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(editor's note: instructions are geared toward MS Word documents,
but the basics are core for any writer R)



Gordon Aalborg

As a general rule, this is how you set up your manuscript. Various publishers have a more specific style guide, but this is a good place to start. The point of the exercise is to present your manuscript looking professional right off the top.

NOTE: In the rare circumstance that a publisher actually provides a style guide in submission requirements—FOLLOW IT. SPECIFICALLY!

This guide is for when you have no other.

This information can be used to re-format an existing manuscript, but it is suggested you make a copy of the ms first, and re-format that, to be sure you don't lose anything. :)

TIP: On your task bar is this symbol. Check it out! It will show you specifically where your paragraphs change, the spacing between words and/or characters [most publishers these days do NOT want double spacing between sentences, for instance] and whether you've stuck spaces in where you do not "want" spaces. Like after paragraph changes and-even worse-before new paragraphs. And it will show your tabs-another thing many publishers, especially those publishing electronically, do not want! Whichever you choose—BE CONSISTENT!!!

So: Here we go:


  1. Click on File, Page Set Up
  2. Select Margin Tab (Default)
  3. Top Margin = 1"
  4. Bottom Margin = 1"
  5. Left & Right Margins = 1"
  6. Gutter = 0"
  7. From Edge Header = 0.5"
  8. From Edge Footer = 0.5"
  9. Click OK


  1. Click on Edit, Select All
  2. Click on Format, Paragraph
  3. Select Indents & Spacing Tab (Default)
  4. Alignment = Left
  5. Outline Level = Body Text
  6. Indentation Left & Right = 0"
  7. Indentation Special = First Line = By .50" [This is to create an automatic indent for new paragraphs ... the preferred way to go.]
  8. Spacing Before & After = 0"
  9. Line Spacing = Double {or whatever a publisher may ask for}
  10. Click OK


  1. Click on Edit, Select All
  2. Click on Format, Font
  3. Select Font Tab (Default)
  4. Font = Times New Roman
  5. Font Style = Regular
  6. Font Size = 12 or 14
  7. Font Color = Automatic (Default) or Black
  8. Underline Style = None
  9. Click OK


Click on View, Header & Footer
(This causes the header to be the default view and brings up the appropriate toolbar on screen.)
  1. Click on the Book Symbol for Page Set-Up
  2. Click on the Layout Tab (Default)
  3. Section Start = New Page
  4. Headers & Footers, Check ONLY Different First Page Box
  5. Vertical Alignment = Top
  6. Apply To = Whole Document
  7. Click OK
  8. Using the Same Font From Above, Click on Format, Paragraph, Alignment = Right
  9. Type Author's Last Name … Book Title …" insert page number symbol [#] = Smith...Title of Book … #
  10. Click Close on Toolbar for Headers & Footers

Prose Excerpts, Letters, Telegrams, Diary Entries, Poems, Dream Sequences, Etc.

Always set in same typeface as the rest of your manuscript and separate the material with one hard return before and one hard return after and indent the body of the material an extra .25" or .5" on the right and left side. Italics may be used to indicate emphasis.

Scene & Time Breaks

Are indicated by a hard return and then one or two or three asterisks * * * centered on the page with a space between each one. Your transition break thus becomes, in effect, a separate paragraph, with normal spacing between it and the paragraphs before and after it.


An Em-Dash looks like this: — It does not look like: - , --, or - - and it is not an en-dash or any other form of dash or hyphen!

An Em-dash is used—if it is going to be used—in the fashion you've just read. It is to designate an interruption in thought or speech. An interruption at the end of a speech can also be designated with an ellipsis to indicate "trailing off."

You can find an Em-Dash in the Insert, Symbols, Special Characters section of MS Word.

If you used something else, please do a universal find and replace before sending in your manuscript. There should be no space on either side of an Em-Dash, even when it is followed by punctuation such as a quotation mark.

Note: Sometimes changing to an Em-dash at the end of a speech will reverse your "close" quote, and you'll end up with "But Fred, I don't—". Double-check this, and fix the problem by putting the "close quote" in first, and then inserting the Em-dash from the symbols menu. Ellipsis An Ellipsis looks like this: … It is NOT merely three periods in a row. A real ellipsis acts as a single character. You can find an Ellipsis in the Insert, Symbols, Special Characters section of MS Word. Note: Some publishers prefer that you use three periods, sometimes with spaces between them, instead of an ellipsis symbol. If that is what they ask for-do it.

