I recently commented on Facebook about some of the formatting snafus prevalent in the publishing business and ended up getting a ton of responses. It was suggested I create a blog post detailing how best to format manuscripts for publishers so that's exactly what I did.
Obviously not every publisher wants the exact same thing, and it’s in your best interest to follow your chosen publisher’s formatting guidelines, but what I offer here is a good foundation that can be quickly and easily adjusted to fit any style. Do this for every manuscript from the start and you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble down the road.
Note that I am using Microsoft Word 2013 as my writing program so the specific steps I post might be different on your word processing program but the concept remains the same. You’ll have to look these things up if you’re using a different program.
First off you’ll want to change your font. Every author has a different one they enjoy for whatever reason and each publisher will adjust the font to their preference when they agree to publish a manuscript but it’s really best to stick to something simple: Times New Roman size 12. You can’t go wrong with this. (As a note to creatives who think colored or fancy fonts will make you stand out, they completely will; in a bad way. Stick to TNR 12 and DO NOT play with your fonts.)
The next thing you want to do is open your Paragraph settings.
From there you’ll need to go to Indentation and where it says Special you want to change it to First Line and set it anywhere between 0.3 and 0.5. 0.5 is often the standard but I find it excessive. Next you will change your Line Spacing to Double. (Never use the Space key for formatting.)
After this you’ll need to go to Page Layout.
Once there you’ll go to Spacing and make sure that both Before and After are set to 0.
All of this will be the basis of your document. Each time you hit Enter the next paragraph will automatically space itself to your settings (0.3 to 0.5) and you will eliminate the need for the TAB key. You will need to adjust any chapter headings or scene breaks (backspace twice on the line with these, and then center them to eliminate the extra spacing caused by your First Line settings. For the title/information page you can simply highlight all the test on it and go back to your Paragraph settings and choose none under Special and single under Line Spacing. (If you need to adjust the spacing/indent on a piece of the text—for example: text that needs to be centered on a line between the rest of the text, you will simply highlight that piece of text and change what you need under Paragraph settings. This will change it for that piece of text only and will not impact the rest of the document.)
When you reach the end of the chapter or section press Enter so you are 1 to 2 spaces below the last line in the chapter/section and then press CTRL-Enter to insert a page break. Type in your title/chapter number and hit Enter twice and begin your next chapter text. Again, you will need to come back to the chapter title/number to remove the extra spacing and to center it but DO NOT do it before you have begun the first line of text in that chapter. If you do you will reset your paragraph formatting. (This sounds difficult and possibly annoying but it really isn’t. It takes just a second to adjust the title/chapter headings and they will only need it that once.)
From here on out you do not want to add any additional formatting. Do not add Keep Together formats or Tables or Line Breaks or anything else a publisher might have to search for in order to change to their preference. You want your manuscript to be bare bones. All the things listed above can be changed with a few clicks of the mouse and that’s how a publisher is going to want it. (CTRL-A to select all, and then change your settings and it will adjust the entire manuscript.)