Whether you’re planning to indie-publish or try the traditional route, publishers want simply formatted copy that they can easily convert to their house style. You’ll of course want to follow any specific guidelines given to you by a publisher or agent, but even as you craft your manuscript before submitting it for publication, you can ensure your document is going to meet industry expectations.

The following formatting specifications have worked well for my clients in this regard, as these specs provide a clean, neat document that’s easily read and easily transferred into a design program:

  • Times New Roman font: Stick with the most common standard here and avoid using any kind of creative font to try to make your work stand out. A possible exception might be if you’re including some kind of special sections in your story and want to set them off: maybe ongoing diary entries throughout, or using a sans serif font for computer/robotic language. Even then, though, tread carefully.
  • 12-point regular black font: Again, keep it simple here, keeping away from colored typeface, or increased/decreased text sizes for emphasis.
  • 1-inch margins all around: Easy to set in a word-processing program.
  • ½-inch paragraph indents: Also very easy to set up in a word-processing program. Avoid inserting tabs or (please, oh, please) hitting the spacebar five—or more—times.
  • Ragged right margin (not justified): The publisher will take care of laying out the text and justifying it. For the writing and review/editing stages, keep it ragged right for easier reading.
  • Double line spacing: The publisher will also determine the line spacing during layout, so keep it double-spaced, as it’s easier to read (and it’s the common industry standard for submissions).
  • No extra spacing after paragraphs: Some word-processing programs (like MS Word) allow you to add extra space after (or before) paragraphs. Avoid this and just let the double line spacing and paragraph indents show the flow of your text.
  • Single spaces after end punctuation: Yes, I know—many of us (and I’ll gladly show my age here) had teachers drill into us that you always put two spaces after end punctuation. But in the publishing world, this has been taboo for many years, so just stick with one space.
  • No text boxes: Just let the text flow freely on the page. Any text in text boxes will not transfer easily into a design program.
  • Illustrations: If your story has any kind of illustrations (original art, maps, etc.), then you’ll want to just include placeholder text for them during the writing stage—such as [insert Illustration 5 here]. When it’s time to submit to an agent or publisher for review, you can insert all of the illustrations so the reviewers can see them in context. If you’re indie-publishing, then you can leave any the placeholder text where it is, as the publisher is going to want all the illustrations as separate image files anyway.
  • Graphics: No need for chapter-header graphics, drop caps, elegant scene-break markers, etc. Note: With scene-break markers, I do encourage authors to use some kind of text marker rather than just an extra paragraph return to make sure it’s clear that there’s a break. You can use a couple of em-dashes (like: ——) or some slash marks (like: ///). I’d avoid a series of asterisks, as some programs (like Word) will immediately convert them into a dashed line.

The simplified version of Occam’s razor is a good reminder for authors in regard to formatting a manuscript: keep it simple!