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.
- Get rid of extra spaces. Whether you’ve used them for spacing or between sentences, your file should contain no double spaces at all.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Eliminate underlines. In book typography, we use italic fonts for emphasis, and almost never use underlines, not even for URLs.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.