Authors are all keen to reach the same goal – publishing a book that is the very best it can be so they can attract the widest audience possible. To achieve this outcome their message must be clear and the book design must be appealing so that readers are engaged from beginning to end.
Once you’ve written you manuscript – drafting and redrafted it until you think that can’t make it any better yourself – it’s time to consult a professional. But paying for all the services you need to self publish your book can be an expensive exercise. Editing, proofreading, cover design, page layout/typesetting, printing, ebook conversion and the cost of uploading your book to online retailers such as Amazon, can all add up. But while it’s a wise investment to pay publishing professionals to help you produce your book, there are certain things you can do at the outset to help you save money. If you make sure your manuscript is properly prepared, your editor or designer won’t need to spend time on tasks that you could have completed yourself. The well-known saying ‘Time is money’ is absolutely correct!
So what are some ways in which you can prepare your Word manuscript for self publishing that will help you to save on publishing professionals’ time (and hence be good for your wallet)? Following these tips is a great place to start:
Draft and redraft your manuscript
Never send the first draft of your manuscript to your editor. After you’ve finished working on your manuscript, put it away for a week or two, and then get it out again to reread it. It’s amazing how putting a little distance between you and your writing can give you a different perspective. Keep redrafting until you’re certain that you can’t improve it any further. If you’re brave enough and not overly sensitive to feedback, ask others to read your manuscript and give you their opinion. For fiction writers in particular, there’s a tribe of people called beta readers who will read your work for free and give you their opinion regarding what they think works or doesn’t work in your story. If you can find someone who is well versed in your book’s particular genre, it can be a match made in heaven. However, beware of those who only give you positive feedback. You also need to hear constructive criticism at the macro level – Does the story make sense? Are the characters believable? Do any parts of the story drag? At this stage don’t be too concerned about micro-level problems, such as spelling or punctuation.
Don’t get fancy with page formatting
When you type up your manuscript in MS Word or some other word formatting software program, it is not necessary to go to a lot of effort to make the page layout look ‘pretty’. That’s the book designer’s job. Varying fonts or adding colour just makes more work for the designer as they will need to delete all of that extra formatting in order to apply the font styles that work best for your particular publishing project. It is important to note that a lot of text formatting doesn’t transfer correctly from Microsoft Word to Adobe InDesign (common graphic design software used for formatting/typesetting books). The best approach is to keep it simple – use a standard font such as Times New Roman or Arial in 12 point and single spacing between lines. By all means, use italics and bolding where your writing needs emphasis but steer clear of that underline button.
One space or two?
In the world of publishing today, using two spaces after the concluding punctuation mark in a sentence is a no-go. One space is all that’s required. Consider the designer’s frustration (and the extra work that is involved) when even before importing your Word document into InDesign, they need to spend time fixing this common error. And for your own sake, keep in mind that they unusually charge by the hour.
Number the pages in your manuscript
To keep your editor happy, always number the pages of your book manuscript. If they need to discuss a certain point in your manuscript, it is far quicker for them to direct you to a particular page number and line number. And if for some reason your editor is marking up your manuscript in hard copy and a rogue breeze causes the pages to flutter to the ground, they’ll be more likely to look kindly upon you if you’ve numbered your manuscript’s pages.
The best way to show your editor where a new paragraph starts in your manuscript is to indent it. If they have to guess … then you know what comes next … time equals money. A much worse transgression is when authors use the space bar in order to move to a new paragraph. This action will also irritate your designer. They may swear just a little bit and will definitely add minutes to their time sheet. Microsoft Word has a variety of ways in which you can set up your page so that you need to do as little extra work as possible when typing in text.
Supply your images in the correct format
If you have written a non-fiction manuscript, you may wish to include photographs, illustrations, diagram, charts or tables in your book. With your designer’s welfare in mind (and your wallet’s!), create a image folder separate from your manuscript where you assemble of the graphics you want to include in your book. A good practise is to use placeholder text to advise the designer where you would like your images to appear in the book (i.e. type in the relevant position in your manuscript: ‘Insert photo 12 here’). Where possible be sure to supply your images in high resolution format to ensure that they will not appear blurry when printed. If your images are too large to send as email attachments, you can use a file sharing platform such as Dropbox or WeTransfer or even copy your images to a USB and post it via snail mail.
Using Track Changes in Microsoft Word
Most editors these days mark up written text in MS Word using the Track Changes function. It’s the easiest and most efficient way for editors to communicate their professional opinion with their clients. If you are not already aware of this feature in Word, it is worthwhile to make the effort to becoming familiar with it. If you are able to accept or reject your editor’s suggested edits yourself, it will save them a lot of time and of course, benefit you financially. Using Track Changes may seem daunting at first but if you can master it, you’ll be glad you did.
To ensure you have a smooth ride on your self-publishing journey, everyone involved needs to work together as a team. Investing time in applying these tips to your manuscript and learning how to use all the technology tools that are available to you is a worthwhile practice. Not only will your publishing partners appreciate your efforts, but your budget will be healthier as a result.