Tag Archives: manuscript

Formatting a submission-ready manuscript

Félix_Vallotton_Nature_morte_à_l_assiette_bleue_1922 Félix Vallotton [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsMost editors have a great deal of work in their in-boxes, and don’t have time to deal with badly formatted manuscripts and these submissions are not even considered.  All agents, editors and publishing companies have specific, standardized formatting they want you to use, and these guidelines are posted on their websites.

If you intend to go the traditional route and submit your manuscript to a Big Publisher such as TOR Forge, you will want to make sure your work is submission-ready, and that it conforms to the exact standards they have laid out on their website.

But what makes a manuscript submission ready? TOR Forge clearly says: Standard manuscript format means margins of at least 1 inch all the way around; indented paragraphs; double-spaced text; and Times New Roman in 12 pitch. Please use one side of the page only. Do not justify the text. Do not bind the manuscript in any way. Make sure the header of the ms. includes your name and/or the title of the book as well as the page number (on every page).

Publishers who accept electronic submissions will most likely want them formatted similarly. For the most part this formatting is basically the same from company to company, so once you know what the industry standard is, it’s easy to make your manuscript submission-ready, at least in the area of formatting.

First of all, running across the top of the page is something called the ribbon, and this is your toolbox. Everything you need to create a manuscript is right there, waiting for you to learn to use it. On the right hand side, by the question mark is a tiny arrow for expanding or hiding the ribbon – and we are going to expand it so we have access to all the tools we will need.

First, we must select the font. I use Microsoft WORD, and like every other word-processing program, it has many fancy fonts you can choose from and also has many sizes.

You don’t want fancy. Stick with the industry standard fonts: Times New Roman or Courier in 12 pt.  Most say .11 is fine – for me, in a printout .10 is too small for my elderly eyes, I prefer .12. These are called ‘Serif’ fonts, because they have little extensions that make them easier to read when in a wall of words.

If you are using MS WORD, here are a few simple instructions: to change your fonts, open your manuscript document, and Click on the tab marked ‘Home’.  In the upper right-hand corner of the ribbon across the top of the page in the editing group, click:

select> select all. This will highlight the entire manuscript.

With the ms still highlighted, go to the font group, on the left-hand end of the ribbon. The default font, or predesigned value or setting, will probably say ‘Calibri (Body)’ and the size will be .11.

You can change this by clicking on the menu and accessing the menu. Scroll down to Times New Roman, as it is the easiest on the eyes. Click on that and the font for the entire ms will be that font. Any errors can be undone by clicking the back-arrow.  Once you are satisfied with your changes, click save.

fonts post 2 of word series

 

Now we are going to format our paragraphs and line spacing. Editors and publishers want their copies double-spaced so they can insert comments as needed in the reviewing pane, which will be on the right side of the page when you receive your work back for revisions. Having it double-spaced allows for longer comments, and makes it easier for reading.

Remember, TOR Forge says they want a standard manuscript formatted with margins of 1 inch all the way around; indented paragraphs; double-spaced text. Do not justify the text. In justified text, the spaces between words, and, to a far lesser extent, between glyphs or letters (known as “tracking”), are stretched or sometimes compressed in order to make the text align with both the left and right margins. This gives you straight margins on both sides, but this is not the time or place for this type of alignment.

I’ve said this before, and I will say it again: Do NOT ever use the tab key or the space bar to indent your paragraphs. You have no idea what a crapped up mess that makes out of a manuscript.  You will have to go in and remove these tabs by hand and it’s a tedious job, but do it now, if you have been using the tab key.

Instead of the tab key, a professional author who is writing in MS WORD uses the simple formatting tool:

On the home tab, look in the group labeled ‘Paragraph’. On the lower right-hand side of that group is a small grey square. Click on it .  A pop-out menu will appear, and this is where you format your paragraphs.

  1. On the indents and spacing tab of the menu: Use standard alignment, align LEFT. The reason we use this format is we are not looking at a finished product here. We are looking at a rough draft that will be sliced, diced and otherwise mutilated many times before we get to the final product.

The picture below has it all clearly marked out:

paragraphs post 2 pof word series

  1. Indentation: leave that alone or reset both numbers to ‘0’ if you have inadvertently altered it.
  2. Where it says ‘Special’: on drop-down menu select ‘first line’. On the ‘By’ menu, select ‘0.5’
  3. ‘Spacing’: set both before and after to ‘0’.
  4. ‘Line Spacing’: set to ‘double’

Now we need to make the “Header.”  This is the heading at the top of each page of a word-processed or faxed document, usually automatically inserted and, in this case, consisting of the title of the book and your name. Publishers and editors want this because when they receive a print copy, each page is clearly marked with your name and/or the title of the book as well as the page number. Remember, they want it UNBOUND. Accidents happen: if the ms accidentally falls off a desk, it can easily be reassembled and the editor will always know that brilliant work was written by you.

