The most important thing for a writer is, of course, to write. To publish your book, you first need to write your manuscript. Once your manuscript is done, next comes the editing — followed by cover design and book layout, printing, and marketing.
To make sure your editor works in the best possible conditions, we’ve prepared a few good practices for you to follow when preparing the final draft of your manuscript. A properly prepared manuscript is the first step towards a smooth editing experience.
What’s a manuscript?
A manuscript was once written by hand on paper (the word literally means “handwritten”). Today a manuscript is typed on a computer.
The manuscript is the first version of your work in its completed form, the first version that the editor will work on. It’s the starting line of your publishing journey.
The goal of editing is to improve your manuscript, not to change it. During the editing stage, your editor will provide feedback, corrections and suggestions directly in your manuscript file. The manuscript file thus becomes a constantly evolving collaborative tool that’s allows you to work closely and efficiently with your editor.
How to present your manuscript?
It’s important to present your manuscript in a way that makes it easy to read for the editor.
Usually, there’s no need to provide a printed and bound copy of your manuscript. Ideally, your manuscript should be provided in a Microsoft Word file (.doc or .docx formats).
- A Microsoft Word file is best (preferably a recent version).
- The manuscript should be in its final form. The editor should not work on an unfinished draft, nor should you continue to rework your manuscript after it’s been passed to the editor.
- Text should be black on a white background.
- Use a common and readable font like Times New Roman, Arial or Helvetica (the designer will later suggest a more appropriate and interesting font for your printed book). Although these fonts may seem less esthetically pleasing, the most important at this point is that your manuscript be sharable and readable.
- Font size should be 12 pt.
- Line spacing should be 1.5 or double.
Preparing the text
- Don’t use italics unless absolutely necessary (for foreign words, quotes, book titles if they aren’t a sacred book like the Bible or Quran). Don’t use bold or underline.
- Don’t write in capitals, unless it’s to indicate that a character is shouting in a passage of dialogue (ex.: “STOP!”).
- New paragraphs should be indented. The width of the indent isn’t important so long as it’s consistent.
- Use hard spaces when necessary (on a Mac a hard space is created by pressing Shift+Option+Space; on a PC, by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Space). Hard spaces help to avoid unwanted breaks in words and expressions.
- Avoid inserting numerous returns to create white spaces.
Preparing the layout
- Include reasonable margins (never more than 3 cm).
- Justified text is not necessary.
- Never use soft returns (Shift+Enter). Only use paragraph breaks.
- Don’t use tabs.
- To add a line break or white space (to indicate a change in scene, for example), tap Return twice.
- Clearly indicate chapter titles and numbers.
- If you want to include a quote or epigraph at the start of a chapter, separate it from the main body of text with a single line break.
- Pages can be numbered.
- Main titles can use the mention “Title 1”, secondary titles “Title 2”, and so on.
- Insert the name of an image (photo, illustration, graph, drawing, etc.) where you would like it to appear in the final book. Do not insert the image in your manuscript file (more on this below).
- If needed, you can include a Table of Contents. The table of contents should include all chapter titles but not page numbers.
What not to include in your manuscript
Authors sometimes submit their manuscript with a layout already done to make it look like a book. Not only is this unnecessary, it may actually cause more work for the editor (and more costs for you).
1. A fancy layout
Your manuscript file should be devoid of boxes, line numbers, unusual or fancy fonts, colours, background motifs, images, photos, tables and embellishments. It’s the designer’s job to add these elements after your manuscript has been edited. The manuscript should present your text in as clear and simple a manner as possible. Microsoft Word is not designed to do professional layout, even if it has some rudimentary layout options. Professional designers use Adobe InDesign.
Do not include images, tables or illustrations in your manuscript. If images are to appear in the book, simply write the name of the image in the spot where it should appear in the manuscript. You will then submit these images as separate files, with the filenames for each image titled appropriately so that it can be easily linked to the spot in the manuscript where it needs to go (name, image number, page number). More on this below.
3. Copyright page
The copyright page typically appears after the title page of a book and includes copyright information, credits, and details about ISBN and legal deposit. The designer is in charge of preparing the copyright page. Do not include it in your manuscript.
