Posts Tagged ‘Manuscript formatting’


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by Chaz Bufe (senior editor, See Sharp Press)

When evaluating manuscripts and dealing with prospective authors, publishers are constantly looking for red flags. Here are two that arise after a publisher responds positively to a query; one of them is very common, the other somewhat less so.

The first concerns manuscript formatting. Pros don’t do any formatting beyond paragraph returns and, perhaps, occasional italicization or underlining (not both). And they’ll put footnotes/endnotes at the ends of chapters in exactly the same format as the text (not formatted as footnotes or endnotes). If they’re technically literate enough to do the equivalent of walking and chewing gum at the same time, they’ll also submit the manuscript in rtf or plain text format.

Why are these things important? One, they create a favorable impression: they mark you as someone who knows what he or she is doing. Two, they make it very easy for the publisher to deal with the text during the layout process.

Conversely, sending a heavily formatted file (especially one in MSWord, which inserts all sorts of hidden codes), makes dealing with it much more of a chore during the layout process. (Publishers will invariably delete all of your formatting during layout, anyway, so such formatting is worse than pointless.) Such formatting also marks you as an amateur, and quite possibly a fussy control freak who thinks s/he knows more than s/he does–in other words, someone who would be a pain in the ass to deal with.

To compound matters, some authors are proud of their formatting, and insist on it. At See Sharp, this is grounds for immediate rejection, no matter what the merits of the manuscript. I strongly suspect that the same holds with other publishers.

Similarly, after tentative acceptance of a manuscript (but before a contract is signed) authors will occasionally insist on veto power over the cover.  Such insistence is a huge red flag, again indicating that the author is an amateur who thinks s/he knows more than s/he does, and who will be a pain in the butt to deal with. Our response to such requests is always “Absolutely not!” along with a polite explanation of why we’re saying “no.” If, after this, an author still insists, we don’t send him or her a contract. Other publishers will very probably react similarly if you’re not Stephen King or Michael Chabon–and they’d almost certainly have enough sense to stay out of the design process.

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