Home : A Manuscript is Not a Book: Ten Tips for Manuscript Preparation

In my work with writers, I come across many common technical problems with manuscripts. These usually spring from the best of intentions as the writer attempts to create the feel of the finished book within the manuscript. Though they’re trying to be helpful, it requires more of the typesetter’s time to strip out all of these stylistic additions. When it comes to manuscripts, simpler is better.

Here are ten tips for writers to consider while they create their manuscripts and ready their books for the design and production process.

1. The double space – Digital typefaces have carefully designed kerning tables that control spacing  between various pairs of letters. That way a capital “A” can nest closer to a capital “W” than it would to another capital “A.” Most style manuals specify single spaces but if you want wide spacing, ask your typesetter to insert emspaces. Emspaces are single characters—wide spaces, not double-spaces. Double-spaces were a convention that attempted to get typewriters to imitate the wide spacing seen in book typography prior to the early 1960s when electronic typesetting methods took over. The first thing your typesetter will do is convert all your double spaces to single spaces but if you can break the double-space habit, you’ll save a step. Read more about sentence spacing here. (Really! Read it, especially before commenting.)

Don’t put double spaces after a period. Your typeface already knows how much space is required.

Additionally, consecutive spaces are often used by writers who don’t understand how to set tabs and indents. An indent is not equivalent to five spaces. Indentation is controlled in your word processor’s paragraph settings dialogue or by manipulating the rulers above the text (see below).

Don’t use consecutive spaces to move text around. Use tabs and justification. When it comes right down to it, don’t use double spaces at all.

2. Multiple Line Breaks – When it’s time to bump a chapter over to the next page, many writers simply hit the return/enter key until the text jumps down to the desired place. This makes for a better looking manuscript, but the line breaks will invariable fall in different places when the manuscript is ported from its 8″ x 11″ format to a 5″ x8″ book format. The typesetter has to manually search for and destroy all the consecutive line breaks, but this causes other problems as there are cases (such as a title page) where two or three consecutive line breaks are sometimes useful.

If a page break is required, use your word processor’s page breaks and section breaks. These are distinct from line breaks and are easier for a typesetter to use or remove without compromising other kinds of formatting.


3. Typefaces – Don’t get fancy with typefaces. That’s the job of the designer / typesetter. Create your manuscript with a common serif typeface like Garamond or Times. In cases where a certain character’s voice is represented by a certain typeface, be absolutely consistent and make sure your typesetter is aware of your choices. In many cases, it will be just as easy to indicate you’d like a certain kind of typographical treatment without actually implementing it. As a writer, your job is to create the words. Even if you produce your own book, treat the production as a phase entirely separate from the writing. The fancy title page you created in Word is usually a stumbling block for your typesetter.

I’ve also seen cases where writers use monospaced fonts like Courier in their manuscript body text. There was a time of transition between typewriters and word processors where some academic standards prescribed monospaced fonts in order to emulate the more traditional and (at that time more) acceptable look of a typewriter, but this has since yielded to sanity. Why not use a highly legible book typeface when it’s available?

typewriter text spacing

Work with a designer to choose a typeface that’s appropriate for book typography. Many standard fonts (like Times New Roman) are not only bland and institutional, they lack the special characters needed for professional book typography.


A manuscript is not an appropriate place for complex typography. Save that for the final book.

4. Line Spacing – Manuscripts are traditionally double-spaced. Originally, this was done to facilitate hand-writing between the lines, and in spite of the availability of excellent digital editing and annotation tools, it’s still a good practice (though there’s nothing quite like paper). When you print out your final draft, you’ll be grateful for that space to pencil in notes about the problems you couldn’t see on-screen. Chances are your editor will feel the same way.

Set your word processor’s line spacing to 1.5 lines. Your typesetter can adjust final line spacing after editing is finished.

5. Headers, Page Numbers and Footers – Word Processors offer header and footer areas to allow your title, author name, or page numbers to be automatically displayed on every page. If you manually insert headers or page numbers into the text, your typesetter will have to manually delete them one at a time and then rejoin any paragraphs split by them. Page numbers in your manuscript will not correspond to page numbers in your final book, anyway. For manuscript purposes, it’s recommended to limit header/footer use to simple page numbers.

Don’t add page numbers and headers to your body text. Use your Word Processor’s header and footer features to accomplish this.

The rule of thumb when it comes to manuscripts is simple; manuscripts are strictly part of the writing process. If you’re in doubt, consider whether a potential stylistic addition to your manuscript is an integral part of the writing or if it has more to do with your book’s final look and feel. It’s natural to want to see what your book will look like as a finished product, and you may wish to communicate aesthetic ideas to to your book designer, but by keeping your manuscript aesthetically raw and simple, you’ll stay more focused on the content as you develop it. Once you finish writing and finally get to the design phase, you’ll be amazed at how much more easily your plain manuscript can be transformed and polished into a beautiful book.

