Category Archives: Formatting Your Manuscript

An Independent Author’s Checklist: What You Need to Have Ready for Ghostwriters, Editors, and Graphic Designers

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As an independent author (a.k.a. “indie author”), you are the project manager of your own book’s production from start to finish, from conception straight through to publication. This may include hiring a freelance ghostwriter (if you choose not to write your book yourself), an experienced editor, and even a professional graphic designer for best results. It all depends on the type of book an indie author wishes to produce.

For example, there are different components involved with designing a paperback book than an ebook of any kind; and there are even more components to consider if that indie author wishes to publish and print a hardcover book. An Independent Author’s Checklist includes an important list of questions indie authors will want to answer for a graphic designer, ahead of time, to ensure the book is completed properly and professionally the first time around. This type of preparation can save time and money for both project stakeholders because it can prevent complete do-overs in cases where the designer was unclear about the indie author’s original vision.

Communication is so important throughout this process—not only with your graphic designer. An indie author will also want to have certain things prepared ahead of time, in certain ways, for both the ghostwriter (if applicable) and the editor. As such, it’s often helpful to have a checklist at your disposal that makes this entire process run as smoothly as possible—particularly for the indie authors who are new to the whole publishing business. That’s why I created An Independent Author’s Checklist and decided to publish it online for indie authors everywhere. I want you all to have as much helpful information as possible at your fingertips, so you all have a positive publishing experience coupled with the best possible chances of success. That is my wish for you.

An Independent Author’s Checklist includes helpful information for indie authors regarding effectively communicating your book’s vision to a ghostwriter. Although some indie authors are both qualified and have the time to write their own books, you might choose to hire someone else to help you create that compelling narrative. Both are acceptable ways to produce a book. That said, when hiring a ghostwriter to help pen your book, it is important for indie authors to remember that ghostwriting is an ongoing, collaborative process (much like the entire publishing process). To make things run smoother, you should be prepared ahead of time.

An Independent Author’s Checklist also includes important guidance for indie authors regarding how to submit one’s manuscript to an editor so that it contains all the information you want edited. For example, some indie authors will only have the main body of their book interiors professionally edited. In that case, often any front matter, back matter, and back cover copy that is added after the fact is riddled with all kinds of spelling errors and typos, diminishing the professional quality of the book. But for indie authors like you who follow the guidelines in this checklist, you’ll avoid these issues and end up with the best possible result.

Eliminate Bad Breaks, Widows, and Orphans for Professional Results

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

There are certain telltale signs that differentiate a traditional trade-published book from a self-published book. There are little subliminal types of things that separate a professionally published, properly edited/proofread book from the rest. Much of this is subconscious. Your average readers will pick up on these things without even realizing it, and this will influence their opinions of your book.

If you want to self-publish your book and you want to ensure the most professional result possible, then it is always wise to hire outside help to catch all these little details for you just as the trade publishers do for their books. In an ideal world, you’ll work with a professional copy editor, designer, and proofreader because they each bring something different to the table that can dramatically improve the quality of your book.

Where a copy editor’s job is to review and improve an author’s raw manuscript, and the graphic designer’s job is to arrange that raw edited text into a professional and appealing layout, a professional proofreader provides yet another set of eyes to ensure that all the components fit together properly and the book is ready for public viewing and printing. The proofreader’s job is to complete the following nine-point check:

Interior Check

• The front matter (such as the table of contents) is accurate and correct.
• The back matter (such as the index) is accurate and correct.
• Headers and footers are accurate and correct.
• Bad breaks, widows, and orphans are eliminated.
• Text is kerned to flow smoothly throughout.
• Margins and trim size all measure properly.
• Spelling and punctuation is correct.

Cover Check

• Spacing, bleeds, and trim size all measure properly.
• Spelling and punctuation is correct.

As shown in the above list, a professional proofreader is someone who is knowledgeable and experienced with both basic language editing (spelling and punctuation) as well as the technical aspects of book design (kerning, bleeds, trim size, et cetera). His or her job is to catch all the “leftovers” such as bad breaks, widows, and orphans that may still be in your book once it has been copy edited and designed.

Bad Breaks, Widows, and Orphans

A book’s interior is usually either justified or flush left as shown in the diagram below.

If you choose justified alignment for your interior, then you have to be especially concerned with bad breaks in words. For example:

The words “curious” and “remember” are badly broken up in the above sample. To avoid this, you can kern that particular block of text either slightly looser or slightly tighter to ensure the full words land on one line rather than breaking up into two lines. Believe me when I say that extra little detail can subliminally affect the quality of your book in other people’s eyes. It takes no time at all to fix it, so I highly recommend that you do.

