Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Importance of Formatting Your Ms-Word Manuscripts

There are many, many websites, mostly blogs (short articles and essays) for writers to learn from and hone their art and their craft. One I subscribe to is The Write Life, full of tips in five categories, Freelancing, Blogging, Marketing, Craft and Publishing. Just about all of its blogs are helpful, informative and well-written, on specific topics all serious writers should assimilate.
   I recently shared an important article of theirs with my writing classes titled How to Format a Book: 10 Tips Your Editor Wants You to Know. You can find the full article at
   I'd like to share my take on what they wrote:
Note: The article itself lists specific MS-Word commands to perform some functions discussed. I will not be sharing those. Go to their site.
   First, if you are a serious writer and are going to a publisher or are going to self-publish, you must go thru an editor first. There are many kinds, for example, line, copy and content editors. In my editing business I mix elements of all three. Most professional editors are paid by the word, say 2-cents, or page, anywhere from $3 up; the average is $6.00 per page. You as a writer must understand how critically necessary good editing is to your manuscript(s), and keep that in mind as you shell out the cash and receive back their page reviews and edits.
   But whether you are self-publishing or were lucky enough to be picked up by a publishing house, besides writing a great story, going thru the editing, revision and polishing processes, there’s one othe process you must constantly be aware of and learn to do automatically. That is formatting every page, every chapter, the book, properly and correctly.
   It’s not enough to write a great story. If it is formatted badly it will turn off the reader.
   Here’s where the 10 tips come in:
1.       Always use black, 12 points, Times New Roman or another common font for 99% of the text. I use Calibri for all my books and articles and I’ve never had a complaint after all these years of someone’s PC or laptop not seeing it. Our PCs have at least 500 fonts, so inserting words here and there for them to stand out is fine, just don’t overdo it.
2.       Use the standard page size for the book you want to publish. We start out with all words documents as 8.5x11 page size, but unless you have a coffee table book, most likely that will not be the size of your work once published. I self-publish all tracebacks, in 6x9 size, for example. So one way or the other, either type it all 8.5x11 and make it smaller later (much more work), or type the pages in the size you intend to publish from the get-go. This is important because a 6x9 page line holds fewer words than an 8.5x11 page, and vice versa. How those words appear on the page is critical to the presentation of your book and the ease in which the reader can follow the text.
3.       Text should be fully justified end-to-end on every page. Most books are fully justified. It’s just plain easier for the eyes to follow.
4.       These days only use a single space after a period, not two as you might have been taught when younger. Any publisher, wanting to conserve page space for example, will insist on this. The important thing is to be consistent.
5.       In drafts only, used double-spaced lines. A finished manuscript is never double spaced, only single-spaced.
6.       Indent all paragraphs by .5 (a half-inch), EXCEPT the first paragraph of the chapter or of a new scene (which follows a line space). Every point, .1 is a character space. If .5 is too much for you, set your paragraph indents to something less. But no less than .3 is what I recommend. It should never be more than .5.
7.       Search thru books in your genre and see how they are formatted and follow their general rules. Don’t make up your own unless you are already a wildly popular author with a large fan buying base. Then do whatever you want.
8.       Learn how to use MS-Word Page Breaks and Section Breaks. This takes some skill. Pay attention. Especially if you don’t want page numbers on the Front Matter of your book, and want the first numbered page to start later.
9.       Learn how to set format and footers and set page numbers correctly. See also #8 above.
10.   Do not send chapter(s) to an editor; rather send the whole manuscript. The editor will use Word’s “Track Changes” to edit your document as well as to insert Comments. When you get it back it will be redlined. It’s then up to you to accept or reject those suggested changes and to implement them in your final manuscript or not. As an editor myself, all I can say is thanks to Microsoft for these features.
   My additional Tips: Train yourself in MS-Word. Pay for a course if necessary. And use these rules for every document you type until they become ingrained and automatic. You are doing yourself and your editor a huge favor.
   Besides, do you really want to spend your money for an editor to format your pages when you should be doing it anyway?
   Save your money and learn how to do it well.

Readers expect no less.

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