6. Paragraph Margins – Using a tab to begin a paragraph is another unfortunate holdover from the days of typewriters—as are half-inch paragraph indents. Instead of using a tab, use your word processor’s rulers to control paragraph style. The left side of the ruler is split. The top half controls the first line; the bottom half controls the rest of the paragraph.  prules1prules3 prules2 And though using default half-inch margins is hardly egregious within a manuscript, the measurement preferred by typographers is one em. Technically, this is the width of a letter “M” in your chosen typeface but in the digital world, an em translates into the point size you’re setting type with. If your book uses a 12-point font, that’s 12/72-inch or 1/6-inch. Feel free to approximate or to use the defaults, but know that your typesetter will be adjusting your paragraph indents. If she doesn’t have to strip out all the tabs you’ve put in front of your paragraphs, that job becomes easier.

7. Multiple tabs are as annoying as multiple spaces. If you need to center text or create tables of names and values, highlight the desired text and then click the ruler to set paragraph alignment or tabs where you need them. Set tab leaders (usually dots) and let the software fill them in. Don’t type endless rows of dashes, underlines, or periods.


8. Tables of Contents (despite the example above) actually don’t belong in your manuscript. The pages that content falls on in your book will drift considerably from where they fall in your manuscript. Typesetting software like Adobe Indesign will generate a table of contents based on the placement of chapter titles or section breaks. Your carefully hand-built table of contents will be immediately deleted from your manuscript by your typesetter. Don’t waste your time.

9. Text Styles are useful to both writer and typesetter. They aid in manuscript formatting and they can be readily imported into Quark or Adobe Indesign to speed up final typesetting. Type styles are easy to learn—and you’ll never imagine how you lived without them.


Style shortcut buttons sit at the top of your MS Word toolbar. Highlight text, click a button, and the named style is applied to your text. This is all well and good if you want various shades and species of mostly blue text, but fortunately, the styles are modifiable. Right-click (control-click on a mac) on a style and you can modify it or update it to match fonts and paragraph rulers already applied to highlighted text.


You can modify numerous properties of the text and even rename a style.


For example, you may wish your section titles to be in 24-point centered Garamond with no first-line indent. Modify the “Title” style and then format every title by simply highlighting and clicking the style. Maybe you want quotations to be in slightly smaller text with wider left and right margins? Make a style. Maybe you want 9-point type for footnotes? Make a style.

Custom styles make working with a word processor much easier and they also aid the typesetting process. Once the styled text is pulled into a page layout program, the imported styles can be modified to fit the format and design of the book.

I posted a Word document with about a half-dozen basic, useful styles here (the archive is public; please don’t email me asking my permission to download it). Delete my text and start on your own project or go to Format > Style in Word’s menu bar and then click the “Organizer” button to copy my styles into your own copy of Word. This will make them available to all your documents.

10. Learn about dashes and special characters. In the old days when manuscripts were created on typewriters, the mechanical limitations of the writing device made it difficult to format text correctly. But Word Processors are hardly a new addition to the contemporary writer’s tool box. If you type three consecutive periods (…), most word processors will convert them to a single ellipsis (…). Type double primes around a word (like ″this″) and you’ll probably end up with printer’s quotes (like “this”). But two hyphens (–) won’t get converted into an emdash (—). These punctuation marks aren’t for printers; they are expressive tools that expand the creative capability of the writer. You can count on your software or your typesetter to make the desired conversions, but this doesn’t always work out as planned:

“The GPS’s robot voice said, ‘Current latitude is 78.4˚ 18′ 22″.'”

Software was never designed to sort out a mess of quotation marks and primes like that. (And you don’t want to see what it looks like in HTML code!) Learning about special characters like oldstyle figures, small capitals, and dashes allows you to make creative decisions instead of your software.

Manuscript Prep: Conclusion

Ultimately, typesetters are prepared to manage manuscript shortcomings. Double-space conversions, removal of tabbed paragraph indents, changing double hyphens into emdashes—these are all standard procedure for converting a manuscript into a book. Though it’s not the writer’s job to save the typesetter time, it is the typesetter’s practice to charge for it. Send in a “clean,” well-formatted manuscript and you’re far more likely to encounter negotiable typesetting fees.

