How to Beautifully Format Your Manuscript for Self-Publishing

How to Beautifully Format Your Manuscript for Self-Publishing
If you plan on self-publishing, once you are happy with the actual text of your manuscript, it’s time to format. This is usually where people say, “Nevermind. I need to tweak it more” and then pick at it for years. Seriously, though, formatting is not that difficult.

A little desktop publishing knowledge is vital for presenting a beautiful manuscript to the world. Even if you have a professional cover and stellar prose, the wrong font or haphazardly labeled chapters won’t provide your reader with the most visually appealing product and is bound to hurt your sales. If you aren’t sure how to label chapter headings and generate a table of contents—as well as a few other aesthetic tricks—check out my tips below for how to do it with Microsoft Word.

Basic Desktop Publishing

Label Your Body Text and Headings

If you haven’t messed with the labeling already, then everything in your document should already be labeled as “Normal.” It’s easy to change all the text in your novel to a different font or font size if you right click on “Normal” and select “Modify.” Select a serif font (like Georgia, Cambria, or Garamond) for the body text in either a 10-point or 12-point size. Adjust the line spacing by selecting “Format” in the bottom left of the pop-up and then clicking on “Paragraph.”

Normal font

Modifying Normal Font

For the chapter headings, highlight each one, and label it with ‘Heading 1.” Not only does this give you the ability to quickly adjust the font, size (larger than your body text, typically 14), and spacing (just like with your body text), but it also gives you the ability to generate a Table of Contents at the beginning of your novel that lets you click on a page number and go directly to the first page of the chapter. You can use “Heading 2” to label subheadings if you like, and when you set up your table of contents, you can decide if you want to have subheadings show up in the table of contents.

Heading 1

You might want to select a different font for the headings. This is a great article that discusses font pairings. Not all fonts will pair well together, so be cautious!

Page and Section Breaks

I like to use a page break at the end of each chapter and a section break between different front matter in the book, like between the table of contents and the body of the book. A page break just ensures that the next chapter will start on the following page: great if you intend to add a little more, because you’re a writer, and I know you will go back and tweak the book fifty times.

Page Breaks

A section break gives you the flexibility to change your page numbering scheme, like from Roman numerals for the front matter to Arabic numerals for the body text. It even lets you mark the first page of a chapter to have different headings, in case you want the page number at the bottom on the first page and the top the rest of the way through, for example.

Section Breaks

Section Breaks Paragraph Marks

Page Numbering

To number your pages, click on the “Insert” tab at the top of the page and then “Page Number” near the middle of the bar. A drop-down will appear. You can mouse over the options for top or bottom of the page to see different layouts for the page numbers. Click one of those, and you have numbered the section of the document that you are in. If the header or footer (wherever you want the page number to appear) says “same as previous section,” then you also numbered the previous section.

Page Numbering

Double click in the margin at the top or bottom of your page, and a “Design” tab will highlight at the top of your page. From the bar, you can check “Different first page” to have a different header for the first page of that section or “Different odd and even pages” to differentiate that way. I like to have the page number appear in the left corner for the left pages and the right corner for the right pages, but doing this also means that you have to make sure you didn’t do it backward. Odd pages are on the right, even on the left.

Different first page

Different odd and even pages

Setting Margins, Mirror Margins

You can leave the margins at a standard one-inch if you like, but I think a book looks better with a margin that varies for odd and even pages. This way, you can add a wider gutter in the middle of the book so words aren’t tucked into the center. Click on the “Page layout” tab and then “Margins.” At the bottom, click on “Custom Margins.” From the pop-up, click on the “Multiple Pages” drop-down, and select “Mirror Margins.” Then you can adjust the gutter (at the top of this drop-down box) to allow a greater space in the middle of the book.


Mirror Margins

Table of Contents

When you’re book is formatted, go to the front of the book where you want your table of contents to appear. Click on the “References” tab and the “Table of Contents” drop-down on the far left. Click “Insert Table of Contents” at the bottom, and a pop-up will appear. In the tab that is open, at the bottom left, you will see “Show Levels,” which allows you to change how many heading levels appear in the table. If you want to label subheadings but don’t want them in the table, just adjust the number to show “1,” and only chapter titles will appear. You can also adjust the font, size, and spacing of the table if you click the “modify” button on this pop-up and again on the subsequent pop-up. Follow the instructions for adjusting those when you label the body and headings.

Table of Contents


When you’re done, check the ENTIRE BOOK to make sure that you have clean formatting. You don’t want to get your draft copy from the publisher and discover that you mis-numbered the pages or started chapter 2 on the same page that ended chapter 1. Be particularly cautious wherever you inserted section breaks.

If you’re still not sure how to format your manuscript, I have some ready for you to use in my Etsy Shop. Just follow the instructions provided and plug in your own novel! Check them out right here: Cori Wamsley Writing Services Etsy Shop.

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