Editing Tip #68

Manuscript Formatting Secrets, Pt. 2

Using the TAB button vs. Automatic Indent. Everyone is familiar with the Tab button on the computer; it’s a great way to skip a bunch of spaces in a hurry. What might surprise you is that this is a BAD HABIT. Most often it is used to indent the first line of a paragraph… but doing this in your early manuscript will only cause a headache and maybe heartache later.angif-out-of-line

Why? Two reasons in particular…

1)  For Self-Publishing

2)  For Traditional Publishing

For Self-Publishing

Almost any self-publishing site (Kindle Direct, Smashwords, Kobo, Lulu… etc.), whether it’s for e-book or print, will specify that you eliminate any and all Tabbed Spaces in your entire manuscript. This kind of word processing formatting does not work well when your manuscript is turned into an Epub, Mobie or other complex reading file – it does weird things with the spacing and makes your book look unprofessional.

For Traditional Publishing

Working with a small publisher you will likely find that you’re doing a lot of hands-on editing: If you have a tendency to use the word “quite” a lot in your manuscript it will likely be your job to find each and every instance where you use this word and either delete it or change it. Same goes for basic formatting… if you want your book to look a certain way and you ask your publishing editor to go through and delete all your uses of the Tab key not only are you wasting his time but you’re letting him “remember” why a Tab was there in the first place… since we do use that handy button for more than just paragraph indents. As I have not worked directly with a large publishing house, all I can say is if you want more of a say in your final manuscript, do the basics yourself and don’t leave anything to chance.

Troubleshooting Tips

So, you have this 60,000+ word manuscript where you’ve likely indented every paragraph using the Tab key and you don’t want to slog through all those pages to manually correct what you wish you’d known ahead time…

Here’s the fix. But it’s kind of scary and you’ll still need to do some careful editing…

Turn on your word processor’s Paragraph Function. This is often a button that looks like a bold capital letter P with two staffs. If it isn’t readily accessible at the top of your page in the paragraph quick-tools section then you can either do a help-search in the program to find it or try looking in the properties, tools, or options. Unfortunately even different versions of the same program (i.e. MS Word) will have this located in different places.


Once you’ve found the Paragraph Function and turned it on you’ll notice a lot of symbols suddenly appearing on the page. Specifically, the symbol you want is a small vertical arrow at the front of your paragraphs. In Find & Replace either highlight the arrow and copy it into the Find section or just click on the tab button. Then, select Replace All.

This will take away ALL of your paragraphs.

Take a deep breath – it’s okay… trust me.

Next, turn off the Paragraph Function, go into your Paragraph Dialogue Box (in MS Word 7 its the little arrow in the bottom corner of the Paragraph Quick Find box at the top of your page. Click on the little arrow and a box will appear:


Go to the section labeled SPECIAL. Click on the arrow to select “First Line” then in the box beside it labeled “By” make sure it reads 0.5″ for standard manuscript formatting or to 0.3″ for e-book formatting if you’re choosing to indent your e-book paragraphs (otherwise you’ll need a different tutorial for e-book formatting).

Click the OK button at the bottom of the box and watch how your paragraphs magically (automatically) indent themselves.

But you’re not done yet.

Now you need to scan your entire document to make sure everything is where it should be. If you happened to use the Tab key for other purposes in your manuscript, you’ll need to find those sections and follow these instructions:

Highlight the entire section you’d like to have indented.

Go to the top of your page where you see two small arrow heads pointing to each other on a ruler in the left corner.

Click on the higher arrow only and slide it over to where you want it to be. You will see your highlighted section move to where you need it to be. NOTE: Other than using the CENTER button option for centering your work, for e-books you should not exceed an indent of 0.5″. Anything greater and you stand the risk of various devices not reading your intent properly (since font size can be changed, your spacing gets messed up with bigger indents and it doesn’t read well).

And there you go!

Best of luck experimenting with those Tabs 🙂

WARNING: Always make a back up of your original manuscript before you being changing any formatting settings. Practice on a smaller piece of work before taking your new skills to your magnum opus. This will save a lot of heartache.

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Categories: Editing

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