Manuscript Formatting Tips from a Book Designer to Make Production Go Smoothly

You’ve expended great effort on your manuscript, working on your own and perhaps with an editor to create great content and address such essentials as readability, clarity, style, and correct grammar and punctuation. When this is done, it’s time for the manuscript to go to the graphic design professional who will turn your text into a well-designed book ready for print and/or e-publishing.

Formatting TipsWhether you have a book contract with a publisher or you are self-publishing, you as the author have a part to play in helping the book formatting and production process go smoothly. I recently had the pleasure of having coffee with book designer and graphics professional Jenny Putnam (, who shared 8 quick tips on how to prepare your manuscript for formatting. (My comments in italics.)

1. Your manuscript should be letter-sized (8.5×11), double-spaced text with page numbers and consistent page margins all the way through. (Sounds obvious, but if you’re not working with an editor who’s already adjusted a single-spaced manuscript with too-wide or too-narrow margins to a “standard” format for editing, take note!)

2. Establish a consistent hierarchy of headlines and indicate within brackets. For example, if you have an A-level headline and B-level subheadings, you’d indicate the first by typing: [A Head]This is an A Head[end A Head]. Use the same bracketing technique to indicate captions, callouts and sidebars. (Ask your book designer for his or her preference on how to indicate these, and then follow those instructions.)

3. If your book has illustrations (including photos and charts), indicate where these go using brackets and image number, for example, [insert image 128 here]. (You may have included these images in your manuscript as a visual cue for yourself as you wrote the book, but it’s better to number each of your illustrations, indicating the proper insertion point in the text, and supply the illustrations as separate files.)

4. Do not format the text other than to indicate bold and italics, and be sure that both are used consistently throughout the manuscript. Leave a single space at the end of sentences (not two spaces, as those of us who learned touch-typing back in the day were taught) and after colons and semi-colons. (Yes, it’s fun to play with fonts and type sizes as you envision what your finished book might look like, but your book designer can work most efficiently with a manuscript that’s minimally formatted.)

For the rest of the tips, please contact Jenny Putnam for her helpful 2-page PDF on “How to Prepare Your Manuscript for Formatting” ( By supplying your book designer with a “clean” manuscript (no extraneous formatting) and clear and consistent instructions for how you want text and images to appear, you’ll reduce the time it takes to format and produce your book and you’ll ensure a high-quality finished product.