manuscript word

How to manage and format your book manuscript in Word

Yes, I get excited about software. I am a self-confessed nerd. Microsoft Word is my go to program for all my fiction writing needs. But sometimes it’s hard to figure out how you should format and manage your manuscript, especially if you’re new to this writing gig. I’m going to go through my process of setting up my documents, and how I use Office to manage big novels with large chapter structures, as well as my research and notes that go with it.

Use the templates

Word makes setting up a manuscript easy with templates! There are both short story and book manuscript templates available for download and use in Word. You don’t have to do anything except search in the top box at the opening menu for manuscript, download them, put in your details and type. Too easy. I use these all the time, but it is still helpful to know the standard settings for manuscripts or short stories to present to a publisher:

  • Times New Roman or Courier font (I personally prefer Times)
  • 12 point
  • Double spaced
  • 1 inch margins
  • First line of each paragraph hanging (indented)
  • Left alignment
  • Your name/story title/page number in the top right hand corner

The number one tip I can give is to double check requirements for your manuscript with the publisher before submitting – they will include these requirements with their submission guidelines.

The reason for Times New Roman or Courier is their legibility. They’re both really easy fonts on the eye, rather than having an editor squinting over your manuscript in Papyrus. Using a template makes life easier – no more pressing tab every time you start a new paragraph.

If you need to set up your paragraphs in word itself (sometimes formatting can break or you want to change an old story), select your text, go to the paragraph pull out menu (tiny little button in the corner of the panel) and choose the appropriate settings.

paragraph settings word

Use headings for chapters

Under the home menu, you will see different style types up the top. Highlight your chapter headings, then style them as Headings from the menu, and they’ll appear in the headings navigation menu on the left hand side. Using headings means that you can navigate quickly between chapters. Say the spark of inspiration hits in Chapter 14 about something you want to write in Chapter 3, then you can easily switch between them. This is particularly useful if you are writing non-fiction with multiple sub-sections, as you can use sub-headings to manage it in the navigation menu. These are also extremely helpful if you will be self-publishing your book, as they are needed to format the document correctly for online export.

heading settings word

Link OneNote to your manuscript

Having recently swapped over to OneNote, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I could link a note in OneNote and have it running while writing a manuscript, so that I could make any thoughts, comments or questions quickly without changing programs. I also use the review menu to add comments to specific text items, such as if I need to research or fact check an item.

one note word

Use the grammar and spell check tools

This goes without saying, but PLEASE use these tools. I do a once over with all my stories before they go out, and you would not believe how many times they’ve picked up a typo or ten in a manuscript I thought was finished.

Save and label your files clearly

I save all my files in this style of structure so I don’t send the wrong draft to publishers:

  • Writing
    • Novels
      • Book title
        • 1 DRAFT Book Name
        • 2 DRAFT Book Name
        • FINAL Book Name
    • Short Stories
      • Year
        • Short Story title
          • 1 DRAFT Story Name
          • FINAL Story Name

So I hope that’s helped seeing a little bit into my process for managing a manuscript. It really pays to keep things organised – no more editing the wrong draft or losing files.

Do you write in word? What’s your process for managing your manuscript? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Kat Clay is an award-winning photographer and writer from Melbourne, Australia. Her novella, Double Exposure, was published in 2015 by Crime Factory. Her work has been published in The Victorian Writer, Literary Traveler, TNT, Travel Weekly, Matador Network and Weird Fiction Review. She loves inspiring people to be more creative in everyday life.

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