10 Quick Tips to Get Your Manuscript Ready for Publication

by | Jun 25, 2012

One of the first decisions you have to make when you decide to publish your own book is: Who’s going to turn your manuscript into the book you want it to become?

Lots of people decide they can do it themselves, and I’m sure some of them are happy they did. For others, the whole process of learning about book design, pagination, fonts and the rest of it just isn’t the way they want to spend their time.

As an author you can decide to hire a book designer, either on their own or through a company that provides access to contractors.

But that’s not the end of the story. You still have to prepare your manuscript for publishing. Let me tell you, as someone who has worked on hundreds of authors’ manuscripts, it makes a big difference to your book designer how clean the file is when it hits her hard drive.

A messy manuscript takes longer to tidy up so it doesn’t cause problems when you get it into your layout software.

How can you help? Here are ten tips on how to get your manuscript ready for production. Keep in mind you only want to start doing this once you’re sure—no, I mean really sure—that your manuscript is final, ready for print.

Okay, now that you’re ready, let’s dive in.

  1. Get rid of extra spaces. Whether you’ve used them for spacing or between sentences, your file should contain no double spaces at all.
  2. Get rid of extra paragraph returns. We space things out so they look nice on the screen, but we don’t need or want them for typesetting. Your file should have no double paragraph returns in it.
  3. Style, don’t format. When you highlight and format a piece of text, it may not survive the transition to the layout software. But if you learn to use styles your document will be more consistent and all the styles will translate just fine.
  4. Account for unusual characters. If your manuscript uses unusual accents or other diacritical marks, make sure your designer knows in advance. They’ll be able to tell you the best way to ensure they are accurately translated.
  5. Eliminate underlines. In book typography, we use italic fonts for emphasis, and almost never use underlines, not even for URLs.
  6. Eliminate bold in your text. See #5, above. Although bold is often used for headings and subheadings, it doesn’t belong in the body of your text, use italic instead.
  7. Resolve markups. Sometimes manuscripts arrive with unresolved issues in the markup, perhaps from an early reader or an editor. Your designer won’t know how to resolve them before the file is stripped of its code and ported to layout software.
  8. Check for completeness. It’s very common for some parts of your book to arrive later than other parts. For instance, you might be waiting for a Library of Congress number or a CIP block, or there might be permissions late to arrive, or an index that will be dropped in after everything else is done. But don’t send a manuscript off to production if it’s missing major elements, whole chapters, some dialogue you’ll “be finished with in the morning,” or the rest of the quotes you want at the chapter openings, but haven’t picked yet. All of this makes the production of your book less efficient and more prone to errors.
  9. Find and eliminate errant spaces. This is a tricky one, but will be caught in a close reading. You are proofreading before you go to press, right? What happens here, especially in books that are heavy with dialogue, is that a space will creep into the wrong place. You can’t catch these by searching for two spaces in a row. For instance, a space before a closing quote might turn it into an open quote when it gets to typesetting.
  10. Proofread a monospaced copy. Every one of the errors I’ve talked about here is easier to spot if you do this last one. Save a copy of your book manuscript and change it to a monospaced font like Courier. You can use 10 point or 11 point and set your line spacing to 1.5 lines or double spacing and print it out or make a PDF. Then proofread that one, you’ll be amazed at the things that pop out that you completely missed when you read it in Garamond or Times New Roman.

Here are 2 reasons to spend some time prepping your files:

  • To help keep your book on schedule
  • To avoid errors that can migrate into your final print or e-book files

Following this list is going to make your file prep tasks that much easier. Are there any special things you do when getting a manuscript ready for publication?

Originally published as 10 Tips for Prepping Your Manuscript: A Self-Publishers’ Checklist on Write NonFiction in November.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Ann

    Thanks so much. I guess that means I will have to log into Paragraph formatting each time I want to insert a space after a graph. Right?

  2. Ann Prospero

    Hi, Great suggestions. Some of them I actually use. However, I don’t really understand the suggestion to create extra space by using the paragraph style. Here’s a quote: “The preferred way to create the extra space is to modify your standard text paragraph style to create another style that adds in the space below the paragraph where you want the line break to occur. This way, the software puts it in everywhere it’s needed, and takes it out if the paragraph is at the bottom of a page, resulting in no possibility of that space happening at the top of the column.” How do you do this?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Ann,

      In Word you would use the “Spacing After” setting in the Paragraph Formatting dialog. Similarly, in InDesign use the “Space After” in paragraph formatting.

  3. Katie McAleece

    So helpful, as always. And I do appreciate you taking the time to respond to most, if not all, of the comments that your readers post. I respect that! Thank you for this really informative post. I reference your sight quite often (:

  4. bowerbird

    i should’ve added that a macro can be handy, as is
    a tool that does these kinds of checks automatically.

    but maybe my obsession with keeping my text clean
    _all_the_time_ is a bit over-the-top, i dunno… ;+)


  5. bowerbird

    good advice throughout, joel…

    except i’m not sure why you say
    people only need to worry about
    these things when the manuscript
    is “final, ready to print”, since they
    can guard against these problems
    during the normal process of writing.

    plus, sometimes doing a “cleanup”
    can help a writer overcome a block,
    by restimulating their motivation…

    and again, good advice throughout.


