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By Joe Coccaro

Reputable publishers get flooded with manuscripts, which we welcome. Our job is to assess their literary and commercial viability. Writers who submit manuscripts that are properly formatted significantly increase the odds of getting—and then holding—a publisher or editor’s attention.

As executive editor of a mid-sized Indie publishing house, I review hundreds of submissions a year. A properly formatted manuscript enables me to concentrate on literary quality—pacing, cadence, word efficiency, verb-tense agreement, plot, transition.  Convoluted manuscripts distract my focus and, as such, my desire to evaluate a work.

Poorly formatted manuscripts suggest—at least to me—that a writer lacks attention to detail, that their work is haphazard, or, worse, that they are lazy. If true, this implies that we will have to invest a lot of time cleaning up and shaping a work. In the publishing world, time is currency.

Editors understand that not every writer—in fact few—have mastered all the rules of style. We abide by The Chicago Manual of Style, which is a monstrosity of rules. I still stumble on many of CMS’ arcane tenants. That’s why we employ skilled copy editors who know this stuff.

 Despite the complexity of CMS, there are a few basics that every writer should comply with to project at least a modicum of professionalism. Doing so will improve first impressions and help to get your manuscript serious consideration. Here are my top-ten formatting tips:


1. Start each chapter on a new page.

2. Keep chapter titles concise and distinctive.

3. Double space all lines.

4. Indent the first line of each paragraph.

5. Use proper quotation placement and style.

6. Spellcheck your document.

7. Use a clean font like Times-Roman.

8. Include a Table of Contents if submitting a work on non-fiction.

9. Properly format dialogue if submitting fictional work.

10. Use commas, dashes, and hyphens properly.


Joe Coccaro is executive editor and vice president of Koehler Books. Joe welcomes questions about book writing and publishing. Contact him at joe@koehlerbooks.com.