Widows and orphans are a concern whether your text is justified or flush left as shown in the below image:

As shown above, a widow is a lone word stuck on a line by itself anywhere in a page; whereas, an orphan is a lone one or two words that have landed by themselves on a line, up on the next page. Both of these things affect the flow and professional appearance of a book whether you realize it or not. Professional publishers always ensure these types of issues are eliminated by meticulously kerning certain blocks of text throughout the book (as opposed to adding in extra line breaks or paragraph breaks in random places to try to correct the issue).

Self-publishers should do the same for best results. It will make a subconsciously noticeable difference to your end result by ensuring a more professional product.

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Common Formatting Issues in Microsoft Word: Four Easy Tips for Authors

Lynette M. Smith

Basic formatting knowledge will serve you well throughout your writing career. If you perform some types of basic formatting on your manuscript, you’ll not only prevent distractions as you focus on quality writing, but you’ll likely save money too. Here’s why.

Formatting errors and inconsistencies that remain in your manuscript will distract your copyeditor from performing high quality work while reading. A smart copyeditor scrubs (basic-formats) the manuscript before starting to read, but you’re billed for that time. Even if you tell your copyeditor to disregard the formatting, your book-layout professional will have to resolve these problems later on, and you’ll still be billed for that time.

Figure 1

Here are four common manuscript-formatting issues and how you can address them.

1. First-Line Paragraph Indents

The wrong way: Use the tab key or type a series of blank spaces.

The right way to change only one paragraph indent: Go to the Paragraph window (see Figure 1), click the down arrow, and select First line from the resulting pull-down menu. Then use the vertical arrows to select your preferred amount of indent (either the 0.5” default or something smaller, such as 0.3”, or manually type in a more precise measurement, such as 0.25”).

Figure 2

The right way to change all paragraphs that use the Normal style: Click on the Home ribbon tab. Right-click the Normal style and select Modify to open the Modify Style window (see Figure 2). Here, you can customize the font and font size, and many other options.

When you click the Format button in the lower left corner of that window, you’ll see a pull-down menu with several options; left-click on Paragraph, and the familiar Paragraph window will appear; there you can select First line indent and the amount of indent, plus change other settings, like type of Justification (left vs. full), line spacing, points of extra space below each Normal paragraph, etc. When you finish customizing the settings in the Paragraph window, click OK to return to the Modify Style window.

Once back in the Modify Style window, make sure the radio-button “Only in this document” (located just above the Format button) is selected; then click OK to close the Modify Style window.

Note: In your document later on, you can override this indent for an individual paragraph, such as the first paragraph of a chapter or the first paragraph after a hiatus in a novel. Simply click once in that paragraph, access the regular Paragraph window, and change “First line” to “None.”

Figure 3

2. Spacing between Sentences and Words and after Colons

The wrong way: Type two spaces between sentences, after colons, or anywhere else.

The right way: When you finish your final draft, go to the far right-hand side of the Home ribbon tab and click Replace (within the Editing section) to open the Find and Replace window (see Figure 3). In the “Find what” box, type two spaces (press the space bar twice). In the “Replace with” box, type one space (press the space bar once). Then click Replace All, as circled in Figure 3. Repeat as needed until no occurrences of two spaces remain. (This process also corrects the accidental typing of two spaces between a pair of words.)

Figure 4

3. Horizontal Centering of Titles

The wrong way: Use a combination of spaces and tabs to horizontally center text.

The right way: Left-click once anywhere on the line or paragraph or graphic you wish to center. Then, on the Home ribbon tab, click the icon circled in Figure 4 to center what you’ve selected.


4. Starting a New Page

The wrong way: Press the Enter key repeatedly until the desired text is forced to the top of the next page. The problem with this technique is that, if you later insert or delete text on an earlier page, then the line of text you intended for the top of the new page with will have moved either further down the page or to the bottom of the previous page, forcing you to spend extra time making adjustments—and you’ll likely have to adjust every subsequent chapter too!

The right way: Instead of inserting all those blank lines, insert a manual page break between chapters and/or sections. Here’s how: At the end of your chapter or other major section where you want to begin a new page, strike Control-Enter to insert the manual page break. Your cursor will then be at the top of the next page, where you can type your next chapter heading and content.


When you follow these tips, your formatting will be clean and easy to work with, you can focus better on quality writing, and you can reduce your costs for copyediting and book layout.


Lynette M. Smith works with book authors on their manuscript copyediting and book-layout proofreading in her long-established business, All My Best Copyediting and Heartfelt Publishing ( She is also the published author of the popular 40-page handbook, 80 Common Layout Errors to Flag When Proofreading Book Interiors, as well as the award-winning comprehensive reference book, How to Write Heartfelt Letters to Treasure: For Special Occasions and Occasions Made Special. Contact Lynette through her copyediting website, publishing website, or email , and follow her on LinkedIn and Facebook.

© Lynette M. Smith 2017