We insert this by opening the “insert” tab, and clicking on “page number.”  This opens up a new menu. We add the page numbers using this menu:

This is how it looks:header with page numbers

Now your manuscript is submission ready, and is

  1. Aligned left
  2. 1 in. margins
  3. Double-spaced
  4. Has indented paragraphs
  5. Header contains title and author name
  6. First page contains the author’s mailing address and contact information in upper left hand corner

This may seem like overkill to you, but I assure you, if you are really serious about submitting your work to agents, editors, or publishers, it must be in as professional a format as is possible.

I hope these instruction will help you find the way to format properly in other word-processing programs. MS WORD is most commonly used, and is the one I use, because it is easy and has all the tools I need. Just don’t get too fancy with formatting your novel before you submit it  because no matter how pretty you make that manuscript, if it doesn’t follow the submission guidelines for the place you are submitting it, you have wasted your time.

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10 Things to Do—Part 1, The First 5 Speedbumps

shakespeare-word-cloud

There are things that happen in the natural course of writing the first draft that make it painful for people to read. DO NOT SHOW IT TO YOUR ADORING FANS JUST YET. This really is NOT the time to ask for feedback unless you want to be lied to. They will look at you with a possum-in-the-headlights smile, and say “Wow…this is really…nice.”

What they really are thinking is, “Holy s**t. This disjointed, hokey mess sucks.” That friend will poke needles in their eyes before they read another piece of your work again.

Just sayin’.

But even though the first draft is always stinkaroo, don’t try to edit as you write because it interferes with your creative processes and blocks the flow of ideas. While you’re writing the first draft these bloopers should be allowed to just fall where they may, because you just need to get the ideas down.  You will reshape them in the 2nd draft. So, today I’m posting the first half of a two-part series on 10 Things to Do in the second draft of your manuscript.

Before you do anything, just put it to one side. Forget about it for a while.

A month or so later, after you have gained a different perspective is when you begin to look for these problems.  Fine tuning and rephrasing will settle most of them, and a good flamethrower will take care of the rest!

First we will look at:

800px-Singapore_Road_Signs_-_Temporary_Sign_-_Detour.svg1. The Info Dump (my personal failing)

Often new authors feel they need to dump a lot of back story at a novel’s beginning before readers will understand the main story. I did this in my first novel, and I have regretted it ever since! It seems like logical thinking: “Before you get this, you need to know this.” But the problem was, I gave the info dump in the first five pages.  Those are the pages that acquisition editors look at and decide whether or not to continue reading the submission. For those of us planning to go the indie route, those pages are also the pages the prospective buyer sees in the “look inside” option on Amazon dot com.

While back story is important for character and plot building, too much outright “telling” freezes the real-time story in its tracks. And for modern genre fiction, beginnings must be active—they need to move.

Here is the opening paragraph of my next novel in the Tower of Bones series, Mountains of the Moon. It is a prequel to the first two novels, and this is the way it currently reads in its second draft stage. It may be changed once the editor gets her hands on it, but right now this is how it stands with the info dump removed:

Wynn Farmer discovered his old boots had holes worn in the soles when he heard the soft, squishing sound, perfectly in sync with every step he took. If he’d known he would be dropped into some strange world when he left the house, he might have planned ahead a little better and slipped some new cardboard into his boots, just until he could get them resoled. Now he trudged along a faint path through a dark, eerie prairie with wet feet, shivering in the cold, misty rain and completely lost.

In the second draft we alter the original words we wrote, subtly slipping little details into the narrative while showing the real-time story, and doing it in such a way that it is part of the action and the dialogue, fading into the background.  The reader will understand what you are showing them without feeling bludgeoned by it.

 

nausea42. Telling Instead of Showing in Prose (heh, heh–my own personal failing)

In the rush of the first draft, of getting all our thoughts about the storyline down, sometime our minds go faster than we can write. We use a kind of ‘mental shorthand’ and write things such as:

Erving was furious.

Martha was discouraged.

These are really just notes telling us what direction this tale is supposed to go. Modern readers don’t want to be told how the characters felt—they want to see. When you come across this in a novel, it is clear the author has published a first draft.

Thus, when you come across this in your first draft, now is the time to follow those road signs and expand on the scene a little. Instead of telling the reader that Martha was furious, you will show this emotion.

Martha stamped her foot, and clenched her fists.

Erving’s body shook with rage, and his face went white.

Show the reader the emotions. It adds word count, but you will also be taking word count away in other places in the manuscript as you go along.

 

cover_art_Billy_39_s_Revenge3. Using Dialogue to Tell, Not Show (oh yeah–my personal failing)

“I’m simply not going to do it,” Vivian hissed. (Reader: “What, is she a snake?”)

