Save Time and Money: Prepare Your Manuscript the Right Way

How to prepare your manuscript


How to Prepare Your Manuscript

It’s never too soon to be getting your manuscript ready for production: the process of turning your file into a finished print book or ebook.

You can avoid a lot of production headaches if you set up your manuscript the right way—the professional way—and work smart from the start. Your manuscript will be more organized (which makes writing easier) and ready to send out as soon as it’s edited and proofed. You won’t have to spend hours cleaning it up afterward.

But that’s not all. Giving your book designer a well-prepared manuscript will help them complete your book faster, keep costs down, and reduce the chance of errors in your final print or ebook file.

Here’s what your book designer wants you to know the day you begin writing.

1. Use document styles and use them consistently.

Styles are pre-defined formatting instructions that you can use repeatedly throughout a document. If you’ve never worked with styles, start now. They’re a great tool that will make your writing life simpler and create a clean, professional manuscript.

When you work with styles, each element in your manuscript (chapter titles, headings, body copy, quotations, etc) gets its own style tag, which stores the formatting commands. Then when you want to format something—let’s say chapter titles—you just design your “chapter title” style, and all your chapter titles will update at once.

Using styles helps during both writing and production. Writing is easier if your manuscript is clean and organized. And design (print or ebook) is more efficient if it starts with style tags in place.

When your book designer imports your Word doc into InDesign, all those style tags will come too. Asking your designer to tag your manuscript after the fact could take hours and add to your project cost. Also the designer won’t be as familiar with your content as you are, so something could easily be mistagged or missed, especially in a complex manuscript.

Manuscripts prepared without document styles—by formatting each word or section locally—are often a Frankenstein’s monster of inconsistent formats including:

  • Mismatched chapters titles, headings and subheadings. This can make it difficult for your designer to distinguish the information hierarchy. (“Is that a sub-heading or a sub-sub-heading?”)
  • Inconsistently formatted body copy, often pasted together from different sources. (Such as Word, Scrivener, text notes, Google Docs, etc.)
  • Quotations pulled from books or articles along with their original formatting.
  • Paragraphs indented with the tab key or (*horrified gasp*) space bar.
  • Soft returns alternating with hard returns, double paragraph returns, etc.

Do let your designer know if your manuscript contains any unusual characters…foreign letters/words, mathematical or scientific symbols, or diacritical symbols.

How to Use Styles in Microsoft Word

If you’re working in Word, just go to the home screen and you’ll see the Styles Pane on your far right. You can use Word’s preset styles or make your own. It doesn’t matter what the formatting looks like in the manuscript…it’s the tagging that’s important.

How to prepare your manuscript: MS Word Styles

Common elements that need their own style tags include:

Paragraph styles

  • Main body copy
  • Chapter titles
  • Headings
  • Subheadings (different tag for each level)
  • Quotations
  • Line spacing
  • Picture captions

Character styles (for small amounts of text within the paragraph)

  • Book titles
  • Words as words (“My daughter’s favorite word is persnickety.”)
  • Foreign words
  • Mathematical or scientific characters
  • Bulleted lists

Table styles and list styles

  • Bulleted lists
  • Numbered lists
  • Tables

2. Don’t pre-design your manuscript

Don’t “design” your manuscript as you go. (By that I mean adding graphics, doing pre-formatting, or creating mock layouts.)

You may think designing in Word will save time or money, but it won’t. Just the opposite. The professional book design process starts with a clean manuscript, and all that pre-formatting will have to be stripped out, either by you or by your designer at your expense. Simple and clean, that’s what designers need. You’ll have plenty of input on the design later.

3. Submit your manuscript as one file

If you are writing your chapters in separate files, be sure to assemble them into a single manuscript for your designer. Your manuscript file should include all front matter, the main text, and all back matter.

Don’t send piecemeal files. If you do, you’ll be inviting errors in your final book. Thats because there’s no way the design team will know what’s missing or if things are out of order (and it’s not their responsibility). Besides, why pay a designer to sort through all your files. Make sure your manuscript is final and complete before you send it out into the world.

If you aren’t sure what front or back matter to include, ask your ebook designer. He or she should be able to give you genre-specific suggestions or even provide helpful boilerplate text. (This is one of many reasons to hire a good book designer and do it early—their tips during the writing process can save you a lot of money and time during production.)

4. Use callouts to indicate photo placement

Don’t put your photos, graphics, or illustrations directly into the manuscript. Instead, use callouts, which look like this: <insert [photo name] here>.

If your images aren’t location-specific, indicate what chapter they belong with or whether they can go anywhere. Being flexible allows designers to create the most artful, reader-friendly layout possible.

Then bundle all your artwork together and zip it into a single file.

Be sure to talk to your designer beforehand about what image sizes are best, especially if you’re planning to print. Too small, and everything will be fuzzy.

5. Don’t grab images from the internet

It’s a million times easier to source your photos correctly from the start than to replace them later. Trust me.

If you just grab photos from a Google search and put them in your book, you could be sued. (It happens.) And it’s not your book designer’s job to source permissions for you after the fact. Besides, that would cost you a fortune in extra hours.

The best workflow is to get photos from a good stock photo site (We like 123RF) or, if you’re doing a cookbook or other personal project, hire a good photographer to have your own high-quality photos taken.

Pro tip: Stock photos have watermarked, low-res sample versions. Just download those. Don’t buy anything until you’re sure the photo is going to end up in the book design and your designer has confirmed what size to get. (For print it should be 300 dpi at reproduction size, but you won’t know what that is until the layout is finished.)

6. Review your manuscript before sending it out

I don’t mean edit and proof it. Hopefully you had a professional do that ages ago.

But once the editing and proofing are done and you think your manuscript is final, print it out and give it one last read-through. A careful read-through. Is everything there…all front matter, all chapters, and all back matter? Does everything read smoothly? Reading through a print copy of your manuscript should bring any hidden errors or omissions into sharp relief.

By taking the time to prepare your manuscript professionally you’ll minimize publishing mistakes, get your completed print and ebook files faster, and avoid extra project charges. Also your book designer/ebook developer will love you.

About the Author

Renee D'Antoni: Renee is an editor, photographer, and owner of eBook DesignWorks.