Industry Standard Formatting

Are you a struggling writer? Have you sent off dozens of manuscripts to publishing houses and heard nothing back? Well, chances are there is a very simple mistake you are making, and this can be the difference between your work getting published or thrown in the bin.

I’m going to let you in on a little industry secret.

On my first day of TAFE, our teacher sat us down and taught us one of the most vital tools for writing: formatting. Throughout my two years at TAFE, this was drilled into us — and we were well informed of the stakes at risk if we submitted our work to publishers, and our work did not look up to standard. Unfortunately, when I went to University, I was in third year level writing classes, and not a single person in my class knew about this general rule of thumb. This, in my opinion, buts all these young and emerging writers at a huge disadvantage.

Many, if not all, publishing houses ask for manuscript submissions to be sent in a particular formatting. Chances are they will even say this on their website, right where you click to submit your manuscript. If you submit your work in single space, 10pt Ariel font, I guarantee your work is going on the slush pile, without even being read. It’s harsh but it’s true.

So, why are publishing houses so cutthroat? Firstly, if you can’t follow the basic instructions set on their website, they may not see you as a professional. The manuscript you’ve spent the last 5 years slaving over may be the next Harry Potter, but an editor isn’t going to want to read it if it looks like this:


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The brutal truth here is that time is money. An editor or publisher doesn’t have the time to look at your manuscript that, on first glance, looks unprofessional. However, if your work looks like this, your chances of being read and published should greatly improve:

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So, how do we format our work?

Step 1: Highlight your text.

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Step 2: Right click, and go to Paragraph

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Step 3: Ideally, you’ll want either 1.5 or Double Spaced lines (typically Double Spaced). Next, go to Special and click First Line; you’ll want something between 0.5 – 1cm line indention. Lastly, for Spacing choose 0cm Left and Right, and make sure you click the box saying Don’t Add Spacing Between Paragraphs.

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Step 4: Change your font to a Serif font (which we covered in Serif vs Sans-Serif Fonts), and 12pt size.

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Step 5: While all paragraph lines must have a left indentation, this is not the case for our first line. For every First line, whether that be the start of a chapter, or after a paragraph break, your first line must be hard against the margin.

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Step 6: Finally, change your text alignment from Left to Justified (you can either click the above button, or press ctrl + J).

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And there you go. Your work is now formatted to industry standards.


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