There are a bunch of things we do when we’re writing that shouldn’t make it into the final draft. Overused adverbs, weak verbs, onomatopoeia, typos, and weak dialogue.
But there are other things that need fixing before you send your manuscript off to literary agents and publishers. Formatting.
If an agent opens an emailed query letter and physically can’t read it, it doesn’t matter that you wrote the best things since “Call me ishmael.” If it’s illegible, it doesn’t stand a chance.
This goes for your manuscript as well. And while having strange spacing and an unusual font won’t necessarily kill your novel, it can seriously hurt its chances. Give your manuscript a fighting chance. Format it correctly.
Standard Manuscript Formatting
- Only a single space after a period. I know they used to teach it the opposite way in the past, but I assure you that this is the new universal standard. (Jump down to Replace Double Spaces.)
- Use auto-indent. DO NOT use tab. When they lay out books for publishing, they don’t put a manual tab for each paragraph. They use a fancy indent measurement. (Jump down to Replace Tabs with Auto-Indentation.)
- Use Times New Roman, 12-point font. The old standard was Courier New (for uniform character width), but no one likes reading that font anymore. It hurts the eyeballs. (Jump down to Set Standard Font.)
- Double space; no extra space between paragraphs. I personally prefer to read in 1.5 spacing, because it takes up less space, but double spaced is still the industry standard. (Jump down to Set Paragraph Style.)
- Start each chapter on a new page. This doesn’t mean hitting “enter” twenty times. Jump down to Insert Page Breaks.
Shortcuts to Fix Formatting Issues
These solutions all apply to Microsoft Word, but you can modify the process for other word processing programs.
Replace Doubles Spaces
1. Hit Ctrl+F. Now go to “Replace.”
2. Type two spaces into the “Find what:” box. Type one space into the “Replace with:” box.
3. Click “Replace All.” This will go through your document and replace every double space with a single space. If you click it a few times, it’ll reduce any multiple spaces (three or four spaces, etc.) down to one.
Replace Tabs with Auto-Indentation
1. After navigating to Find/Replace, click “More>>”.
2. From the “Special” menu, select “Tab character.”
3. Make sure the “Replace with:” box is empty. No spaces hiding in there, not punctuation.
4. Click “Replace all.” This will effectually delete all tabs.
5. Under the View tab, make sure the Ruler checkbox is checked.
6. Adjust the top half of the hourglass shape on the ruler to change the indentation.
7. The standard, as shown in step 6, is at the 1/2-inch mark.
Set Standard Font
1. Hit Ctrl+A. This selects all the text in the current document.
2. Under the Home tab, change the font to Times New Roman, and change the font size to 12.
3. This will change all of the font in your document to the same thing. I don’t recommend changing anything to a different font or size unless it’s for a cover page of some sort. (Even then, you don’t need it.)
Set Paragraph Style
1. Type Ctrl+A. This selects all text.
2. Under the Home tab, select the pop-out box-button-thing under Paragraph.
3. Change the spacing to double spacing. Check the box titled “Don’t add space between paragraphs of the same style.” Make sure the spacing before and after is 0 pt.
4. Click OK, and the styles should change throughout the document.
Insert Page Breaks
To insert a page break:
- Type “Ctrl+Enter” OR
- Under the Insert tab, select Page Break icon.
If you already have 30, 50, or a million chapters, perform the following steps to insert all of the page breaks at once. This only works if you have each chapter labeled/titled.
1. Navigate to Find/Replace. Type “Chapter” in the “Find what:” box. Then click “More>>.”
2. In the “Replace with:” box, select “Manual page break” from the Special menu.
3. In the “Replace with:” box, type “Chapter” after the special character. Then click “Replace All.”
4. This will go through your document and look for every location where you have the word “Chapter,” and it will add a page break. Scroll down a bit to make sure that your chapters are starting on a new page.