I want to use a text editor (Emacs) to write a novel because I don't want to consider page layout and other similar issues. I want to use the Markdown format so that I can convert it to the docx format using Pandoc if and when I prepare a manuscript for submission to publishers.

How should I format the Markdown text so as to minimise rework on the manuscript post-conversion to docx?

  • Does it have to be docx? What about a complete PDF, which Pandoc can give you directly?
    – daniero
    May 31, 2013 at 20:03
  • Afraid so, because of manuscript submission requirements. May 31, 2013 at 21:23

2 Answers 2


This is my sort of question, since I have basically the same setup as you do (except I use Vim, not Emacs.)

My novel text looks like this:

% Novel Title

# Title 1

Text goes here.

# Title 2

More text goes here.

This works fine for me, since Pandoc wants to convert the top-level section markers # into chapter breaks, exactly as intended. The only snag is that there isn't any easy way to indicate scene breaks, so I wound up using a literal \# to mark scene breaks (since the # is the scene break marker in standard manuscript format). I pass the author information and other metadata as variables on the command line when I invoke Pandoc.

Depending on how fancy you want your output to look, it may be worthwhile to get your text through an intermediate format such as RTF. The RTF format is human-readable (in theory), and Pandoc lets you create the RTF doc from a template so that you can specify your fonts, headers, etc. Note, however, that getting a good RTF template set up could take you several hours of experimentation.

  • But those 'several hours of experimentation' are a one-time deal, no? Since the MS format is largely consistent among publishers, only one markdown->RTF template should be needed, if I understand correctly. In other words: apart from the time it'd take, is this detour technically worth it?
    – Mussri
    May 25, 2013 at 8:27
  • 1
    Have you tried using --------- at the beginning of a line (becomes an <hr> when rendered to HTML, and looks reasonable when I've generated PDF with pandoc)?
    – bstpierre
    May 25, 2013 at 16:03
  • 1
    @Mussri, yep, your experimentation should be valid universally. In fact, I may put my own templates up someplace public, since they should be usable for nearly everyone. May 27, 2013 at 19:39

I use LaTeX.

It allows the use of any kind of text editor.
It’s distraction free.
Since it’s based on classes, you won’t have to worry at all about what is the best way to format, since anybody who gets your manuscript will have it formatted — without changing anything — in the way they want.

You will have a hard time converting it to docx, but it’s really simple to convert it to PDF. Most LaTeX editors already have a compiler.

Besides, since LaTeX is written in plain text, you can use tools like Github or Bitbucket to keep track of all the changes you and your editor make.

Here is a small LaTeX class I use in my documents, just as an example.

  • Basically everything you said about Latex, except classes, applies for Markdown as well, and Markdown is even more distraction free. Pandoc converts painlessly from Markdown to Latex and other formats, including .docx, or directly to PDF through Latex.
    – daniero
    May 31, 2013 at 20:01
  • I'm checking this pandoc right now to see how it works... I really like Latex but I'm very open minded. Uhn... It's just a converter. Markup is too simple for me but, in any case, it was good to know about this Pandoc May 31, 2013 at 20:13
  • 1
    I really like Latex too. Especially the idea behind it, but I think the syntax is somewhat dated. Achieving simple things like lists takes too long, and the long \backslashcommands{} are distracting.Markup is simple indeed, and that's the point. Pandoc is however -- slightly -- more than a converter. It extends the Markdown language so that you can use for instance BibTex citations (for academic writing mostly), and if you're somewhat technical you can make add-ons or filters for it. I'm currently writing my master thesis using a mix of Latex templates, Markdown and Pandoc. Works great!
    – daniero
    May 31, 2013 at 21:28
  • Ok, you convinced me. I'll look into it with other eyes. You are right when you say latex syntax is outdated. If pandoc really extends markup in the way toy told, work a second look. Thanks May 31, 2013 at 21:40

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