Home : A Manuscript is Not a Book: Ten Tips for Manuscript Preparation

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A Manuscript is Not a Book: Ten Tips for Manuscript Preparation — 25 Comments

  1. Looks like the comment I thought real hard back when I first read this never transferred itself from my brain to the screen.

    The biggest challenge I’ve faced in formatting others’ work is removing their efforts to be helpful without understanding how a word processor works.

    Authors who learn that the screen is not print, investing an hour or two understanding the stuff you explain here, will improve their working relationships with everyone in their, er, supply chain.

  2. Plenty of food for thought in the article and in the replies. The idea of returning to copies of edited material is an excellent one, especially if the editor has had to do a lot of work on the manuscript. I can imagine that a heavily edited text could be confusing. I do occasional copy editing or “smoothing” of texts related to mosquito control and research for authors for whom English is a second language and who wish to publish in English-language journals and can imagine how much more easily my work would be understood if the author could compare the clean copy with the marked one. The two-copy plan is ideal if you also want to help the writer become more familiar with idiosyncrasies of the English language, an appealing idea for one who in a former life taught English at the college level.

  3. Thanks for a very informative article (even though it did make me want to hide under the blankets and shiver in anxiety a bit). Most of my writing was done on typewriters or early word processors and manuscript submissions were always sent in hard copy. I have so much to relearn, or more accurately, so much to unlearn!

  4. Gosh! I am sure all this is wonderful, but is it not American? The Chicago Manual of style may do over there but here (UK) we do things a little differently. I have spent miserable hours working with an American editor who – in my view – completely upset what had been written.

    PS I just hate the so called emdash, it looks as if you are trying to tie to words together rather than parenthesize a phrase.

    • This has nothing to do with CMOS. It’s all about the basics of using a word processor correctly. As for emdashes, they’ve been around the English language fort a long time—on both sides of the Atlantic. And an emdash should not be used to tie words together. That’s what hyphens are for.

  5. As an editor, I second most of the advice but I do have a different perspective:
    – When the manuscript is to be edited on hard copy (paper), it really should be double-spaced, not 1.5. Most editors don’t write as small as I do and even I have trouble printing neatly in a space and a half, though that’s fine for onscreen editing.
    – There are reasons why many editors still want manuscripts submitted in Courier 12 rather than more elegant proportional fonts, especially for body text (and *please* use “align left” rather than full justification!): namely, that makes it so much easier to read quickly and still spot hard-to-see errors (e.g., comma in place of full stop, tiny superscript upper case vs. lower case “X”…) than if the wordprocessor has been allowed to imitate typeset copy.
    – Not all publishers (or literary agents) have the same requirements when it comes to submissions, let alone book or journal style design. It may seem like a terrible nuisance to writers and typesetters but it’s important to follow the instructions to the letter, even if that means using two hyphens or a spaced en-dash instead of an em-dash, underlines in place of italics or whatever.

    Finally, there is a distinction to be made between the act of writing and the act of editing—even when the author does both! My advice: when writing, *just* write; get the right words onto the page and don’t worry about formatting beyond “keep it simple” and “be consistent.”

    At the editing stage, it is easy enough to run through the manuscript file at the very end to fix the typographical issues without reading the text again. This normally part of a copy-editor’s job because few authors know exactly what a given publisher wants or have the habit of ensuring the manuscript complies consistently with the publisher’s workflow.

    One of the blessings of onscreen editing is how easy it is to do a last-minute “replace all” to turn those double hyphens into the right sort of dashes and strip out stray extra spaces after full stops or replace them with em-spaces. Another is the template provided by wise publishers to ensure that the styles applied during editing will convert properly into their typesetting software. But anyone who edits for many authors soon learns to expect inconsistencies of format and style: the “hobgoblin of small minds” is the copy-editor’s bread and butter.

    • I can’t think of a reason to edit on paper any more. The back and forth and extra typing would be a deal-breaker for me, and at a some point, the manuscript has to be typed into some sort of digital form anyway. I always pull paper proofs and I always find errors on paper that aren’t visible on screen, but I can’t imagine editing without an annotation/track changes tool.

      Courier 12? I can see how it might be easier to spot missing or extra punctuation. I don’t think I’ll switch but I can see the value. Interesting.

      Your distinction between writing and editing is valid and important, but I see no reason why writers shouldn’t learn how paragraph margins and section breaks work. Why not learn a few good habits that make the process easier for editor and writer alike? If the writer uses multiple returns to create section breaks and the editor suggests removing 2 paragraphs, the entire book’s pagination gets ruined long before the work gets to a typesetter.

