Speaking of information that I passed onto my friend for his new novel, I also sent him a checklist of things that, when applied to a submission, make it the most professional looking manuscript possible.
I’ve been accumulating these little nuggets over the years. They’re based a little on manuscripts I’ve seen by others, moreso on horror stories I’ve heard from editors, and a great deal on papers that have come across my desk at the advertising agency from people looking for jobs and/or internships (which require, not by coincidence, writing samples).
So here’s the list. If it seems to some of you I’m harping or beating a dead horse, let me reassure you of something – every day, a book editor somewhere finds a manuscript that violates one, some, or all of these very, very, very basic tenets. So heed ’em or be them:
- Make sure your manuscript is in proper manuscript form.
Single spaced with crayoned illustrations just won’t cut it (you think I’m kidding). If you don’t know the proper format for your manuscript, Google it, or go to the library and ask for help at the reference desk.
- Run a spelling and grammar check.
Yes, this is obvious. But you’d be surprised how many people don’t do this. This will catch many, many ills in a manuscript. Not all of them. But it will be really, really obvious if you don’t.
- Make sure you’re sending your target an appropriate manuscript.
I’ll repeat my admonition about sending Blood, Guts, and Thunder to the publishers of Love’s Unexpected Tickle. You’d be surprised how many people also miss this little bit of the obvious. Like the potential employee who sent me a calculus paper as a writing sample. I couldn’t understand it, let alone read it. Obviously, the submitter wasn’t a good match for an office full of right-brained dreamers.
- Make sure that your manuscript’s formatting is consistent throughout.
I’ve seen fonts change, margins blown, tab settings skewed, text alignment inconsistencies, mangled page counts, and more. Sometimes they’re because of cross-platform file issues (e.g., PC to Mac – not so much anymore – or something like Word Perfect to anything reasonable like MS Word – surprisingly frequent).
Also, pick a font that is nice and big and won’t destroy the nice editor’s eyes. The classic serif fonts like Courier/Courier New, Times/Times New Roman are really nice, all-purpose general reading fonts. If you have a special purpose font for part of your manuscript, keep it readable, and if you have a special vision for it in your book, discuss it with your editor after s/he buys your book.
- If you can’t do it yourself, get someone skilled – a copy editor or a HS English teacher (if they’re still qualified to do it) to do a thorough proof of the book to catch the stuff that Grammar/Spell Check didn’t.
Even if you have to pay them, – in cash, or even with a promise of a mention in the book’s acknowledgments – it’s worth it.
If you can do it yourself, then power to you! Just make sure you look for things like this (all of which I’ve seen in many different places):
* Wrong words (homonyms like there and their)
* Incomplete words that are still legitimate words (think “of” instead of “off” – “the” instead of “they” – “know” instead of “known”)
* Misspellings of words into other words (“it” “is” and “in” interchangably, for example)
* Consistent use of quotes: ” or ‘
* Serial quotes (one person speaking for several paragraphs) – Open quote the first paragraph and every spoken paragraph that follows as long as it is not interrupted – when the speech finally ends, close quote it.
* Quotes within quotes (” first, then ‘ – I’ve never gone to the third level, so I don’t know what to tell you there, other than I wouldn’t recommend it for that reason).
* Odd characters where they shouldn’t be. There are such people as precision touch typists – but most of us right-brainers don’t care about that.
* Tricky grammatical word choices – “that” and “which”; “affect” and “effect” – you could probably name a hundred others.
* Malapropisms. They’re funny when Norm Crosby or Archie Bunker spew them forth, but not in a narrative (unless you have a character who frequently drops them)
- Take a look at your e-mail address.
What does it say about you? What kind of image does it put into the head of an editor?. If you think 2hot4U@mailplace.com or hankypankyspanky@world-o’-sin.com convey the message that you’re taking your work seriously, go right ahead and try it (okay, maybe you’ve written Swinging and Spanking for Dummies – you still need to think it over). Chances are you know someone with a Gmail account – have them send you and invite and get yourself a nice, conservative address using your name or pen name.
I’m serious here. I’ve seen this too much to kid around. And I’m not exaggerating much.
I’m sure I’ve missed some other common errors – if you know of some, feel free to comment them in. Otherwise, this is what you should keep in mind when putting together the final manuscript of your masterpiece. After all, would you send it to the prom in a tux or dress, or jeans and a ratty old Clash t-shirt?
(Okay, granted, I would have tried to get away with the Clash shirt had they been around and had I bothered to go to the prom. But you get the idea.)
Like the castle in it’s corner
In a medieval game
I foresee terrible trouble
And I stay here just the same
(via iTunes Shuffle Play)