Once you’ve finished writing your manuscript, think of it as a roughly hewn sculpture. The raw materials have been compiled, the basic shape is there, but it takes a great deal of polishing before the project can be considered finished.
In writing, as in life, errors happen to everyone. And anyone who has been working on a manuscript for a long time is much less likely to spot grammatical mistakes than a reader approaching the manuscript for the first time. Seek a fresh set of eyes that can identify errors that the writer’s eyes are likely to miss, or that can offer feedback regarding stylistic choices and organization.
Some particularly common errors to watch out for include:
- Verb tense: Jump, jumped, jumping, or will jump? Several verb tenses are acceptable depending on what kind of book is being written, but it is essential to keep your verb tense accurate and consistent.
- Apostrophes: Be sure to use apostrophes for contractions and possessives, and use no apostrophe for plurals (e.g. “Don’t eat Mary’s cookies.”) Also, remember that “its” is possessive, while “it’s” is a contraction for it is (e.g. “It’s great when a business honors its values”).
- Misspellings: Keep a dictionary handy. Most publishers use Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed. Or use the Internet, if you prefer.
- Sentence fragment: Any sentence that lacks both a subject and a predicate (i.e. an action). For example, “The marathon runner tied his shoes,” is a complete sentence, whereas “The marathon runner,” and “Tied his shoes,” are both sentence fragments.
- Comma splice: When two independent clauses are separated by a comma rather than a semicolon or a period.
If any of the terms above sound like gibberish, it would probably be a good idea to enlist the help of an experienced editor. Feedback from family, friends, and neighbors can be a vital aspect of your manuscript’s development—that said, professional editors have the skills to root out persistent global errors and hard-tospot grammatical errors that most folks miss. Don’t underestimate the value of a trained outside perspective!
The best way to get on the same page with a freelance editor is to send her or him a small sample of your manuscript (e.g. 10-20 pages) as a test-drive. This way, you can get a sense of the editor’s style, ask for a cost estimate using the sample as a point of reference, and identify any issues in the feedback before the editor commits to working on the entire manuscript.
Be sure to communicate clearly regarding the variety of edits your manuscript needs. Freelance editing services will typically fall into one of three categories:
PROOFREADING involves weeding out all typos, misspellings, and punctuation errors. It is the least rigorous editing style, and therefore usually the most affordable.
COPYEDITING often includes correcting line errors, but also addresses formatting issues, fact-checking, and general stylistic consistency.
CONTENT EDITING delves deeper to provide qualitative feedback on the subject matter of a manuscript. In the case of fiction, the editor helps streamline the plot structure, comments on believability, and offers suggestions on various elements of the narrative. For nonfiction, the editor would primarily focus on clarity, flow, and how to most effectively organize the sections of the book. This variety of editing is by far the most intensive, and as such carries the highest price tag.
This stage of the process typically involves a substantial investment of time, but don’t get discouraged! Ultimately, your book will be more polished and easier to read as a result of being thoroughly edited. Try inquiring about local editors at any schools, bookstores, or libraries in your area; you can also try the Chamber of Commerce.
Designing the physical appearance of your book is another crucial step in the development of your manuscript. Before your book is ready to be printed, its pages must be sized according to the printer’s specifications.
If you were to examine a published book, you’ll notice that there’s more than just text on every page—page numbers, chapter headings, flourishes separating sections of text, photos, illustrations, page headings with the title and author name—these elements are all added during the design phase. Not only should a reader be able to understand the content you’ve written, they should also be able to identify where they currently are in your book and be able to clearly see where distinct sections begin and end.
This is also an ideal time to add supplementary content to your book, including a copyright page, dedication page, table of contents, acknowledgments page, references section, and glossary. Though some of these extra pieces are optional for certain varieties of books (especially fiction), several of them provide essential organizational functions. Your copyright page protects your book from plagiarism by
A typical copyright page layout.
Table of Contents. Typically, only the word “Contents” is used on this page.
asserting that you maintain exclusive rights to the text, while a references section gives credit to the work of other writers to show that you haven’t been guilty of plagiarism yourself. A table of contents helps readers navigate the various sections of your book, while an index helps readers locate particular keywords. If you’re unsure about how these elements should appear in a book, just take a look at how they’re presented in the book you’re currently holding in your hands, or a book on your shelf that is similar to the one you’re writing.
The best way to ensure that the visual appearance of your pages encourages smooth reading is to hire a professional graphic designer. Some designers plug the writer’s text into a premade template, while others build each book from scratch; in both cases, the designer’s primary function is to mold your manuscript from a shapeless text block into an attractively presented, well-organized set of bindable pages. An experienced designer can also give informed recommendations on font choices, line length and spacing, and page margin width, all of which have a massive impact on your book’s readability.
As the outside shell of your book, the cover overwhelmingly determines a potential reader’s first impression. Like it or not, people do judge books by their covers. Folks browsing in bookstores are far more likely to pick something up off the shelf if it catches their eyes with an engaging cover (one that “pops,” as they say in the book business), while an unattractive cover practically guarantees that your book will remain untouched and undiscovered.
Covers also provide a great deal of functional information. A synopsis on the back, ideally with positive marketing blurbs alongside it, is often the first place readers will look to answer the question of whether a particular book is the sort of book they’d enjoy. An author photo with accompanying bio helps brand your book as yours. In the case of paperbacks, the book’s list price should be displayed on the back cover, while most hardcovers display the price on one of the inside flaps of the dust jacket. Finally, a barcode can be easily scanned by retailers for sales and inventory purposes.
Whether you want your book bound in a tastefully minimalist solid color or a multilayered collage of images and elaborate lettering, professional graphic designers possess the skills and experience to turn your vision into reality. Typically, a designer will confer with the author to discuss the general aesthetic of the cover and to collect any images the author may have compiled for design purposes. Then the designer will build the cover spread and send a draft to the author, making adjustments to the details as needed. Trust me, it’s incredible what a graphic designer can do with a few scanned photos and a bit of artistic direction.
Like most print-on-demand binderies, Lightning Source requires that cover files be submitted as a full spread—back cover, spine, and front cover, with a eight inch of bleed space on all outside edges of the spread. Lightning Source provides you with a helpful template customized to your book’s particular size specs and spine width, upon which you superimpose your cover spread before uploading (more on this in the “Title Upload” chapter).