Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Preparing Manuscripts for Submission

I do freelance editing from time to time. Writers can hire me through my personal website (http://vsgrenier.com) or through the companies I have signed on as a freelance editor, such as Halo Publishing Int. The thing I find most interesting about editing a manuscript is how much of it could have been done before it reached me. I do not understand why a writer would not take the time to really prepare their manuscript for publication.

If you think about it, editors read dozens of manuscripts every day, week, and month. Many of them read them at home since their offices are filled with manuscripts waiting to be proofed, edited, checking layouts, and so much more. Because of this, most editors form a quick impression based on how a manuscript is sent, written on the first couple of pages, and by its cover letter. Now, you do not need to run and hide or think, “Maybe I should just throw in the towel. There’s no way I can compete against all those professional writers.” If you feel you have written your best manuscript, revised it and proofread it until your eyes bled, then keep reading. I am here to help you on your road to publication with a few tips to get your manuscript totally prepared for submission.

The first thing you should be doing is taking writing courses. Be it at a writing conference, local college, or from an online workshop. Even reading books about writing will help you improve your craft and talent. I have loads of writing books on my desk. I refer to them all the time when I am having trouble with a manuscript I am working on. I find even though I know the guidelines to writing for children, re-reading about a certain topic helps me pin point what is wrong within my work in progress.

The next important thing you all should be doing is join a critique group (in-person or online) to get your manuscript in shape for submission. Yes, you can ask your spouse, partner, family members, friend(s), neighborhood children, etc. to read your manuscript, but they will not have the eyes a trained writer or group of writers will. Also, the number one thing to get an editor rejection is to say your family, friend, or kids liked your plot line, characters, action, even scenes. Editors look for things like weedy words, smooth transitions, and a great beginning hook. I am going to guess your family, friends, spouse, partner, or children do not have a clue these things matter to a publisher. And if they do, I am betting they will not be able to tell you exactly what it is, so you won’t be able to fix it. That is why a critique group is so important.

Another important thing you should do is hire a freelance editor. I know, it costs money, but the information you gain from a freelance editor who spends their day reading manuscripts on your genre of writing is invaluable. Heck, I even send my own manuscripts to freelance editors for a critique or proofreading. The reason is that I know I am too close to my own writing to really be tough on what needs fixing and what is working. A freelance editor will bring fresh eyes to your manuscript and help you make it the best it can be before submission.

Freelance editors look for things beyond what most critique partners or groups look for. They will look for things like weak modifiers (also known as weedy words), overly used words, superfluous beginnings, hedging words, transitions between scenes and chapters, character development and plot, fonts, point of view changes, tense switching, setting, situations, your hook, ending, climax, sluggish middles, detail and dialogue. This only names a few things they look for, or should be looking at. A few other things I look for as a freelance editor are spacing, margins, and hard returns. Why to I look at these things? Because if your manuscript is picked up by an editor at a publishing it house, if these things are not formatted in the correct way it will make typesetting more difficult. Yes, editors look for this on all submissions.

This means do not try to make your manuscript look like a final printed page. When you make the right-hand margin line up flush right, the way the left-hand margin lines up flush left, this is when a word-processing program takes a line of text and justifies it both right and left, it adds annoying spaces between letters and words in every line of type.

Believe it or not, some publishers use scanners with optical character-recognition software to read manuscripts and translate them into computer text. So now you can see how using the justify margins feature on your word processor could really make things a big mess and a bunch of gibberish in the end.

Lastly, writers need to format their manuscript for submission. I see so many manuscripts not properly formatted and will either explain or for an extra fee do the work for the writer. It is import to have a properly formatted manuscript when submitting. Not only with margins, but using the right types of fronts (Times Roman, Courier, or Arial are preferred) and headings. Knowing where to place your title, your personal info, and page numbers is key.

I cannot tell you how many times I have received a manuscript with no header, only a title. That’s great, but what happens if I mix the pages up while proofing and editing? Every page should have a header. The first page of your manuscript should have in the upper left-hand corner, single-spaced, your name, address, email address, phone number, and tax id number. All following pages should have in the upper left-hand corner, your last name and title of the manuscript. Over in the right-hand corner should be the page number.

Knowing where to position your title is also important. Your title should be center, all in caps, and placed 5 inches down from the top of the page. Your name or pen name should be right below it. Then double space twice and begin your text. I may seem a waste of space to you as the writer, but editor use this space for notes—for themselves or the typesetter. If you place your title too high and do not leave this working space, it frustrates the editor and marks you as an amateur.

This may seem a lot to do and keep in mind, but in the end you will be happy you did. If you want an editor to say “yes” to your manuscript, make it easy on the editor by following their guidelines and applying these important keys to preparing your manuscript for submissions.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with you on the importance of having a manuscript professionally edited. Even though my publisher assigns an editor during the production stage, I hire one before it gets to that point. There still might be mistakes or problems to correct when their editor gets it, but not as many as if I simply let it go thinking I caught most everything.