Nothing Matters But the Words

Last week I got the tweaks back from an author new to me. We’d had some great email and Facebook conversations, and she’d been very calm and professional. But until the tweaks arrived, I didn’t realize she’d been doing some homework: she’d read my post on how to format your manuscript.

Don’t insert space (returns or otherwise) to bring the beginning of your chapter halfway down the page, one of the entries reads. The typesetter will take care of that later. We’re editing now, not prettifying.

A lot of people seem to miss that one. Or don’t believe me. Or something. After all, open any novel and you’ll see with your own eyes that the chapter begins in the middle of a right-hand page, yes?

My author left me a note in the margin of the first chapter, right under the deletion of twelve or fifteen returns: So does this look right now? Starting at the top? You can’t imagine how many books/blogs/seminars have told me to start every chapter in the middle of the page. Think of all the time I’ve wasted.

This, friends, is a woman after my own heart. Yes! Think of all the time I’ve wasted, scrolling through all those stinkin’ returns in all those manuscripts. So let me tell you again: to a manuscript in the editorial process, nothing matters but the words. Making this manuscript look like a book is someone else’s job, and that happens during the production process. Later. When we’re done.

I can’t imagine why “they”—the people writing those how-to books and blogs or presiding over those how-to seminars—would say such a thing. Because, you know, they’re wrong. But I have a theory. I think the people who are telling you to start your chapter in the middle of a page have never actually been involved in the production of an actual book. They’re just makin’ it up to “add value” to whatever they’re selling you. Those of us who do work on books before they go to the typesetter know—repeat after me—nothing matters but the words.

Choose your experts wisely, kids.

Now, shall we review? I see manuscripts with all sorts of fancy typefaces, with underlining and different sized fonts. I see boxes drawn around call-outs, and space inserted after Every. Single. Paragraph. Don’t do that stuff.

Instead, use Times or Times New Roman in twelve-point type. You can use bold, italics, and roman, and nothing else. Use page breaks to separate chapters. Learn how to use tabs and indents. And save us both some time and don’t add extra space before you begin a chapter. Because right now, nothing matters but the words.

Tweet: When we’re editing, nothing matters but the words. Honest.
Tweet: Making the manuscript look like a book is someone else’s job; it happens in production.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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4 Comments

  1. Priscilla Ronan says:

    Words, words, words. This blog is exactly what I needed to read today!
    Part of the difficulty is that often the writer thinks in terms of how the book looks in his or her mind.
    And another problem is patience as a new writer (which is how I describe myself).
    Thank you for all of your very informative blogs as I jump into this new aspect of my life.

  2. Russ Gifford says:

    I liked this post, very interesting.

  3. […] Word document, for example (“Formatting Your Manuscript for Your Editor”). I know I preach “Nothing Matters But the Words,” but there’s a difference between going crazy with fancy fonts and putting your best foot […]

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  1. By The Invisibles on 9 November, 2015 at 5:10 pm

    […] Word document, for example (“Formatting Your Manuscript for Your Editor”). I know I preach “Nothing Matters But the Words,” but there’s a difference between going crazy with fancy fonts and putting your best foot […]

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