Many Americans want to write a book. How many? Some estimates put the number as high as 200 million.
While 200 million people won’t start writing a book this year, a healthy percentage of them will take the plunge and start a book. Of course, those people will quickly run into a basic problem. You need some kind of software while writing a manuscript.
If not during writing, you can’t escape the need during editing and formatting. If you plan on jumping into the book-writing game, keep reading for an overview of the manuscript format and six pieces of software that will help you write that manuscript.
When writing your manuscript, you can assemble it in any way that makes sense to you. That all changes when you get to the point that you’re ready to submit it to agents or publishers. Over the years, the publishing industry settled on a slightly flexible set of manuscript formatting rules you must follow.
You need a cover page that typically includes the book title, your name, or your preferred pseudonym. You must also provide a current address. You typically center this information around the middle of the page.
Most publishers expect a 12-point, serif font. If they specify, it’s typically Times New Roman.
Spacing, Margins, and Alignment
Traditional publishers and most agents still expect double-spaced manuscripts. However, with so much digital publishing going on, online-only outlets sometimes accept single-space manuscripts. Read the guidelines carefully for each publisher.
One-inch margins are still standard for all manuscripts. Your manuscript should be left-aligned, meaning you get a jagged right edge on the text.
The first sentences in each paragraph should get a .5-inch indent. Save yourself some headaches and make this a document setting instead of using the tab key.
After the title page, every page will need a header that includes your last name, a word or two from the title, and the page number. It’ll look something like this:
Most writing software lets you set the header and page numbers. Now that we’ve covered the essential formatting information, let’s jump into the manuscript software options.
1. Microsoft Word
As will likely surprise no one, Microsoft Word is the default software option for writing manuscripts. It’s a word processing program that lets you apply just about any formatting requirement you can imagine.
A lot of people learn basic word processing in it, so that makes it a natural default for writing manuscripts. It’s also included in options like Microsoft 365 subscriptions or already on some computers.
If you’re an Apple user, you’ll also need some help with running Windows on a Mac to use the original Word software.
On the pros side, it’s familiar, functional, and widely available. On the cons side, it’s a somewhat expensive option if you must buy the software as a standalone program or need a subscription to Office 365.
2. LibreOffice Writer
For those who just need or want a word processing program for writing their manuscript that offers comparable features to Microsoft Word at a lower price point, OfficeLibre is the software for you.
You get a very similar set of formatting options. The software interface strongly resembles the standard Microsoft setup, so it reduces the learning curve.
Plus, it’s free. That’s always a bonus for the cash-strapped writer.
Many people consider Scrivener the Cadillac or Rolls Royce of manuscript writing software. Beyond its essential word processing features, Scrivener offers a host of useful tools for manuscript writing and formatting.
One key example is the outlining feature. This lets you break down your manuscript into sections or subsections with as much detail as you want. For example, you can break down a chapter into scenes.
You also get a digital corkboard. This feature gives you a high-level option to organize and reorganize your manuscript without tedious cutting and pasting.
The pros of Scrivener is the raw power it gives you in writing your manuscript. On the con side, there is a steep learning curve involved. Plus, the Windows version lags behind the Mac version in terms of functions and features.
4. Google Docs
If you’re a child of cloud computing, Google Docs might seem like the most natural option when considering how to write a manuscript. You get it bundled in with a basic Google Mail account.
Google Docs offers all of the essential formatting tools you need for a book. It’s cloud-based, so you can open the document and work on it with just about anything that comes with a digital or physical keyboard. You can also export into most major file formats.
On the downside, it’s cloud-based. That means you need an Internet connection to access the document.
Writing a book and especially writing a novel means a lot of notes. It also means you’ll probably get ideas from a lot of places, like conversations you hear, articles you read, and even dreams. EverNote gives you an easily accessible place to jot down and organize these ideas.
On the pro side, you can get EverNote for desktop, Apple, or Android devices. On the downside, some of the best features require a monthly subscription.
While you may spend a lot of time debating where to write your manuscript, editing your manuscript will always remain a challenge. It’s very easy for your eye to slide past typos and common grammar errors. Enter Grammarly.
Grammarly helps you spot and correct those basic typos and errors. While it’s not 100% accurate, it’s profoundly better than trying to do it all yourself.
Software for Writing a Manuscript and You
Writing a manuscript is a lot of work and software should make that job easier for you. That means picking software that plays to your own level of experience.
While software like Scrivener might offer many features, it won’t help much if you’re not adept at learning new software. If what you know is Word and phone apps, stick with Word and apps like Evernote.
You can always level up to other options later.
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