And though typesetting a book with a word processor does not deliver the same quality results as a dedicated typesetting program, many writers are forced by economics to do the job themselves. In such cases, time spent learning a few typographic fine points—even simple things like the proper width of a paragraph indent and sentence spacing style—will positively impact the appearance of the final book. (If you must DIY, use one of Joel Friedlander’s MS Word book templates.) Even if you do plan to typeset this way, the process is the same; a manuscript is not a book. Use standard 8½x11 format until you’re finished with the editing process and then format a copy of your manuscript to suit the style and dimensions of your final book. You’ll find writing easier, your editor will love you, and the transition from manuscript to finished book will be streamlined and easy.


A Manuscript is Not a Book: Ten Tips for Manuscript Preparation — 25 Comments

  1. Looks like the comment I thought real hard back when I first read this never transferred itself from my brain to the screen.

    The biggest challenge I’ve faced in formatting others’ work is removing their efforts to be helpful without understanding how a word processor works.

    Authors who learn that the screen is not print, investing an hour or two understanding the stuff you explain here, will improve their working relationships with everyone in their, er, supply chain.

  2. Plenty of food for thought in the article and in the replies. The idea of returning to copies of edited material is an excellent one, especially if the editor has had to do a lot of work on the manuscript. I can imagine that a heavily edited text could be confusing. I do occasional copy editing or “smoothing” of texts related to mosquito control and research for authors for whom English is a second language and who wish to publish in English-language journals and can imagine how much more easily my work would be understood if the author could compare the clean copy with the marked one. The two-copy plan is ideal if you also want to help the writer become more familiar with idiosyncrasies of the English language, an appealing idea for one who in a former life taught English at the college level.

  3. Thanks for a very informative article (even though it did make me want to hide under the blankets and shiver in anxiety a bit). Most of my writing was done on typewriters or early word processors and manuscript submissions were always sent in hard copy. I have so much to relearn, or more accurately, so much to unlearn!

  4. Gosh! I am sure all this is wonderful, but is it not American? The Chicago Manual of style may do over there but here (UK) we do things a little differently. I have spent miserable hours working with an American editor who – in my view – completely upset what had been written.

    PS I just hate the so called emdash, it looks as if you are trying to tie to words together rather than parenthesize a phrase.

    • This has nothing to do with CMOS. It’s all about the basics of using a word processor correctly. As for emdashes, they’ve been around the English language fort a long time—on both sides of the Atlantic. And an emdash should not be used to tie words together. That’s what hyphens are for.

  5. As an editor, I second most of the advice but I do have a different perspective:
    – When the manuscript is to be edited on hard copy (paper), it really should be double-spaced, not 1.5. Most editors don’t write as small as I do and even I have trouble printing neatly in a space and a half, though that’s fine for onscreen editing.
    – There are reasons why many editors still want manuscripts submitted in Courier 12 rather than more elegant proportional fonts, especially for body text (and *please* use “align left” rather than full justification!): namely, that makes it so much easier to read quickly and still spot hard-to-see errors (e.g., comma in place of full stop, tiny superscript upper case vs. lower case “X”…) than if the wordprocessor has been allowed to imitate typeset copy.
    – Not all publishers (or literary agents) have the same requirements when it comes to submissions, let alone book or journal style design. It may seem like a terrible nuisance to writers and typesetters but it’s important to follow the instructions to the letter, even if that means using two hyphens or a spaced en-dash instead of an em-dash, underlines in place of italics or whatever.

    Finally, there is a distinction to be made between the act of writing and the act of editing—even when the author does both! My advice: when writing, *just* write; get the right words onto the page and don’t worry about formatting beyond “keep it simple” and “be consistent.”

    At the editing stage, it is easy enough to run through the manuscript file at the very end to fix the typographical issues without reading the text again. This normally part of a copy-editor’s job because few authors know exactly what a given publisher wants or have the habit of ensuring the manuscript complies consistently with the publisher’s workflow.

    One of the blessings of onscreen editing is how easy it is to do a last-minute “replace all” to turn those double hyphens into the right sort of dashes and strip out stray extra spaces after full stops or replace them with em-spaces. Another is the template provided by wise publishers to ensure that the styles applied during editing will convert properly into their typesetting software. But anyone who edits for many authors soon learns to expect inconsistencies of format and style: the “hobgoblin of small minds” is the copy-editor’s bread and butter.

    • I can’t think of a reason to edit on paper any more. The back and forth and extra typing would be a deal-breaker for me, and at a some point, the manuscript has to be typed into some sort of digital form anyway. I always pull paper proofs and I always find errors on paper that aren’t visible on screen, but I can’t imagine editing without an annotation/track changes tool.

      Courier 12? I can see how it might be easier to spot missing or extra punctuation. I don’t think I’ll switch but I can see the value. Interesting.