    • Joel Friedlander

      Well, you are correct bowerbird, authors can do this cleanup any time they want. My advice to wait for “final” was for those who only want to do it once. Thanks for pointing that out.

  6. chris

    Joel, Michael, and Ross…thanks for the explanations. That makes perfect sense.

  7. Ross Lampert

    Hi, Joel. Good info, even just for proofreading in general, but I’m going to partially disagree with you on one point: eliminating ALL extra paragraph returns. Some ARE needed, such as at a scene or section break. However, you’re right that extra space, either as a paragraph return or as a paragraph formatting default after every paragraph is unnecessary.

    Here are a couple tips on how to easily take care of a couple of other things you mentioned:
    – Extra spaces (especially double spaces): use global find and replace to search for all double spaces and replace them with single spaces. Note that you need to run this until the software reports no more instances were found. [Chris: two spaces after the end of a sentence dates back to the days of manual typesetting. It’s not necessary anymore and once you get used to single spaces after a sentence, it becomes a non-problem.]
    – Extra spaces in odd places. Global find and replace to the rescue again! MS Word has a programming quirk in which it inserts a space before an opening quotation mark at the beginning of a paragraph when that quote moved to the start via editing. To fix that, I do a global search and replace for paragraph return-space-open quote (^p “) in Word’s find-and-replace symbology) and have it replaced with ^p”. Excess spaces before closing quotes can be taken care of the same way: search for . ” or ? ” and have all instances replaced with .” or ?” as appropriate.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hey Ross,

      I dealt with the Word search-and-replace tasks in Book Page Layout Preparations: Cleaning Up Your Word Files which deserves a look.

      On the subject of extra line breaks, I’m talking about line breaks inserted for the purpose of spacing, and in that case they are both unnecessary and a potential liablity because at some point you will end up with an empty line at the top of a page, a clear error.

      The preferred way to create the extra space is to modify your standard text paragraph style to create another style that adds in the space below the paragraph where you want the line break to occur. This way, the software puts it in everywhere it’s needed, and takes it out if the paragraph is at the bottom of a page, resulting in no possibility of that space happening at the top of the column.

      Hope that helps.

  8. chris

    I don’t get #1. I was taught to double-space between the end of one sentence and the start of the next. It helps with read-ability. What is the reason for going with single-spacing?

    • Michael N. Marcus

      The extra space between sentences is an artifact of ancient monospaced typewriters (also called fixed-width, fixed-pitch and non-proportional). They provided the same width for all characters, regardless of size. An “i” was as wide as an “m.”

      There was too much space around narrow letters and too little space around the wide ones. This made typewritten documents noticeably different and graphically inferior to those produced by typesetting—which permitted different widths as needed.

      After years of research, and a delay caused by World War II, IBM introduced the “Executive” typewriter with proportional spacing in 1946.

      Although the Executives and the Selectrics that followed in the 1960s became very popular in business, they were generally too expensive for home use or for school typing classes, so kids were taught to insert an extra space to make it easier to spot the beginning of a sentence.

      With modern computers and word processing software, each letter and punctuation mark get the appropriate width and adjacent space. Periods hug the words they are attached to. There is no need to allow extra space between sentences, and a document will look weird if you do add space.

      (from my upcoming No More Ugly Books. https://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing/bookdesign.html

      • Joel Friedlander


        The double space is a relic left over from the days of typewriters and has persisted into the era of word processors. In typeset books the double space is both an error and a potential liability because it creates the inevitable situation of having a line start with a space. Just don’t do it in something intended to be typeset.

  9. Michael N. Marcus

    An addendum to #4, about unusual characters: Many items chosen from Word’s symbol selection are not rendered properly in all web browsers and will instead appear as question marks or other improper symbols. If you are producing a website or blog with symbols, it’s important to view it in IE, Chrome, Firefox and Safari, and maybe on a Mac as well as a PC, plus a smart phone and a tablet. While it might seem simpler and safer just to avoid symbols, even basic bullets may not show up properly all of the time.

    Similar problems can happen with robotic e-book conversions.

    For e-books and p-books: view your work as a word processing document, a PDF and a paper proof (from your own printer or the UPS Store), plus a bound proof. Different errors will become apparent in each format.

    When do you stop checking? When you or your editor can can read through the entire book and not find even one thing that needs fixing.

    Also, viewing a page with 200% magnification will help to spot extra spaces, and improper punctuation such as comma/period switches and single quote marks that should be doubles.

    Michael N. Marcus

    • Joel Friedlander

      Michael, I really like your tip about looking at an enlarged proof to spot extra spaces and swapped periods/commas, thanks for that.



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