Thursday, November 1, 2012

What Is "Manuscript" and What Should It Look Like When It's Finished?

New authors hear the word manuscript and think it's some magical being that can't be understood by human people persons.

So not true.

Let's take a look at what actual manuscript is and why you shouldn't be afraid of it.

What is it?

Manuscript is nothing more than a book in chapter form in a word processing document, typically Microsoft Word. One chapter per file. No big deal.

How is it formatted?

Each publisher has its own preferences for how a manuscript should be formatted, but here are the basic parameters most of us use. Please do be sure, though, to check each publisher's author page for more specific guidelines.
  • Most publishers want just a plain, unfancified, unstyled (if you don't know what styles are, you'll be all set to roll) Word document.
  • Double-spaced
  • 1-inch margins all around
  • Times or Times New Roman font, 12-point
  • One tab in front of each paragraph except the first paragraph after a heading (for most but not all publishers); no tab in front of first paragraph after a heading
  • NO EXTRA TABS (more on that in a moment)
  • ONE space between sentences, not two
  • Headings in boldface
  • Notations to indicate where photos, illustrations, tables, and other figures should be placed. We use something like this:

There are certainly other parameters, depending on the publisher, type of book, feature set, and so forth, but those are the main ones.

What’s the deal with extra tabs?

I tell you what the deal is with extra tabs. They get in the way!

Notice I said "extra" tabs. Single tabs, as noted above and for other purposes, are fine. It's those double-, triple-, and quadrillion-tabs that mess things up.

It doesn't make any difference what a list or table looks like on the manuscript page; it will all be designed in the final product.

If you want to make a three-column table of information, for instance, just make a table in Word and fill it in. Don't try to make everything line up with tabs and hard returns. If you do that, you'll make your editor go insane, and based on the editors I know (me included), that's not a long trip.