manuscript, it should be included underneath the title.

#4. Use a meaningful header on each page of your manuscript.

The formatting of your header should have it be on every page of your manuscript – except the title page. The title of your manuscript should be in ALL CAPS, the last name of the author(s), and the page number. The header should not be on the title page. It should start with the first page of text in the manuscript, which could be the prologue, the introduction, or your first chapter.

#5. Each new chapter beginning has a unique formatting need.

The first chapter (as well as every other new chapter – i.e., Chapter 2, Chapter 7, and so forth) should start about one-third of the way down the page. You’ll also need to start a new page for the first lines of the new chapter even if you have only a line or two on the final page of your previous chapter.

#6. Know about your indents.

You’ll want to set up your indents to be about 0.5 inches for each new paragraph and you can do this from the Layout tab or command on a majority of word processing software. Do not use the Tab button to perform your indents. The only exception to this rule is the first paragraph of every new chapter in your manuscript, as they should not be indented at all. The total indentation should be about five spaces for each new paragraph.

If you’re not sure how much that should be, you can hit your spacebar 5 times with the ruler formatting turned on to see where the cursor placement is afterward. Then set this spacing as your default indent.

#7. It should be double-spaced with a readable font.

Times New Roman 12pt is the industry standard for submitting a manuscript. Other fonts that are traditional in design and easy to read are also permissible. Use black coloration for your font only. Do not underline any text within your document.

#8. If there are titles for your chapters, then you have specific formatting to follow.

All chapters should be in capital letters: CHAPTER 1. If you have a title, then you need to separate the chapter number and title with a double-hyphen: CHAPTER 1 – THE TITLE. Most word processing software will auto-correct the double-hyphen into one larger hyphen and this is acceptable. If two hyphens are requested, you’ll need to get into the formatting commands of your software to eliminate the auto-correct function.

#9. Print your manuscript on high quality paper.

You’ll need to walk past the cheap copy paper to print your manuscript if a hard copy is required. Using 20-pound bond paper is the industry standard for manuscript hard copies.

When you know how to format a book for publishing by industry standards, then you are eliminating one of the most common reasons why an idea is rejected without review. Follow these steps and you’ll also be able to format your manuscript for many self-publishing opportunities as well.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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