4. Back cover blurb
Back covers typically include a blurb about the book and about the author. This is typically prepared by the author or by someone they know, then verified by the editor. In some cases the editor can write the blurb, if the relationship between the author and editor warrants such involvement by the editor. If you have already written your back cover blurb yourself, you can include it in your manuscript.
As for the barcode, the designer is responsible for adding it to your book’s back cover.
Working with an editor
The editing process typically follows these steps:
1) The author sends its manuscript.
2) A few days later the author receives a personalized editing quote.
3) The author accepts the editing quote.
4) The author signs an agreement with the editor and pays an advance deposit.
5) Two to three weeks later (assuming the manuscript is roughly 50,000 words, otherwise it could take longer), the author receives the first edited draft of their manuscript.
6) The author reviews the editor’s comments and revisions and prepares a new draft of their manuscript. The manuscript can then be sent back to the editor for an additional round of editing, if desired. It is always the author who decides whether or not to accept a correction or suggestion from the editor. This is done directly in the manuscript file, which the editor annotates using track changes.
7) Once the author and editor are satisfied with the text, the editor will send a final version to the author for approval.
8) The editor (and not the author) sends the final version of the edited manuscript to the designer.
9) We strongly recommend that authors get their book proofread. Once the designer has finished the layout of the book, the file will be sent to the editor so that they can proofread the final version. A proofread is a light edit meant to catch any minor lingering errors and typos.
– The editor is a collaborator. Because of the nature of the editor’s work, there’s a strong relationship of trust between an author and their editor. It’s crucial that the author clearly express their ideas and expectations to their editor, even if it’s in disagreement with the editor’s views.
– The editor is a seasoned professional whose job it is to provide you with knowledge and tools to help your book succeed. Make sure you listen to their advice.
How to properly manage images in your manuscript
Some authors decide to include images in their book. If appropriately used, images can add a lot of value to a book, but it’s important to properly present them.
To help make the job easier for your editor and designer, you should include the names of the images (and not the images themselves) in the spot where the image should appear in the manuscript. Images should be properly referenced, and the image marker in your manuscript should be the same as the image’s file name, which you will be providing separately along with the manuscript.
Image resolution should be at least 300 dpi. They should be provided in JPEG format and ideally converted to CMYK. If the images are black and white, they should be submitted in grayscale.
If you have physical documents that you would like to include in your book, it isn’t necessary to scan them or photograph them yourself. Our designers are equipped with the proper tools to digitize your documents. Having the designer digitize your document ensures that the digital version meets professional publishing standards.
If you want to include an author photo on your back cover, the photo should be professionally produced and taken in a setting that reflects your approach to your craft.
It is imperative that you have the right to use all the images you wish to include in your book.
There are many image databases online, including ShutterStock, Adobe Stock and iStock, to name only a few. These sites make it possible for you to purchase the right to use an image for your book.
There are also free databases that offer images that are public domain: Pexels, Unsplash (a Montreal-based company) and Pixabay are three that we recommend.
Although the images in these databases are free, it’s important to read the terms and conditions of use before using them in your book.
Protecting your copyright when sending out your manuscript
Some authors are understandably hesitant when it comes time to send their manuscript to publishing services with whom they have no prior relationship. Here at Rapido Books, we will never print a manuscript without the author’s consent. Copyright protection is important to us because it helps to protect the author from plagiarism.
It can be intimidating to submit your manuscript, especially when this means handing over your story to your first reader. All the more when this first reader is a seasoned professional. It’s important to remember that no best-selling author has ever published a manuscript without first having it read, edited and improved by a professional editor. One of our editors who has worked several times with a famous Quebec author tells us that this author was pleasantly surprised to feel his style more clearly in the edited manuscript than in the original.
If you follow the guidelines and advice that we’ve provided in this article, you’ll notice that your communication and overall relationships with your editor and designer will improve significantly.
Trust the publishing professionals who are charged with editing and designing your book. Not only will it help you enjoy the process, it will also help produce something that you can proudly show to others.