Manuscript formatting can make or break your success as an author. Also, a great way to save on editing costs, is to deliver a presentable manuscript to your editor. See, if you deliver a sloppy manuscript, it will take your editor forever to tidy it up, and that will ultimately cost you money (time = money).
Not only is a sloppy manuscript hard to edit, but it sends a message that you don’t care much for your work. An editor will tidy it up to some extent to make it workable, but if you somehow forget to have it tidied up by a formatter after the fact, bad formatting may end up distracting your readers, and you will be labeled as an amateur.
It all starts with understanding the limitations of an editor. Your editor fixes your words – doing what she can with what she has. A mediocre book can be turned into a great book with comprehensive editing. A well-written book can be turned into a sparkling work of art with basic editing. But your editor is not responsible for your formatting, artwork and layout – unless agreed upon from the start.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the things you can do to save your editor time, which will save you money and your reputation.
Most Common Manuscript Formatting Errors
So much can go wrong with a book, but there are a few common errors that many writers make. Apply the correct strategies from the start, and you will develop good habits early on. If you have already made these mistakes, you can correct them and make the conversion proces as simple as possible.
Most editors use Microsoft Word to edit books because of its comprehensive feature set, but you can also apply many of these fixes in Google Docs.
The first thing we were taught when learning to type, was to use two spaces after a period. It had to do with the character width on typewriters and the double space improved readability. However, thanks to computer fonts, we don’t need that anymore. One space will suffice, provided it is uniform throughout the book.
Most traditional publishers use the Chicago Manual of Style, which recognizes the importance of one space in manuscript formatting.
If you’ve used double spaces, use the Find and Replace function to correct it:
- In the Find field, enter two spaces.
- In the Replace field, enter one space.
- Click on Replace All.
2. Quotes and Apostrophe
Punctuation errors can really highlight a person’s novice status… Over-using quotation marks can be annoying to the reader, so be cautious. They are rarely needed in common expressions.
Use quotation marks when you’re:
…quoting a person verbatim, or when one of your characters is talking.
… trying to set off ironic terms.
An apostrophe is used to show possession, or to create a contraction.
Use an apostrophe when you’re:
… trying to highlight that something belongs to someone, i.e. Sarah’s phone.
… writing a contraction, such as: It’s raining men. It’s Tuesday. We’re going to write a book. We’ve read the punctuation rules.
Do NOT use an apostrophe in plural form, such as: We eat meatloaf of Tuesday’s and put our phone’s away during dinner.
3. Fonts and Colors
While writing, you may use different colors and fonts to help you remember things you want to change or add. However, it’s important to clean this up before sending it to your editor or formatter.
- In Word, click on Select All
- Choose a Style from the drop-down menu and select your fonts and sizes.
4. Table of Contents
If you’re inserting a table of contents – which you should for non-fiction – be sure to use your word processor’s automated function. For that to work, you also have to use the H-tags function. Use H1 for the main chapter headers, and H2 and H3 for subsequent sub-headers.
Remember to update your ToC before sending your manuscript on for editing, manuscript formatting and publishing.
5. Excessive White Spaces
In typing class, we learned to use Enter to go to create a new page or to go to the next page. However, when it comes to an ebook, you can’t just hit enter. It will only create headaches and complications when it comes to publishing your book according to the appropriate page size.
When you reach the end of your page or chapter, rather insert a page break, which will ensure that your new page remains such even after the page size has been changed.
6. Paragraph Styles
When it comes to manuscript formatting of your book, you need to decide between block paragraphs and indentation. Modern non-fiction books typically use block paragraphs, except for memoirs and historical fiction. Block paragraphs are suitable to books that contain complex information as it contains a single line space that allows the brain to process a single piece of information at a time.
Indents allow thoughts to flow smoothly together, which is important in fiction, especially.
Some writers do mix the two formats on purpose, and the choice is yours, but be wise about it. Too much mixing will make your book look sloppy.
7. Avoid Hard Indents
Another bad habit learned in typing class is the use of hard indents – using the Tab key to create an indent at the start of a new paragraph. An indent is fine, but the Tab key makes is much bigger than necessary.
Fiction writing needs only a small indent, while non-fiction should be block paragraphs.
In Word, you can simply adjust your paragraph settings to create your indentations automatically.
- Navigate to Paragraph settings.
- Select Indents and Spacing
- Under Special, select First Line and adjust your sizes.
If your book is already written and you want to fix it, here’s what you can do:
- Open the Find and Replace dialogue
- In the Find field, enter t
- Leave the Replace field blank
- Click on Replace All
In future, be sure to create your Paragraph settings right from the start and start good manuscript formatting habits.
Now this does not relate to manuscript formatting but warrants a mention. You’ve heard that prolific writers avoid the word ‘very’. Well, there’s one word that frustrates your editor worse than very, and that’s ‘got’ or ‘get’.
- When we got there… NO! When we ARRIVED there!
- His dad didn’t get him a new puppy, be BOUGHT him a new puppy!
There you have it. Everything you need to create a beautiful manuscript!