Book Editing and Design: Manuscript Preparation

27 Jul

Manuscript preparation seems to be in the air recently. Big Bad Book Blog posted about it this week (Mark and I posted comments, though the link to me is from my personal blog, if anyone is interested), and other blogs and publishing resources have posted about it recently.

For the most part we can’t be too picky at this point with the manuscripts we receive, or the condition they’re in. We’re happy to have them.

At the same time, it can be frustrating in the early stages of the copy edit to work through some of the unique formatting we receive.

Some formatting problems arise because the material is technical — equations, for instance — and necessary to the book, and most of the time we have software such as MathType that helps solve the technical issues. Other problems have included weird tables and other graphical material. But now that I’ve been importing the unedited manuscript — usually a Word document — directly into InDesign before making initial edits (applying styles, making headers, saving space for graphics, etc.) some of the quirky issues of formatting go away fairly easily, particularly tables. Manipulating tables in Word is almost a cause for tears (I can’t tear my hair out, because there’s not much to tear out). But difficulty manipulating tables is a design flaw of Word, which isn’t a graphically-oriented program.

Still, formatting quirks appear regularly, not just in manuscripts we receive but in other documents I’ve seen, and these quirks tend to kill valuable time, even though they might seem minor. Quirks include heads and subheads and sub-subheads and even sub-sub-subheads placed in the text, sometimes seemingly randomly and not always used consistently — an element might, for instance, be used as a main heading in one spot, and a subhead in the next. But some of the most time consuming formatting issues are ALL CAPS with text that shouldn’t be, and used usually as a means to show emphasis; bold sections of text to show emphasis; bold, underlined text for even more emphasis; and random font increases within the same paragraph and I’m not sure why the font increases were ever necessary.

Even with tools to clean up such copy, the time used in doing so could be better used in the overall development of the manuscript. At times it makes me lament all the neat features word processors allow us, including the ability to format manuscripts using all sorts of elements. The toys seem to short circuit typing class (my age is showing), or composition classes: Show emphasis by using italics, and usually only a word or phrase need be emphasized, not whole blocks of text. With word processors, depending on the font used, the text can be italicized, or underlined. Emphasis, however, should be used sparingly.

The English teacher in me is probably showing. When I taught freshman composition classes, I would spend at least a week on manuscript preparation. I was never too terribly picky if my students didn’t fully grasp MLA style (I’m not completely up to speed on it myself), but I did try to emphasize the idea of preparing a neat, easy-to-read manuscript. I tried to get them to think in terms of submitting their papers for publication, though not to think of what the piece would look like published. Emphasis was on simplicity.

Writing is a complicated process. Making it difficult by over formatting a text can defeat the purpose. When preparing a manuscript, keep it simple and clean.



2 Responses to “Book Editing and Design: Manuscript Preparation”

  1. Stephen Tiano July 28, 2007 at 9:38 am #

    Don’t you find that the most efficient way to work is to have the totally unformatted textfile simply coded to indicate which elements are which–i.e., naming, say, “H1” for 1 heads, “CT” for chapter title, “NL1” for first item of a numbered list, etc.? Then you set up stylesheets in Quark or InDesign with the same names respectively. On import, of course, the stylesheets are automatically applied. I’ve always found that it’s best to have plain, unformatted textfiles.

    As for math–don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of MathType. I’ve used it for years, versions ago, for all my math in a slate of science journals I used to lay out in PageMaker. I used the Mathable XTension up to version 4.1 of Quark. I’m now using MathType 5.1, which makes equations that play nice with Quark 6.5 and later. As for InDesign, have you checked into InMath?

  2. Peter Teiman August 23, 2007 at 9:13 pm #

    This is Peter Teiman writing from Switzerland. Yes, I agree how imperative typographical cues are when writing highly factual, especially textbook material.

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