“Why, oh why, did I ever trust her?” Greg said dejectedly. (Reader: “Aw, that’s sad. Boring!”) (Closes book.)

Please, OH please, avoid attaching adverbs ending in “ly” to speech tags. They are the devil!

If you want to convey an attitude in dialogue, the words themselves should communicate it.  Greg’s words already communicate dejection. If you need more, add a line of action:

In low tones, Vivian said, “You couldn’t pay me enough to do that.” She turned and walked away.

Greg threw up his hands. “Why did I trust her?”

This gives readers the opportunity to see for themselves the scene you painted with words.

 

4. A Lack of Contractions in Dialogue (Wait–this is my personal failing too!  What’s going on here?)

“Arrabelle, I do not want you to leave me!”

This is one of the worst NaNoWriMo manuscript flaws BECAUSE when we are in the midst of November, we are desperate for word count. “Don’t use contractions” is one of the prime directives of Chris Baty’s  “No Plot? No Problem” and if word-count is all you are in the game for, then fine.  However, IF you ever intend to publish your work you should use contractions in dialogue. Depending on the type of story you are writing, you may want to use them elsewhere, if that is the style of your work.

This problem may also be a throwback to those days in your high school English class, when teachers deducted points for the use of contractions in term papers. But contractions are effective at conveying realistic speech.

You want dialogue to sound natural? Use contractions.

 

Dialogue Tags © cjjasp 20145. Too Many Speech Tags in Dialogue (Hey–I have that problem too! What the heck…?)

“Jake, are you okay?”  Vaia wailed.

 “Of course I’m all right,” Jake groaned. “What a silly question.”

 “But your arm,” Vaia said. “I thought maybe you…well, the way you’re holding it…I guess I thought—”

 “You thought I’d injured it,” Jake said.

 “Well…yes,” Vaia said.

Especially when only two characters are talking, readers should be able to keep track of speaker ID with ease. In those situations, speech tags are rarely, if ever, needed. In fact, doing away with tags entirely, unless they are absolutely necessary, is frequently suggested to be a great strategy, although I don’t go that far. Instead of using a speech tag, insert a burst of action before or after a line of dialogue that identifies the speaker and lends opportunities to deepen character chemistry, conflict, and emotions.

Vaia felt something trickling down her cheek. She wiped it, and her hand came away with blood. Jake was pale, and held his arm at a strange angle. “Jake, are you okay?”

 “Of course I’m all right. I’m always all right.”

 She reached toward his shoulder, toward the torn shirt—but something held her back. “But your arm. I thought maybe ….”

 “I’m hurt, but I think it’s fine. You thought maybe I had broken it.” He willed her to admit that she cared.

 The intensity of his gaze forced her to look away. “Well…. I did think that. Can you still fight?” 

Trade in empty speech tags for emotion-infused writing that can do so much more. HOWEVER—Remember that the reader needs to have clear direction as to who is speaking to whom, otherwise you will lose the reader. And I do recommend you don’t get too creative with them.  Said, replied–those are usually all that is required. If you throw in hissed, or moaned, once in a great while for specific circumstances, fine, but not too much please. It’s too distracting for me as a reader.  I close that book and move on to the next when the  characters do too much hissing and moaning. Just sayin’.

This covers the first 5 things to look for in your second draft. Items 6 through 10 will be covered on Wednesday!

 


 

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Formatting or The Shape of the Beast

Anne_Anderson05 - Beauty sat down to dinner with the Beast illustration PDArt - Wikimedia CommonsThis is the 2nd post in the series on using Microsoft WORD, “WORD—A Shifty Beast”.  The first post covered naming files and version control.  This post focuses on using the tools WORD gives you to format paragraphs and line spacing, making your manuscript ready for submission to an editor.

Often, an inexperienced author will submit a manuscript rife with the most bizarre formatting. He is terribly surprised and hurt when it is rejected and returned with a bland form letter that tells him nothing of why it was not acceptable. Rejections are rarely returned with an explanation of why, so the author is left to guess what they did wrong.

Most editors don’t have time to deal with badly formatted manuscripts and these submissions are not even considered.  All agents, editors and publishing companies have specific, standardized formatting they want you to use, and these guidelines are posted on their websites.

For the most part this formatting is basically the same from company to company, so once you know what the industry standard is, it’s easy to make your manuscript submission-ready, at least in the area of formatting.

First of all, running across the top of the page is something called the ribbon, and this is your toolbox. Everything you need to create a manuscript is right there, waiting for you to learn to use it. On the right hand side, by the question mark is a tiny arrow for expanding or hiding the ribbon – and we are going to expand it so we have access to all the tools we will need.