In general, you use an ellipsis to designate a "trailing off" in speech or thought or narrative, or a "pause," or to suggest ongoing thought, but it can also be used to designate interruption at the end of speech. My view is that an Em-dash works better for this.

An Ellipsis within a sentence should have a space before and after it … like this … but if it is used to trail off, it should not be separated from the final word, especially at the end of a paragraph, or the beginning of the next, if applicable.
For instance:

Jane said, "But Michael, I think you're …"
{and then Michael is going to reply as a continuation of Jane's thought}
"… not making any sense. Yes, I know, Jane."
Note: Various editors have various attitudes on this usage, and few agree. :)


All numbers used in the narrative less than one hundred should be written out as text, except when used in dialogue. ALL numbers in dialogue should be written out as text. And yes, there are exceptions and yes, you can probably think of one. Enjoy the success.

Chapter Headings

After the last line of text at the end of a chapter, insert a page break. Chapters always start on a new page, with a hard return before and after the chapter heading. You may indicate a new chapter with an alpha or numerical designation. Do NOT start your chapter halfway down the page unless some publisher asks for that.

Front Pages

When you send in your manuscript, the following {Cover Letter separate} should be the sequence of the front pages:
  1. Title Page: Upper left hand corner-include author real name, address, phone, fax, email, and word count (use the tool available in your word processor). Centered in middle of page, book title and author name or pseudonym if applicable
    1. If this is a collection of stories, the next page after the title page should be the copyrights listing page. Previously published stories should be listed as follows:
      1. a) "Story X," copyright (c) xxxx by author name. Originally published in Whatever Magazine.
  2. Dedication PageIf applicable
  3. Acknowledgements PageIf applicable
  4. Other Materials (such as Table of Contents (for a collection), maps, illustrations, glossary, etc.If applicable)
  5. Preface, Introduction, Prologue, etc.If applicable
  6. Chapter One through End of Book


  1. Do not insert tabs, section breaks, or other formatting oddities into your manuscript. The ONLY formatting required is listed in this document.

  2. Do not use odd fonts or sIes to set something off. Not the title, not anything "within" the manuscript, not your chapter headings, not anything! When you do, you might as well brand Amateur on the front of your ms (and on your forehead) and be done with it. Why start off with that disadvantage when you want to be taken seriously? WELL-DON'T YOU? :)

  3. Utilize italics when you want italics and do not underline to show you want italics. NOTE: Some publishers want the reverse of this; and some want both underlining and italics to represent italics. If that's what the publisher's style guide asks for—DO IT, DAMMIT!
  4. Do not forget to double check your scene/transition break spacing once you've made any font or size changes or reformatted.

  5. Do not forget to review your manuscript at least once before sending it out. And if you can get some disinterested party to proof it for you, all the better. The problem with trying to be your own editor is that you will see what you to see, and mistakes will slip by. Trust me on this!

  6. Do not forget to spell-check your ms before submission. Those little squiggly lines under some words are there for a reason-it's to remind you check the spelling! So do it! And if you're going to use weird, esoteric names that aren't in the spell-checker, put them into the spell-checker's "special dictionary" the first time they're flagged-that way you'll be warned if you somehow manage to spell them wrong later, which you likely will. :)

  7. Do not forget that if you're submitting to, for instance, an American publisher, you should set your computer to spell-check in American, and then make all the changes that will require of you. Yes, we know Americans can't spell, but they think they're right, and if they're the potential buyers … 'nuff said. :) One of the very best things about working with a computer is this ability to change a manuscript again, and again, and again, and again, and … making each version specific to whatever requirements are … specified.

Especially in these times of electronic submission! If you use — and some editor prefers —, a universal search/replace is easy enough, provided you've been consistent and haven't thrown in a few - just for the variety.

Gordon Aalborg ( is a freelance editor, mystery writer and occasional romance writer. He is married to fellow freelance editor, mystery writer and occasional romance writer, Deni Dietz (, the love of his life and the bane of his existence. When it comes to private freelance editing he is approachable, even competent, but brutal as an editor and inclined to be cranky and sarcastic. He also charges like a wounded bull. Deni is nicer, usually, but equally expensive.*
(*editors note: both are well worth the $! — R)

Copyright © 2007 Gordon Aalborg

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