Picture of a book manuscript in Microsoft Word

How to manage and format your book manuscript in Word

While there are a lot of great software options out there for writing your novels, I use Microsoft Word. Why? Because it’s simple – there’s no distracting features, just you and the page.

But sometimes it’s hard to figure out how you should format and manage your manuscript in Word, especially if you’re new to writing books and novels. I’m going to go through my process of setting up my documents, and how I use Word to manage big novels with large chapter structures.

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 button in Microsoft 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. 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 button in Microsoft Word

Save and label your files clearly

One final tip: 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

Now that you know how to format your manuscript correctly in Microsoft Word, you know your work will appear professional to editors, agents and publishers. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below, and I’ll do my best to answer them.


8 responses to “How to manage and format your book manuscript in Word”

  1. This really helped while writing my first book. .Any tips on promoting my book and publishing ?

  2. Thanks Vanessa! If you’re self publishing there are a lot of good groups on Facebook dedicated to book promotion and publishing. I’d recommend checking them out as there are a lot of authors in those groups willing to share their experiences.

  3. Bill Gunn Avatar
    Bill Gunn

    Hi Kat,

    I’ve just read your article and I’ve found it really interesting. But I wonder if you could help or point me in the direction of how to setup Word 2016 for my Nonfiction book?

    It is for Print first and hopefully e-book later. My publisher has given me instructions regards Fonts, line spacing and the basic requirements. They have asked me to format the book for print myself. Apparently a good opportunity to learn.

    The advice they gave was to setup Word before writing my first draft! So I’m staring at a White blank standard Word Document.

    The Front matter I need is:

    Title page
    Table of Contents

    Then the manuscript (I’m still writing and using the Outline Feature in Word.)

    Then the End matter:


    I can find lots about setting up a Fiction book but the only things I can find with ease are Manuscript submission guides. I was told setting up the document, Page Format and layout before I write my first draft is the quickest way, rather than having to go back and alter everything.

    I’d really appreciate any help you could give.

    Thank you very much indeed. I must say, I have the main text all handwritten, but now I need to get it ready for submission for print. Feeling a bit excited yet overwhelmed at the prospect!

  4. Hi Bill,

    First, I’d ask the publisher for a sample or template of what they want, that way you know exactly how they want it formatted. I’d also have a look in Word’s templates to see if there’s anything specific for non-fiction. Manuscript rules are still the same for non-fiction and fiction, but it sounds like you have a lot more to do.

    In the insert menu in Word, you can add a title page in the top left corner. You can also use section breaks to add a preface, introduction etc. It might be helpful to look up some of the formatting for more academic papers to get an idea of how to format an index and bibliography, as I’m not an expert. Whenever I’ve done referencing, it’s for shorter pieces with footnotes. I do know there is a way of putting your books and their information into Word and it keeps track of them for your bibliography, but I haven’t done it yet.

    Normally if I was formatting a book for print I’d do it in InDesign, which has a lot more tools for indexing (although it’s a steep learning curve so you’re probably better off in Word). And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, take it one chunk at a time – if I’m editing, I’ll do three chapters at a time and then take a break. That way you get through it. Good luck with your book.


  5. Hi Kat,
    I am writing a 100 page non fiction informational book for promoting my professional services.
    I am going to print it on 8.5*5.5 paper in portrait orientation and bind it at home.
    I am also going to put it on my website. There will be no charts, pictures or tables in it.
    It needs to be readable on all platforms like computer, mobile phone, ipad etc
    Will a template really make it easier to format it and make it look better? Do I really have to have a template?
    Which template should I use if any?
    Any other suggestions?

  6. Hi Mohan, thanks for getting in touch. I do recommend using a template in Word as it makes it easier to find information and chapters when you’re editing it, especially for non-fiction books. That way, if you do ever want to turn it into an e-book, it’s all set up. I think a template would make it a lot easier to format it and also make it look more professional, but you don’t have to have one. I usually use the manuscript format template in word, found where you search for online templates, but if you’re writing a non-fiction book a report template may be better for what you’re doing. Have a look around and see what you like. Hope that helps and thanks for reading my blog 🙂 Kat

  7. R.M. Knight Avatar
    R.M. Knight

    Can a novel manuscript be put into a template after the fact? I typed my novel by the usual parameters; double-spaced, one inch margin all around, but I do not have a title page or the name if the novel at the top of the page or my author name. Is there a way to insert information after finishing?

  8. Hi RM, yes absolutely! You can add a page number in the header as well as author/title info. Here are the instructions on adding a header from Microsoft.

    You can also add a cover page here. Hope that helps! Kat

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