Ribbon 2 - formatting for editors and submissions

First, we must select the font. Microsoft WORD has many fancy fonts you can choose from and also has many sizes.

You don’t want fancy.

Stick with the industry standard fonts: Times New Roman or Courier in 10, 11 or 12 pt.  Most say .11 is fine – for me, in a printout .10 is too small for my elderly eyes, I prefer .12.

209px-Serif_and_sans-serif_03.svg

These are called ‘Serif’ fonts, because they have little extensions that make them easier to read when in a wall of words.

To change your fonts, open your manuscript document, and Click on the tab marked ‘Home’.  In the upper right-hand corner of the ribbon across the top of the page in the editing group, click:

select> select all. This will highlight the entire manuscript.

With the ms still highlighted, go to the font group, on the left-hand end of the ribbon. The default font, or predesigned value or setting, will probably say ‘Calibri (Body)’ and the size will be .11.

fonts post 2 of word series

You can change this by clicking on the menu and accessing the menu. Scroll down to Times New Roman, as it is the easiest on the eyes. Click on that and the font for the entire ms will be that font. Any errors can be undone by clicking the back-arrow.  Once you are satisfied with your changes, click save.

Now we are going to format our paragraphs and line spacing. Standard manuscript format means margins of 1 inch all the way around; indented paragraphs; double-spaced text. Do not justify the text. In justified text, the spaces between words, and, to a far lesser extent, between glyphs or letters (known as “tracking”), are stretched or sometimes compressed in order to make the text align with both the left and right margins. This gives you straight margins on both sides, but this is not the time or place for this type of alignment.

Do NOT ever use the tab key or the space bar to indent your paragraphs. You have no idea what a crapped-up mess that makes out of a manuscript. (That’s editor-speak for a stinking disaster.)  You may have to go in and remove these tabs by hand and it’s a tedious job, but do it now, if you have been using the tab key.

Instead of the tab key, a professional author uses the simple formatting tool:

Locating the formatting tool:

The ribbon- formatting tool

Still on the home tab, look in the group labeled ‘Paragraph’. On the lower right-hand side of that group is a small grey square. Click on it .  A pop-out menu will appear, and this is where you format your paragraphs.

  1. On the indents and spacing tab of the menu: Use standard alignment, align LEFT. The reason we use this format is we are not looking at a finished product here.  We are looking at a rough draft that will be sliced, diced and otherwise mutilated many times before we get to the final product.

The picture below has it all clearly marked out:

paragraph formatting for editors and submissions

1.  Indentation: leave that alone or reset both numbers to ‘0’ if you have inadvertently altered it.

2.  Where it says ‘Special’: on drop-down menu select ‘first line’. On the ‘By’ menu, select ‘0.5’

3. ‘Spacing’: set both before and after to ‘0’.

4. ‘Line Spacing’: set to ‘double’

The editor needs to receive his version double-spaced so he can insert comments as needed in the reviewing pane, which will be on the right side of the page when you receive your work back for revisions. Having it double-spaced allows for longer comments.

doublespaced, aligned lft with comments prnt scrn for lirf

Now we need to make the “Header.”  This is the heading at the top of each page of a word-processed or faxed document, usually automatically inserted and, in this case, consisting of the title of the book and your name.

header

We insert this by opening the “insert” tab, and clicking on “header.”  This opens up a new menu:

 header menu

Next we add the page numbers. We put these at the bottom right of the page, using this menu:

page number

This is how it looks:

footer page number

SO once we have all these things done, we will have a manuscript that looks like this:

Full ms ready for submission

This manuscript is submission ready, and is:

  1. Aligned left
  2. Has 1 in. margins
  3. Is double-spaced
  4. Has indented paragraphs
  5. Header contains title and author name
  6. Footer has page number
  7. First page contains the author’s mailing address and contact information in upper left hand corner

This may seem like overkill to you, but I assure you, if you are really serious about submitting your work to agents, editors, or publishers, it must be in as professional a format as is possible.

One fun way to become more fluent with WORD is to open a new document, and save it as “WORD practice file”

Type a paragraph, and then go through the above steps, practicing formatting your work.  Use this document to get to know where everything is on the ribbon, and keep playing with it until you have developed your self-confidence on a document that won’t matter if you mess it up.  It’s actually kind of fun, seeing what options WORD has for making pretty documents as well as simple ones.

Just don’t get too fancy with formatting your novel before you submit it to an editor because no matter how pretty you make that manuscript, if it doesn’t follow the submission guidelines for the place you are submitting it, you have simply wasted your time.

The next post in this series will examine the review tab, and take us through the editing process, showing you how your editor uses WORD during the editing process to guide you to a better manuscript, and what your editor expects from you when you send back revisions.

Ohh…the agony….

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