      Your distinction between writing and editing is valid and important, but I see no reason why writers shouldn’t learn how paragraph margins and section breaks work. Why not learn a few good habits that make the process easier for editor and writer alike? If the writer uses multiple returns to create section breaks and the editor suggests removing 2 paragraphs, the entire book’s pagination gets ruined long before the work gets to a typesetter.

      I assume I will always have to leverage “the blessings of onscreen editing” but as a writer myself., I see the value of starting the process with word one.

      Thanks for writing.

      • You’re very welcome. I should clarify the hard-copy issue, though. Even though most editors work onscreen with electronic files, it’s simply a fact that the convenience of applying styles and formats, adding hyperlinks to facilitate work, etc., don’t negate the advantages of hard copy…especially for us home-office types who don’t have extra-large displays or perfect eyesight. Having just spent the better part of 36 hours staring at the screen, I’m by no means sure I caught everything in the file I just sent out—but I’m absolutely sure I caught everything in the bibliography because I printed it to pick up those niggly details one sometimes misses onscreen. I haven’t printed a whole book ms. in about three years but there is no way I won’t check a bibliography, index or other complex matter on paper after doing the preliminary work onscreen and before sending the file to the client. By the way, I’m not the only editor who feels that way: we often talk amongst ourselves about the pros and cons of onscreen work, and most agree some things are just easier to get right with marked-up hard copy in hand while we type corrections and queries into digital files..

        • I proofread for a book publisher who used to send me the hard copy showing all the edited changes. I really liked it because sometimes they would refer to something they had deleted earlier, or sometimes words were left out in the print-out and I could look back and see what they were. Then–I’m sure in the interest of economy–the editors now do the editing on the screen, I still get two copies, but the original now only shows formatting instructions. I miss seeing the hard copy, and don’t feel I’m doing as good a job catching things as I did before.

          • The great thing about the “track changes” feature in Word (one of the few great things about it in my opinion) is that you can display the original document or the modified version. Watch for a future post on this tool.

          • When I edit a manuscript for an author, I send them back two copies: One using the Tracking feature so they can see the corrections in red, and then I send them back a clean copy, showing how it will read with the corrections made.

          • The tracking feature allows you to “show revisions” or “show original.” You can also view either form with or without annotations. Your second copy is unnecessary.

          • That’s one aspect a person not in professional editorial work might not understand.
            Another is the limited usefulness of Word (a.k.a. Weird) and “Track Changes” when large book files are passed around and worked on by people with different jobs and skill levels (not to mention Word’s propensity to crash at the least convenient times and sometimes render a file unrecoverable.)
            Most editors *do* use “Track Changes” when required (which is almost always these days, though I do it in non-M$ software that crashes less) but that doesn’t mean one doesn’t need that second copy with all changes accepted. The *press* doesn’t necessarily need it but that doesn’t mean it’s not helpful.
            1) The clean file is less bloated and less crash-prone.
            2) One might well want to give the clean file to the author—who might find the tracking confusing (especially with a complex house style sheet) or embarrassing (if the editor has to work a lot over their sentences for grammar and sense)—and let him or her make fewer changes (with or without tracking) than would happen if he or she were to second-guess every single correction the editor made.
            Of course the project editor could make the clean file in-house from the tracked one, but they let the copy-editor do it to save time and cost.
            By the way, the publisher I dealt with yesterday is very clear on wanting that second copy…and somewhat more cryptic about which changes should be tracked and which not. It can be something of a pain for a freelancer to remember when to switch tracking off and on for presses with different requirement, and I blush to admit I forgot to turn it off for a pass dealing mostly with formatting issues.

  6. Great information, Dave. I shall read and re-read, and undoubtedly my book designer’s time will be cut considerably. One particularly interesting piece of info from Donna: In my writers’ group we had quite a controversial discussion on the “emdash.” Even the English teacher had it wrong! Thanks, Donna.

  7. This is good information, especially only one space after a period. In proofreading or editing manuscript I often have to remove these (and it’s easy with Search and Replace). The only things I would add are: I use a lot of Word shortcuts. You said that typing two hyphens won’t make an emdash. They will after you type the next word and hit the space bar. Also you can make an emdash by clicking on Ctrl, Alt, and the minus key on the number pad. Also, to center a title (or anything else), you can use Ctrl e, and after your last line on a page, instead of scrolling down, you can click on Ctrl Enter.

    • Some word processors will substitute characters and some won’t. You’re correct, but very few writers no how to make an emdash or when to use use an endash. See Most type double primes for quotes. It’s great when word processors think for us correctly but that doesn’t always go as planned.

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