Writer McCrankypants on formatting manuscripts

Greetings, my peeps. (I almost said minions, but that might be taking liberties)

I’m in a strange twilight zone of writing. I’m not really between projects, but I’m hung up on one and it’s preventing me from really jumping into anything else. Not to suggest I’m not working on anything else because I am doing some work on the fourth installment of my Far Seek Chronicles (that’s the sci fi). I’m also working on a few short stories, and those require a different kind of focus than the longer stuff.

Anyway, I’m preparing a book-length manuscript for a typesetter, which is detail work and makes me super cranky, but it’s necessary work. While doing that, I sent some of the scenes out to an expert in the field to check and make sure I’m not Writer McLooneytoons with my take on certain things. Fortunately, he works fast and he’s been awesome and I’m pleased that I wasn’t completely McLooney but I still have to do some re-writes to correct some of the things in those scenes.

Which also creates more cranky in Andi Land.

So what exactly does it mean, this preparing a manuscript for a typesetter? Or for uploading onto the ebook virtual reality deck? Well, intrepid reader, clickety click onward to find out!

Here’s the basics of what I do. Other authors might have other takes and processes and that’s fine. Whatever works. I just thought some of you might want to know what goes on when we’re getting the draft ready for the next step. And this is a manuscript that I’m indie publishing, so the prepwork falls on me (cuz I’m cheap and I have experience doing this).

And there are different ways of formatting/prep work. Efiles take different approaches than print. So you have to prepare different files with the stipulations for the various platforms. More on that in a bit. Because I’ll be releasing this manuscript as both ebook AND print, I have a bunch of busywork to do. This is what’s involved in my getting the print version ready for the typesetter and in getting ready to create files for ebooks.

1. Go through and insert chapter numbers and titles (if applicable) — when I’m writing, I generally don’t number chapters because I may have to move blocks of text around. So a chapter heading just says “chapter” when I’m working.

2. Make sure I’ve got all the scene breaks indicated.

3. Make sure extra spaces are removed — sometimes a spare space gets left after a period or there’s floating extra spaces that I didn’t catch while I was pounding away. And yes, friends, there has been a shift over the past few years. It is one space after a period. Here’s why.

4. Make sure I don’t have any funky coding floating around (i.e. weird font changes like random bold or italic).

5. Make sure that the indent on paragraphs is just that — an indent and NOT a tab. When I start writing something, one of the first things I do is create an auto-indent. Do NOT use tabs (or, even more icky, your space bar to create an indent) when you’re working on something because a tab space creates weirdness for typesetters. Auto-indent. Here’s how to set those. That link is specific to ebook formatting, but when I was working in publishing (back when dinosaurs stormed through publishing houses and attempted to eat all the paper lying around), I had to strip those out of manuscripts destined for print because during the Cretaceous Period of Dinosaur Publishing, there WERE NO EBOOKS and we all had to sit around toiling over giant stacks of paper by the light of kerosene lamps while we carefully sharpened our red pencils during the editing phase.

I WILL NOSH ON YOUR MANUSCRIPTS! source; re-sized here

Caveat. Some publishing houses like authors to use tabs for paragraphs. It’ll vary. Because of the publishers I work with to publish my own work and the stuff I do to prepare something for self-publishing, I got into the habit of using the indent instead.

6. Make sure the typesetter understands what you want in various sections of the manuscript. Back in the Cretaceous days of publishing, that involved manually inserting typed codes as a signal to the typesetter. So a chapter heading would look like this: [ct]Chapter One[/ct] Then the beginning of the actual text for that chapter would look like this: [txt]Today, a dinosaur summarily devoured my manuscript. blah blah blah blah blah la la la blah blah dinosaurs blah blah[/txt] <–indicates end of that text section because you're about to insert a new code like this: [!SECTION BREAK!] Sometimes you'd need to insert notice that you wanted, say, italics: [ital]Verily, dinosaurs stole my manuscript[/ital]. There were codes for block quotes, different heading styles, and various elements of the manuscript. Note: the codes were actually enclosed in carats, but because HTML codes are also enclosed in carats, I can't use those here or it'll — you guessed it — mess up things in the formatting of this blog. Oh, the irony!

That was ye olde dinosaure dayes. BUT GUESS WHAT? The dinosaurs never died out! Publishing houses still use codes like that to signal the book designer (typesetter), and each has its own set. These days, they tend to ask authors to do a lot of this pre-press work rather than in-house staff. For an example, here's the University Press of Florida's style guide for authors. That’s an academic house, and academic houses have taken a major economic hit over the years. So they’ve asked authors to step up and help streamline the process. Big trade houses can afford the staff to prep your manuscript, though they’ll probably tell you which formats work best for them and minimize labor on their end.

Back in the day… source

Fortunately, my typesetter doesn’t need me to insert codes because it’s a straightforward fiction manuscript that doesn’t have chapter titles (just numbers) and doesn’t require fancy-schmancy things. I did insert a few guideposts (sort of a “heads-up, I need a certain element here”), but it’s a lot easier to get this stuff straightened out in this day and age than it was 15 years ago.

7. Check for repetition in words and phrasing. When I’m in formatting mode, I’m not reading the manuscript for content. I’m instead looking at the words as a mechanic might look at a car. So I pick up things that I missed. So I’ve been doing searches on certain words that appear to be “habit words” for the manuscript as well as certain phrases. I’ve cleaned a bit of that up.

8. Check to make sure the names of the characters are consistent. I’ve changed a few names during the course of this manuscript, so I had to do a search on the old names to make sure I got them all.

9. Make sure all quotation marks around dialogue are accounted for. Sometimes in the heat of the writing, you might leave off quotation marks after something a character says. This is a pain in the ass. Straight up. And I know I don’t catch them all. Sigh.

10. Do a spell check. It’s not going to pick up certain things, but it’ll pick up some typos. I use editors and proofreaders to pick up all the other stuff.

Lucky 11. For ebooking, have the style guide of each platform handy to prepare files.

Some readers have been curious about the process a manuscript goes through to prepare it for self-publishing. In Ebooking, there are different platforms, as you know, and each requires slightly different formatting. So if you’re going to launch on different platforms, you have to make sure you’ve formatted each file of the manuscript to the specs of that platform.

Here are some links that will provide some insight (and tips) about this process.
Creating an e-book
Kindle Formatting
David Gaughran on what formatting is, some differing platforms
Catherine Ryan Howard has a great walk-through

Almost done… source; re-sized here

So there you go. Riveting, I know. But now hopefully you’ll see why I am spending an extended time in Crankyville. Don’t worry. I’ll be out soon!

Happy reading, happy writing, happy Thursday!

And please do include your own tips in the comments (Lisa Creech Bledsoe, I’m looking at you…)

2 thoughts on “Writer McCrankypants on formatting manuscripts

  1. Wow… I can see why you are McCrankypants. Sounds like a royal pain. But I’m glad you do it because I really enjoy your work. Eagerly awaiting Boots sequel as well as next Far Seek. Treat yourself to lots of alcohol when you’re out of Crankyville!

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