Should Authors Format Their Own Manuscript?
Formatting is probably the worst part of writing a book. I think this is something new authors struggle with more than anyone, but only because many of them have the wrong idea. As an editor, I have bumped into many writers who are honestly baffled when I ask them if their work is properly formatted. It is almost as if the thought had not crossed their mind until the question left my mouth. Sometimes they’ll scratch their heads and say, I’m supposed to format my manuscript myself?
Well, that’s a question that could lead to much literary debate, but the short answer is no. You—the author—do not have to format your manuscript yourself. BUT, you most certainly should format your manuscript yourself. In fact, I can say with confidence, most editors will be expecting you to format it yourself or will charge you extra if they have to format it for you.
I remember working with a brand-new author a few weeks ago who had no knowledge of formatting whatsoever. She was a real trooper about the editing but after spending an hour or two explaining the significance of quotation marks in dialogue, the frustration began to set in for both of us. It reached a point where she sighed and said, aren’t you the editor? Shouldn’t you be doing this and not me?
As a certified copy editor, I have been asked this question a number of times and my answer is always the same; yes, I am the editor and yes, I should be doing this! But the reason I don’t do formatting is because it is a basic and necessary skill that every author needs. If you pay me for 10 hours of editing and I spend 8 of those hours working on formatting—painstakingly going through the manuscript to insert appropriate indents and properly construct dialogue, I’ll be left with only 2 hours of editing for the novel itself.
Now do you see why it’s important to format your manuscript yourself?
This may not be the case for every author; maybe you’ve got the bucks to pay your editor for a thousand hours—awesome! But what happens when you bump into an editor who doesn’t touch formatting? Believe it or not, there are plenty of freelance editors out there who make it clear in their guidelines that they will not touch formatting—and to be frank, I don’t blame them!
Formatting is an incredibly important part of the editing process; the format is the crutch of the manuscript; it is what holds the entire book together. But it is also the most tedious part of editing and, admittedly, the most boring. I truly dislike formatting; I can’t stand picking through dialogue and correcting margins and inserting proper indents. I’d much rather be focusing on characterization, pacing, or structure—but I can’t get to that when I’m too busy nitpicking through improper indentation.
When I open a new piece from a client and see incorrect margins or odd fonts, my heart sinks. As an editor, and a reader, I can honestly say I lose interest in books with poor formatting. The reader side of me will close a book and never look back, but the professional side of me will put my hands on the keyboard and force my fingers to type when I’m dealing with a client.
But all this stress could be washed away if authors took the time to format their manuscripts themselves. I understand you are an author, not and editor. I understand that you pay an editor to edit—not complain. I understand that its your job to be creative and my job to be practical. But I want you to understand that formatting makes the editing process so much easier and move so much faster. At the very least, try to be more mindful of formatting to get your manuscript back as fast as possible while spending the least amount of money. Like I said earlier, if you pay for 10 hours of editing, you want most of that time (and money) to be spent on the meat of the story, not the bare bones.
To answer the question that inspired this article; should authors format their own manuscript? YES, they should. Do they have to? Absolutely not—but it will make life so much easier for both parties. Now that we’ve established the expectations of formatting, let’s ask the next question; how do you format your manuscript?
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Until next time, God bless!