Monday, January 07, 2008

Today I'm a crabby editor

New writers often ask questions about how to format manuscripts, and established writers and editors provide a variety of opinions about the "right" way and the "wrong" way to do it. I happen to prefer the format established post-typewriter/pre-personal computer, but I realize time, technology, and training changes everything.

I'm no Luddite. I worked for a large book and periodical publisher that was accepting electronic manuscripts back in the 1980s before Macintoshes existed and when electronic manuscripts arrived on 8" Wang disks that truly were floppy! I worked with and taught GenCode, a precursor to today's generic mark-up languages (HTML, SGML, etc.)., and today I write, edit, and design printed and electronic publications using a variety of word processing and page layout programs on both Macintoshes and Windows-based PCs.

So allow me a moment to play crabby editor while I bitch about a few of the most common mistakes I see writers make when preparing electronic manuscripts, and my complaints have nothing to do with font or typesize.

1. PUT YOUR NAME AND CONTACT INFORMATION ON THE MANUSCRIPT. Manuscripts submitted via E-mail often get separated from their E-mail cover letters. Manuscripts submitted as hardcopy often get separated from their cover letters. Almost every day I have my hands on manuscripts that have no byline and no author contact information. What happens? If the manuscripts are not suitable, they go into the trash. If the manuscripts might be made suitable with revision, they go into a pile waiting for the day someone has the time to figure out where they came from, but usually go in the trash anyhow. If the manuscripts are truly exceptional, someone will try to track down the author, and may or may not be successful.

My advice: Put your name, address, phone number(s), FAX number, and E-mail address on the first page of every manuscript you submit.

2. SUBMIT CLEAN ELECTRONIC FILES. Many writers are capable of producing manuscripts that look nice when printed, but their electronic files are filled with trash coding and inconsistent coding, coding that an editor has to strip out and clean up before importing your files into a page layout program.

Examples of trash coding and inconsistent coding:

Extra spacebands in the middle of sentences
Extra spacebands at the end of paragraphs
Inconsistent paragraph indenting (using your program's formatting capabilities to automatically indent some paragraphs, using the tab key to indent some paragraphs, and hitting the spaceband multiple times to indent other paragraphs)
Using inch marks for quote marks and foot marks for single quote marks and apostrophes; or, worse, using them Inconsistently throughout a manuscript
Using en-dashes where em-dashes belong
Putting spaces around some dashes but not around others
Hitting the return key multiple times to move material from one page to another

I could go on, but I won't.

My advice: Before you submit your next manuscript, turn on invisibles so that you can see the coding you've inserted into your manuscript, and then clean it up. And if you don't know what's best, then, at the very least, be consistent.

3. NUMBER YOUR PAGES. Better still: Put your name and the title of your article or story on every page with the page number.

Doing these three things won't help you sell bad work, but doing these things will help make your editors happy when you do submit something publishable.


Kevin R. Tipple said...

Okay, so how do you turn on invisibles? Also, how do you number pages so that when you go back in later and change stuff it will adjust with you and stay in place?

I can be the only one who does not know.


Michael Bracken said...

I use Word 11.3.8 on a Macintosh, but the process is the same or quite similar in other versions of Word for both Macs and PCs.

To turn on invisibles: There should be a button in your Toolbar that looks like a paragraph mark. Selecting this button turns invisibles on and off.

To add page numbers that will stay in place: From the menu, select View. From the drop-down menu select Header and Footer. Insert your page number and any other information you want on every page into the Header.

Word will automatically number your pages (select the # button) and you can have your first page headers and footers different than the rest of your document, or you can choose to make left-hand and right-hand pages have different headers and footers (if you were creating a duplexed document).

Graham Powell said...

Using en-dashes where em-dashes belong.

Dude, let's not get too anal-retentive here. I don't even know which goes where.

Michael Bracken said...

An en-dash, which is shorter than an em-dash but longer than a hyphen, is used in place of the words "to" or "through," specifically when dealing with numbers.

For example:

Plant the sends 7-10 inches below the surface.

While most people use a hyphen in this case, it is typographically correct to use an en-dash.

In all other cases where a dash is called for, use an em-dash.