How to prepare your manuscript for a fiction editor

​From all the information I have read, and from my training, the following suggestions/recommendations are how editors everywhere would prefer to receive manuscripts. Not only does this make it easier for the editor, but it saves the author money as the editor does not have to take the time to format it first.

If you are unable, or do not know how to do these things, that’s ok. Just let me know.

When working with your manuscript, follow these suggestions to ensure that the file is editor-ready.

The good news is that this means less work for you, not more, because you’re not having to design anything. That comes later.

  1. Preferred File format

I, like most professional fiction editors, work in Microsoft Word. This is because it is the best word-processing software on the planet. It is also the most common.

It has a range of excellent built-in tools that help copy editors style the various elements of your text consistently, and quickly locate any potential problems that might need fixing.

Like a lot of copy editors, I use macros to help me. Macros are a great little tool that can do some of the small repetitive tasks, like looking for and removing extra spaces. These macros mean I can add an extra level of quality-control and efficiency to the copy edit.

If you have written your book in a different program – for example, Scrivener, Google Docs or Apple Pages – please put the text in a Word file before you send it to me.

The other reason I use Microsoft Word is so I can use the Track Changes function. This function allows you to see any changes I have made and any suggestions I make. You can also accept or reject those changes and suggestions.

  1. Less is Best – Number of files

If your manuscript is in numerous files, you will need to create a single master file that contains the full text of your project. Unless you and I have agreed to work serially – i.e. on a chapter-by-chapter basis.

If you send me 43 separate chapters, I will have to combine them all anyway. This can take time, which means more cost for you.

All copy editors work hard to ensure that your book is consistent. For example – that Beverley doesn’t become Beverly, and Michel doesn’t become Michael. There are ways we can do this efficiently, but they are their most effective when working with a single file.

This also applies to ensuring that the various elements of your text are formatted consistently. For example, it is standard practice for the first paragraph in a chapter or section to be full-out (not indented). Copy editors will use Microsoft Word’s styles palette to define this and then set the style and apply to all the relevant paragraphs. If your copy editor is working with 43 separate files, they will need to create or import that style for every single file.

  1. Font Matters

You might have decided to use an unconventional font for your book’s interior. You are perfectly entitled to use any font you like… just spare a thought for my eyes please!

When it comes to the editing stage, stick to something like Arial size 12, or Times New Roman size 14. These are a lot easier to read and edit, and less strain on my eyes. The less your copy editor struggles to read the text, the better the quality of their work.

The examples below illustrate the difficulties we editors have with different fonts.

Document Prep - Font Examples by newdesignfile

(Picture courtesy of

  1. Less Colours – Please

It is recommended you use black text on a white page. Again, it’s about readability.

While the white text with coloured background stands out, and the contrast is visually appealing, for editing purposes it’s a challenge.

  1. Paragraphs

Open any novel on your bookshelf and you will likely see the text layed out with the first line of the first paragraph left-justified, and the first line of each following paragraph indented.

The indented paragraphs are not made using the tab key. Instead, use Microsoft Word’s ruler to create proper indents.

Document Prep - Paragraph Indents

If you are unsure how to do this, you can either check out the help section on the Microsoft website, or just Google it. The other option is to let me know, and I can do it for you.

  1. The Importance of Spacing

At the line and copyediting stage, don’t worry about how many pages your text covers. Instead, give your editor a file with the lines spaced so that the text is easy to read. Setting the line spacing at 1.25 or 1.5 works well for a font size of 12 or 14.

The line spacing function can be located by right-clicking on text and selecting PARAGRAPH. A window will open. Make sure you’re in the INDENTS AND SPACING tab. Then amend the LINE SPACING field.

Document Prep - Line Spacing

  1. You Need Chapter Headings

Your copy editor will love you if you use one of Microsoft Word’s heading styles to assign your chapter headings:

Word Styles - Headings

You can even modify the style so that it automatically starts on a fresh page.

Right-click on the heading style, select MODIFY, then FORMAT, then PARAGRAPH. A window will open. Make sure you are in the LINE AND PAGE BREAKS tab. Check the PAGE BREAK BEFORE box.

Document Prep - Headings New Page

Why is this preferred?

It means you won’t need to hit the return button multiple times to get the cursor to the top of the next page when you begin a new chapter.

You will also provide your copy editor with a quick way of ensuring that all chapters are listed chronologically because they’ll appear in a list in Microsoft Word’s Navigation menu. If your chapters are numbered, any problems will be easy to identify.

Document Prep - Chapter Navigation

  1. Page Numbers – Not Yet

In a raw-text work of fiction, there’s no need for page numbers or other headers and footers.

Microsoft Word records the page number in the bottom-left-hand corner of the screen of a PC, and that’s what your copy editor will refer to if they need to direct your attention to a specific page.

Document Prep - Page Numbers

If you plan to upload a later version of your file for ebook creation, your page numbers will need to be removed anyway.

If you are printing your book, save the page numbering for the design stage.

  1. Easy Section Breaks

It is recommended using three asterisks (***) to indicate a section break. You can change them at the design stage to make them more attractive, but they’re handy at the editing stage because your copy editor can see where you intend a section break to be.

I suggest doing this instead of just leaving a line break because sometimes a writer will accidentally hit the return button twice. Your copy editor will have to spend time working out whether the break is intentional rather than focusing on the flow of your text and any errors that need correcting.

  1. Pictures/Images – Keep them separate

If you are including images and captions for your editor to check copy, consider placing these in a separate file.

Images, especially high-resolution ones, will increase the size of your book file massively. This slows down refreshing when the editor saves. Many editors save once every few seconds. Yes, that’s right, editors save their files continuously. If they don’t, they run the risk of losing work they have completed due to a power cut or something. We don’t want that.

The other problem is that when they come to email your edited file full of all your lovely high-resolution images, it will be so huge that they will have to use an external cloud-based transfer service. These size files can take an hour or more to load.

On top of all that, all the amendments, deletions, and additions to the text will cause your carefully placed images to shift into spaces you didn’t intend. It is much better to leave adding your images at the interior-design stage. It will save you and your editor a lot of time and frustration.

  1. Manual Tables of Contents – Later

If you’ve created a table of contents in a Microsoft Word file prior to copyediting, there is a good chance that a chunk of your page numbers and some of the chapter titles will be wrong by the time your copy editor has finished.

Of course, you can pay them to fix these too. But that could add an extra hour or more work onto your bill. And what is worse, is that you will be wasting your money because when the book’s interior is designed, everything will change again.

Sort out your table of contents before you do your final design, not at the copyediting stage. It will save you money, I promise you.

  1. Manual index

Non-fictions writers, as I said earlier, the page numbers in a table of contents get messed up during copyediting, and the damage that can happen to an index can be absolutely horrible.

Spellings can change, and so can compound hyphenation. Some key terms could have been removed or changed, while others will have been added.

Indexing should come after proofreading, not at the copyediting stage.


Please know that these are just suggestions, they are not law. But, your editor will appreciate it if you do these. It will make life easier for them, so they can focus on making your manuscript come alive, instead of spending all their time formatting text so that it is readable.

So save yourself some stress, and some money, and keep it simple.

Note from Jenni: I hope you found today’s post helpful. Please follow my blog so you don’t miss out on any upcoming posts.

If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to contact me via my Contact Me page or leave a comment below. To find out more about my services, visit My Services page. You can also find me on Facebook by clicking the ‘F’ icon at the bottom of any page on my website.


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