Thursday, 5 June 2008

Support Page: Manuscript Tips

For all of you who are considering traditional publication of original manuscripts, here is a short summary of the steps I found myself taking:

1. A Draft Is Not A Final Manuscript.

Having completed your story, realise it's not yet a manuscript. I am not sure how the Oxford English Dictionary defines a "manuscript". Candidly, this is not the issue I faced. The issue is that once you have written a story with chapters, beginning middle and end, it's still a raw product.

Initially, I made the mistake of showing my "raw product" to anyone who took an interest. This is a flawed notion. Distributing uncopyrighted, unproofed work to someone who you don't know well, and has little interest in supporting your efforts, is tauntamount to literary suicide.

Also publishing directly on the Net is open to question, since this content is "Public Domain" unless you copyright. My guide to painless copyrighting can be found here.

On the Net an author will not have the backup of an experienced publisher or agent. Readers may support online writers, but I am specifically referring to authors publishing in the traditional paperback fiction markets, please note.

2. Your Raw Product Needs Attention.

This is what I call the proofing and indexing phase. It's not complicated. Even if you got straight A's in English Language and Literature, you still need a trusted pair of eyes to proof (systematically correct) your work because a good writer focuses on writing, not final presentation.

The outcome of proofing will be you have a more polished, readable product for readers, including those all-important reviewing agents and prospective publishers. (Although over-drafting should be avoided. Two drafts is recommended as sufficient by Stephen King in his excellent book "On Writing", for example).

Please note, it's the final draft you want to give your proofer. Passing a proofer a first draft will slow down a final draft being produced. Due to the possibility of re-drafting and re-proofing becoming necessary.

By indexing, I mean simple chapter indexing at the beginning of your story. For example:

Chapter 1 - In The Beginning
Chapter 2 - Let There Be Light
Chapter 3 - Endgame

This is especially useful for stories above 20,000 words. In my novella, for example, I incorrectly numbered one of my chapters, affecting the numbering of all chapters that followed. I realised a simple chapter index acts as a map, so the chapters can be located quickly when final drafting and proofing occurs.

3. Use A Recent Word-processor.

This may sound obvious, but for writers like me without state-of-the-art computers and software, its an important point. Because formatting, saving and printing your magnus opus becomes a significant factor later. You may have spent two years compiling your masterpiece, unless it can be read, saved and printed easily by publishers, printing firms and typesetters, not forgetting yourself and your proofer, your efforts will be hampered.

I recommend all manuscripts be written in 12pt Arial, page-numbered, single-sheet with double-spacing, unless publishers and agents specifically require other formatting. (It's worth asking in advance if no-one makes this clear!)

4. Final Thoughts.

Besides the wonderful
"Writers' & Artists' Yearbook", the only other book I highly recommend serious writers read is Stephen King's "On Writing". Whether one is a SK Fan or not, anyone who argues that King has not been at the top of his profession for over twenty years, cannot have checked the best-seller lists.

"On Writing" represents an honest, contemporary account about the creative writer's journey from unknown to best-selling author. He covers important matters including editing, writing credits and the "toolbox" of skills needed. He includes examples, common errors to avoid and personal recollections that are worth their weight in gold to any aspiring author.

King's Six Key Writing Rules

I hope I have written a useful, concise guide. Feedback is welcomed and encouraged.


Anonymous said...

You may have found benefit in taking your own advice in this article, for then draught may have been correctly spelled as draft.

_writer said...

Thanks for reviewing this article and noticing the error, Anonymous. The spelling error has been corrected.

Kind Regards.