10 Tips for Prepping Your Manuscript: A Self-Publishers’ Checklist

If you want to self-publish your book, completing the manuscript constitutes only the first step. Then you need to take that (hopefully) professionally edited piece of work and have it turned into a book. That means you must have it designed (hopefully) by a professional designer and then printed. I say ”hopefully” because all too many indie authors fail to employ the expertise of experts at these stages. Yet, doing so ensures that their books will meet the same standards as traditionally published books and have the same chance of success once they hit the market.

The design step can seem daunting to writers with no experience in this area of the publishing world. Here we move from words, sentences and paragraphs to cover art, page layouts and type faces. But there are professionals to help, and you can make the process go smoothly by doing just one thing: prepping your manuscript. This entails doing something most writers do, indeed, know how to do—work with their word processing program.

My colleague and favorite book designer, as well as my go-to-guy for all things book design related, Joel Friedlander serves as expert guest blogger today to offer up a checklist for self-publisher that will help prepare your manuscript for your designer. Joel, the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish and an award-winning book designer, should know—he’s designed enough books, including his own.

10 Tips for Prepping Your Manuscript: A Checklist for Self-Publishers
by Joel Friedlander

One of the first decisions you have to make when you decide to publish your own book is: Who’s going to turn your manuscript into the book you want it to become?

Lots of people decide they can do it themselves, and I’m sure some of them are happy they did. For others, the whole process of learning about book design, pagination, fonts, and the rest of it just isn’t the way they want to spend their time.

They hire a book designer, either on their own or through a company that provides access to contractors.

But now you have to prepare your manuscript for publishing. Let me tell you, as someone who has worked on hundreds of author’s manuscripts, it makes a big difference to your book designer how clean the file is when it hits her hard drive.

A messy manuscript takes longer to tidy up so it doesn’t cause problems when you get it into your layout software.

How can you help? Here are ten tips on how to get your manuscript ready for production. Keep in mind you only want to start doing this once you’re sure—no, I mean really sure—that your manuscript is final, ready for print.

Okay, now that you’re ready, let’s dive in.

  1. Get rid of extra spaces. Whether you’ve used them for spacing or between sentences, your file should contain no double spaces at all.
  2. Get rid of extra paragraph returns. We space things out so they look nice on the screen, but we don’t need or want them for typesetting. Your file should have no double paragraph returns in it.
  3. Style, don’t format. When you highlight and format a piece of text, it may not survive the transition to the layout software. But if you learn to use styles your document will be more consistent and all the styles will translate just fine.
  4. Account for unusual characters. If your manuscript uses unusual accents or other diacritical marks, make sure your designer knows in advance. They’ll be able to tell you the best way to ensure they are accurately translated.
  5. Eliminate underlines. In book typography, we use italic fonts for emphasis, and almost never use underlines, not even for URLs.
  6. Eliminate bold in your text. See #5, above. Although bold is often used for headings and subheadings, it doesn’t belong in the body of your text, use italic instead.
  7. Resolve markups. Sometimes manuscripts arrive with unresolved issues in the markup, perhaps from an early reader or an editor. Your designer won’t know how to resolve them before the file is stripped of its code and ported to layout software.
  8. Check for completeness. It’s very common for some parts of your book to arrive later than other parts. For instance, you might be waiting for a Library of Congress number or a CIP block, or there might be permissions late to arrive, or an index that will be dropped in after everything else is done. But don’t send a manuscript off to production if it’s missing major elements, whole chapters, some dialogue you’ll “be finished with in the morning,” or the rest of the quotes you want at the chapter openings but haven’t picked yet. All of this makes the production of your book less efficient and more prone to errors.
  9. Errant spaces. This is a tricky one but will be caught in a close reading. You are proofreading before you go to press, right? What happens here, especially in books that are heavy with dialogue, is that a space will creep into the wrong place. You can’t catch these by searching for two spaces in a row. For instance, a space before a closing quote might turn it into an open quote when it gets to typesetting.
  10. Proofread a monospaced copy. Every one of the errors I’ve talked about here is easier to spot if you do this last one. Save a copy of your book manuscript and change it to a monospaced font like Courier. You can use 10 point or 11 point and set your line spacing to 1.5 lines or double spacing and print it out or make a PDF. Then proofread that one, you’ll be amazed at the things that pop out that you completely missed when you read it in Garamond or Times New Roman.

Here are 2 reasons to spend some time prepping your files:

  1. To help keep your book on schedule
  2. To avoid errors that can migrate into your final print or e-book files

Following this list is going to make your file prep tasks that much easier.

About the Author

Joel Friedlander is an award-winning book designer, the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish and a blogger at www.TheBookDesigner.com who writes about book design, e-books and the future of publishing.


Watch for the final telesminar of this year’s WNFIN event on November 30th, “Content, Character & Connection: Becoming a Successful Writer in a Bottom-Up World,” with Michael Larsen.  To be register, click here.


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