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How to Prepare a Manuscript that Works for You!

How to Set Up Your Manuscript

Whether you're a first time author or you've published before, your book manuscript is home base for all your beautifully crafted words. You'll be spending a lot of time in this document, so it makes sense to prepare your document with care, so it works for you rather than against you.

The following article outlines recommendations for preparing and maintaining your manuscript during the writing and editorial process. We'll talk about maintaining a master manuscript document, formatting that document for readability and editorial ease, and creating a Table of Contents with hyperlinks to the various sections in your book to minimize endless scrolling.

Maintain a Master Book Manuscript Document

While there are a handful of word processing software available on the market, I personally prefer to use Microsoft Word and Google Docs when editing books. These are universal programs that many editors use, saving you formatting time once you get to the editorial stage of the publication process.

I highly recommend maintaining only one master document for your manuscript. Not only does this keep your book content all in one place, but your editor will require you send your book in its entirely. If you choose to use separate document files for each chapter during the writing phase, be sure to consolidate each chapter into one document once you're done writing.

Your master document should contain the latest version of your book. If you make wholesale changes to your content and want to track past versions, save those versions as separate files. Include the date of your last update in the document title. This allows you to reference older versions of you book as needed without confusing them with your current working document.

Once your manuscript is with an editor, hold off on making changes to it! The more changes you make after sending the master manuscript to your editor, the more work you'll be giving yourself and your editor for future refinement. The edited manuscript you receive back from your editor becomes your new master document.

The editorial process often includes multiple stages in which you will be working back and forth with your editor refining your content. Be sure to clearly communicate any updates you want to incorporate while they are editing your book. Work together to incorporate those updates or changes. Any changes, even small ones, you make to the manuscript directly while an editor is doing their work could inadvertently delay the editing process and could even cause additional editing work to need to be done. Both of which could increase the cost of the edit!

Master Your Manuscript Format

While you don't need to write with these document settings in place, it's a good idea to format your manuscript to industry standards before sending it to an editor. This provides a consistent visual experience throughout the entire document and makes it easier for your editor to jump right into working on your book. It also saves you some cash since you won't have to pay your editor to clean up the formatting before they get started on the real editorial work.

Not only does formatting your document help your editor, it's also critical for creating a final interior book format that is ready to go to print and eBook form. I've compiled the Manuscript Formatting Standards Sheet for you to use in preparing your book manuscript. Check it out through the link below.

How to Format Headings in Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word is a robust program and it's possible you're not familiar with all the bells and whistles it has available to you. Until I started editing books, I didn't really use Microsoft Word's style function to format headings in my documents. Instead, I manually changed the font size and would bold or italicize my headings. This meant having to manually adjust these font settings every time I needed to make a change.

Using the style function for heading formats native to Microsoft Word ensures all your headings are cohesive throughout the document. In addition, the heading format makes it possible to utilize other style functions such as creating hyperlinks to different sections of your document.

I've included a brief video tutorial below on how to use the Format Heading style function in Microsoft Word.

Make Your Table of Contents Work for You

The longer your manuscript gets, the harder it is to go back and forth within your document. For example, let's say you're writing chapter five but need to reference a plot line or phrase you used in chapter three. You scroll up, up, up trying to find that phrase, then have to scroll down, down, down to get back to the chapter you were writing. The endless scrolling is all consuming, and honestly feels like a big waste of time!

I've found it helpful to include a Table of Contents with hyperlinks to each section and chapter of your manuscript. This provides a way for you to jump to different parts of your book without getting lost in the scroll. This also supports using a single document for your book rather than managing multiple files for each book section or chapter.

The following video tutorial walks you through how to create a Table of Contents with hyperlinks within your Microsoft Word document.

Let's Get Writing!

Now that your master manuscript document is created, formatted, and you've linked each section or chapter to the Table of Contents, you're ready to start writing! If you're reading this AFTER you've written your book, no worries! You can easily go through and implement these tools before sending your manuscript to an editor. You'll score brownie points by asking your editor how they prefer to receive your manuscript. Pay attention to any specific requests they may have—the cleaner your document is, the faster they'll be able to edit your book!

Get Help Formatting Your Manuscript

If you're looking for more in-depth help formatting your manuscript or developing your book outline and structure, I'd love to help!

👉 CLICK HERE to schedule a 30-Minute consult call and we'll talk through your questions and determine the level of support you'll benefit from. I can't wait to hear what you're writing!


This post is Part One of an in-depth series for Authors. Click here to receive notifications when each new post is available when you sign up for our email list.

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