      I assume I will always have to leverage “the blessings of onscreen editing” but as a writer myself., I see the value of starting the process with word one.

      Thanks for writing.

      • You’re very welcome. I should clarify the hard-copy issue, though. Even though most editors work onscreen with electronic files, it’s simply a fact that the convenience of applying styles and formats, adding hyperlinks to facilitate work, etc., don’t negate the advantages of hard copy…especially for us home-office types who don’t have extra-large displays or perfect eyesight. Having just spent the better part of 36 hours staring at the screen, I’m by no means sure I caught everything in the file I just sent out—but I’m absolutely sure I caught everything in the bibliography because I printed it to pick up those niggly details one sometimes misses onscreen. I haven’t printed a whole book ms. in about three years but there is no way I won’t check a bibliography, index or other complex matter on paper after doing the preliminary work onscreen and before sending the file to the client. By the way, I’m not the only editor who feels that way: we often talk amongst ourselves about the pros and cons of onscreen work, and most agree some things are just easier to get right with marked-up hard copy in hand while we type corrections and queries into digital files..

        • I proofread for a book publisher who used to send me the hard copy showing all the edited changes. I really liked it because sometimes they would refer to something they had deleted earlier, or sometimes words were left out in the print-out and I could look back and see what they were. Then–I’m sure in the interest of economy–the editors now do the editing on the screen, I still get two copies, but the original now only shows formatting instructions. I miss seeing the hard copy, and don’t feel I’m doing as good a job catching things as I did before.

          • The great thing about the “track changes” feature in Word (one of the few great things about it in my opinion) is that you can display the original document or the modified version. Watch for a future post on this tool.

          • When I edit a manuscript for an author, I send them back two copies: One using the Tracking feature so they can see the corrections in red, and then I send them back a clean copy, showing how it will read with the corrections made.

          • The tracking feature allows you to “show revisions” or “show original.” You can also view either form with or without annotations. Your second copy is unnecessary.

          • That’s one aspect a person not in professional editorial work might not understand.
            Another is the limited usefulness of Word (a.k.a. Weird) and “Track Changes” when large book files are passed around and worked on by people with different jobs and skill levels (not to mention Word’s propensity to crash at the least convenient times and sometimes render a file unrecoverable.)
            Most editors *do* use “Track Changes” when required (which is almost always these days, though I do it in non-M$ software that crashes less) but that doesn’t mean one doesn’t need that second copy with all changes accepted. The *press* doesn’t necessarily need it but that doesn’t mean it’s not helpful.
            1) The clean file is less bloated and less crash-prone.
            2) One might well want to give the clean file to the author—who might find the tracking confusing (especially with a complex house style sheet) or embarrassing (if the editor has to work a lot over their sentences for grammar and sense)—and let him or her make fewer changes (with or without tracking) than would happen if he or she were to second-guess every single correction the editor made.
            Of course the project editor could make the clean file in-house from the tracked one, but they let the copy-editor do it to save time and cost.
            By the way, the publisher I dealt with yesterday is very clear on wanting that second copy…and somewhat more cryptic about which changes should be tracked and which not. It can be something of a pain for a freelancer to remember when to switch tracking off and on for presses with different requirement, and I blush to admit I forgot to turn it off for a pass dealing mostly with formatting issues.

  6. Great information, Dave. I shall read and re-read, and undoubtedly my book designer’s time will be cut considerably. One particularly interesting piece of info from Donna: In my writers’ group we had quite a controversial discussion on the “emdash.” Even the English teacher had it wrong! Thanks, Donna.

  7. This is good information, especially only one space after a period. In proofreading or editing manuscript I often have to remove these (and it’s easy with Search and Replace). The only things I would add are: I use a lot of Word shortcuts. You said that typing two hyphens won’t make an emdash. They will after you type the next word and hit the space bar. Also you can make an emdash by clicking on Ctrl, Alt, and the minus key on the number pad. Also, to center a title (or anything else), you can use Ctrl e, and after your last line on a page, instead of scrolling down, you can click on Ctrl Enter.

    • Some word processors will substitute characters and some won’t. You’re correct, but very few writers no how to make an emdash or when to use use an endash. See Most type double primes for quotes. It’s great when word processors think for us correctly but that doesn’t always go as planned.

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