Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Manuscript typing -- writing tip

Question: I received a return from an e-book publisher (not you, okay, I know you don't do erotica) and she commented that the sex was well done, the story a good one, but the manuscript would be time-consuming and  "a mess to work with," though they'd take another look if I could fix it.  No instructions on how to fix it were included. You're a publisher. Any idea what might constitute a "mess," Arline?

Answer: Well I have not seen this. You were my student, and at some time we surely addressed how to type a ms., so all I can do here is give you a list of the things that make me think "mess" when I see a ms. that has been submitted for us to publish. I'm reluctant to accept any of the following for publication no matter how good it is.

Anything that makes more work for the editor. Stories where characters go upstairs when they are already upstairs; stories with same characters named Calvin on one page and Carlton on another. Seriously, it happens. I saw one recently where the protagonist went from Annabel, to Annabelle, to Annabella, and finally (last third of the book) to Arabella.  Same young Regency miss, I kid you not.

Manuscripts typed in block paragraphs with a space between, like a letter, always require the editor to remove those extra blank lines. Yes, all of them. Every single one! Because of the word processing code embedded in the text, this usually can't be done just by searching for two returns and replacing with one. So that's a time-consuming problem for starters. Whenever I see a manuscript like this, my jaw clenches.

Manuscripts with no clearly marked scene breaks.  When I taught, I used to advise students to use * * * on the blank lines between scenes, so they didn't get lost or closed up during typesetting. If you did that, you're okay, but if you just used a couple of extra blank lines, they will have disappeared with the #1 above so there would be no clear indicator of where your scenes begin and end by now.

Manuscripts typed as if working on a typewriter, with a return at the end of every line, are almost impossible, too. Each of those extra returns would have to be taken out by hand and I'd say no to anything typed like that.  ONLY use One return at the end of Every paragraph. If you do that, the typesetting program (ALL of them, I promise you) will know where to put the indents.

Be consistent in using indicators. When you indent your paragraphs, for instance. Don't use a Left Tab to indent one time, and type five spaces the next time. Especially don't type five spaces for one paragraph, six for the next, seven for another and so on. MOST typesetting programs insert their own indentations. If you use stars to indicate a scene break, make sure it is always the same number of stars.  So whatever you do, always do it the same way to make it easy to "search" and "replace" if that becomes necessary. If not, your manuscript may all look uniform on theprinted page, but they will cause problems for publishers at the lay-out and typesetting stages.

Remember, it's not like it used to be -- especially for small Publishers. They used to have an editor to look at the writing and decide if it was good enough, suggest changes in plot and character to the author, and take the time to reread the ms. after those changes were made; a copy editor read the whole thing again to check grammar and facts; after that a typesetter worked on the whole manuscript to actually set the type; and a proofreader checked the printed product, to check again for typos. Now one person with a computer does all that. And she runs spell check, just like you did.

Manuscripts are expected to be correct and READY TO GO when they arrive! Publishers will ask to have the text on disk or in electronic format and they will use the file YOU HAVE TYPED to typeset your pages.

With computers involved, especially those that produce all the translations for different brands of e-readers it is best to stay way from all caps, and foreign words with special accents and punctuation. Computers can, and will, turn those to gibberish if left to their own devices.

Use Italics correctly and only when positively needed.

Remember to use the dictionary.  Don't trust spell check too far.  If you type makeup, spell check will flag it and say it's two words. It does this all the time for compound words and that is the way it is programmed to respond to compound words -- as if they should be two separate words. If you hook them up with a hyphen -- make-up -- then spell check will pass it, because it fails to notice hyphens.  But if you look in the dictionary, you will learn that make-up is a test you take if you were absent and makeup (yes, all one word) is what you slap on your face.

Remember too, to use US spelling and grammar checkers if you are submitting to a US publisher. I have one author  who swears by the Oxford English Dictionary as the final authority on spelling. But it was created for the students at Oxford University and they live in England, where you might check spelling, but cash a cheque.  If you're sending your romance to Harlequin (a British company) then Oxford English is great. But if you're located on this side of the pond better to use a Mirriam-Webster's dictionary. There's a good one at

That's the best I can tell you.

No comments:

Post a Comment