Monday, January 09, 2012

Ten Tips to Make Your Manuscript Shine

We self-publishers fight a lonely battle, finding readers for our wit and wisdom. We write alone, and now we sell alone and search for ways to market our work. How do we entice readers to open their wallets?
Those questions are often premature. Before asking how you're going to cope with all those book orders, you need to make sure you have a quality product. So here are ten tips to make your book, fiction or non-fiction, the best it can be.
#1 Use a spell-checker, but only as a first line of defense. Then you look for misspellings the spell-checker won't catch, such as then/than, to/too/two, tail/tale, or its/it's.
#2 Read your manuscript critically, as though you weren't the author. Some things to check include complete chapters, well-organized paragraphs, complete sentences, and accurate punctuation.
#3 Be consistent. If you capitalize a word once in the text, chances are you always want to capitalize it. Decide whether you want one space or two at the end of a sentence, and stick with it. Never change your font or type size without good reason. If your work consists of more than one file, be sure that every file is formatted identically.
#4 Get honest, competent critiques. Leave your mother and spouse alone; your family has better things to do than fawn over your work. Avoid critiques from anyone who has an emotional stake in making you happy, because that isn't what you need. The Internet Writing Workshop ( is an excellent source of constructive, informed criticism.
#5 Use your judgment. Even good critiquers may give you conflicting advice. Remember that it's your project, so the final decision is always yours.
#6 Refer to a style manual such as the Chicago Manual of Style, which is the most widely accepted guide for standard writing.
#7 Make a style sheet. A novel or other large manuscript can involve lots of small stylistic decisions by the author. Keep a pad of paper with a running list things you don't want to have to keep looking up. For example, a cartoon I liked showed a bank robber writing a note and asking the teller, "Is holdup one word or two?" Think of words you often misspell or don't know how to capitalize, and write them correctly on the list.
#8 Follow your publisher's guidelines religiously even if they don't insist.
#9 Repeat tip #2.
#10 Review the publisher's proof carefully. When you receive the publisher's proof isn't the time to look for typos; you should have done that already. At this stage, the publisher may even charge you if you fix many of your own mistakes at this stage. Instead, look for their errors. Are illustrations in their proper places? Are pages and chapters numbered properly? Look at every page's overall appearance. Is each one properly aligned? Is any text missing?
If you follow these simple (but not always easy) tips, I can't guarantee best-sellerdom for your book, but I can promise you this: Your book will be far superior to the vast majority of self-published books. You will have a quality product.
This article first appeared in Ezine Articles in 2007.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

I'm a big believer in the Chicago Manual of Style, too.

I do occasionally bug my husband, but that's to be sure I have my male POV stuff correct. He's good at pointing out "No man would say that!"

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bob! Very timely tips as I do last minute read through. I do trust my judgment and one really has to when it comes to gray shady areas. And I often refer to the Chicago Manual of Style.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I learned quickly the phrases and words my publisher does not want to see!

Murees Dupé said...

Thank you so much for sharing these tips. They are of great use to me. Thanks again.

Marian Allen said...

I particularly like the style sheet! I keep track of my characters, but I never thought about keeping track of style points. Excellent!

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Bob Sanchez said...

Diane, sometimes you just need another perspective. The writer doesn't necessarily always know when something is plausible. I have a friend who writes in the pov of preteen girls, and she is always checking with them to make sure she gets it right.

Stephen, trust your judgment but make sure you get the opinion of others you trust.

Alex, you're fortunate to have a publisher who communicates clearly what they want.

Thanks, Murees. I'm glad you find the tips useful. We writers need all the advantages we can get.

Marian, there are lots of little things a style sheet might contain, and of course it should be unique for each document. Did you know, for example, that Dumpster and Realtor should be capitalized because they are trademarked names? Or that DayGlo is correct, and not Day-Glo or Dayglo? Stuff like that you don't want to have to keep looking up over and over again. Look it up once and put it on your style sheet, and you'll be both consistent and right.

Mac said...

When I saw "El Paso Writer's League" over on the Blood Red Pencil, I had to come over and say hello.

I'm a 25y expat of EP (not that I miss the summer heat or spring dust storms).

But who doesn't moon over their home town now and then.

Look forward to looking at your work.

Mac Wheeler

Dani said...

Two fatal flaws I often see: Starting too many sentences with "and". And ;) pet words that keep showing up throughout the book, like "lovely". There it is again. Lovely. Every author has a word crutch like that.

Bob Sanchez said...

I'm guilty of beginning some sentences with "And." Guess I need to watch for that.

Holly Jahangiri said...

#4 and #5 - yay!! I don't need them fawning over it, either! and #6 just arrived on my doorstep (the new 16th edition) today! (Only a small - very small - number of people would understand my excitement over that.) Forget #8 and #9. Really. (Makes it that much easier for the rest of us to get published!)

Okay, that was mean. Burn #8 amd #9 into your skull.

Holly Jahangiri said...

Just read Dani's comment. My crutch word is "actually." "Lovely" is more like a cane or a hiking stick.

Anonymous said...

Getting a manuscript ready is a lot of work, but it's all important stuff that needs to be done. Thanks for sharing, I'll bookmark this post for later.

Jo VonBargen said...

Great blog you have here, Bob! Sage advice for any writer. I'm really, really tired of reading blogs that haven't even been spell-checked. Even if they're wonderful writers content-wise, I can't get past the errors in terms of respect for the piece. Glad you told us like it is!

I'm a Texas chick now, but grew up in Albuquerque. Adobe rules!! lol

Happy to meet you, Bob.

Luis Bento said...

Thanks Bob! Waiting to be a best seller...