Use styles to keep your manuscript in order

Document outlineWe all want our documents to look good. Here are some advanced techniques to make sure your manuscript is not only good-looking, but orderly, whether you’re submitting traditionally or self-publishing.

The first thing to remember is that your manuscript needs to be edited before it’s designed, so save the design work for later. Too often I see amateur writers spending lots of effort on designing their manuscripts prior to editing. This just complicates the editing process.

A lot of us have a case of Stockholm Syndrome with Microsoft Office, but one thing it does really well is styles. Word’s styles integrate nicely with Adobe InDesign, which is the app most professionals use for book design.

Let’s say I have a nonfiction manuscript that includes block quotations, bullet lists, and subheads. Just like WordPress, Microsoft Word includes built-in styles for all of these. So for example, when I have a big quotation in my blog, I use the quotation format in WordPress:

Consistency and simplicity in all matters is essential: authors should know that their manuscripts will almost always be converted into another software environment for publication.—Chicago Manual of Style

Word has a similar function, along with styles for subheads and bullets and, really, more things than are healthy to put in one document. Use styles, but keep them to a minimum. If the manuscript is too busy, the editor will find it hard to read.

If you don’t like Word’s built-in styles, you can adjust your text as you see fit. Once you do, right-click on the style’s button in the ribbon and choose “Update to match selection.” Then make sure your styles are consistently applied throughout your document.

Word styles
Update Word’s styles to match your preferences.

Using styles this way—and keeping them to a minimum—will help your editor work with the manuscript and will help the page designer create the print edition. If you’re e-publishing, styles will export to the finished product, whereas if you were to apply formatting directly without using a style, say by clicking the Bold button for your subheads, the formatting can get lost in the conversion to Kindle or ePub format.

I’ve compiled this information, along with my earlier posts about manuscript formatting, into a Word document that will not only tell you but also show you what proper manuscript format looks like: What your typing teacher didn’t tell you about manuscript formatting.

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  1. I like the clear examples on this post and the Word document. Your information will benefit many emerging writers–and their editors. (A double-spaced, easy-to-read font is a thing of beauty.)

    1. Indeed it is. Thanks, Teresa! 🙂

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