Friday, March 23, 2012

A few tips on formatting a written manuscript

I've been doing tons of research on how to format a manuscript properly. It's frustrating because in order to get published, you've got to follow dozens of rules just to get your book/paper/whatever glanced at before thrown in the trash. And it's doubly frustrating because one website will tell you to always do it one way, where another website will tell you to always do the opposite, if you want to get published. Example: one website told me to always put two spaces in between sentences, whereas another website said not to do this, and another website said it doesn't matter either way. Annoying.

I'm going to list here a few things you need to do to at least start formatting your piece the correct way if you need to submit it electronically (If you're simply printing and mailing, you probably won't need to bother with this and instead follow the rules for formatting a hardcopy, such as coverpage, font selection & size, margins, paragraphs, etc...)

Most places won't accept emails with manuscripts as attachments and request that everything be copied and pasted into an email. Formatting can mess this up and what you want is "plain text" rather than HTML, otherwise what the agent, publisher, etc... receives on the other end is nothing but a garbled mess of code and/or spacing and lines that are all messed up in your email. Always send yourself a copy before you send it to anyone so that you can see what it should look like to them.

 I had a hard time figuring out how to do some of these formatting tricks, despite the internet, so I thought I'd post it here in hopes that another writer can use it when Googling for help. This post is for formatting a manuscript in Microsoft Word 2010.


Changing my text from HTML to plain was especially tricky because my piece was already written; otherwise, I should've changed the formatting before I began. If you're going to write anything, change it all to plain text before you even start so that you can avoid the problems later. And follow the rules as you write--such as spacing, paragraphs, indentation, etc... (I don't pretend to know all the rules for sure, so I won't list them and potentially screw you up).

One thing I was positive of: I had to change my "curly" quotation marks and apostrophes to "straight" marks and apostrophes. I looked all over the internet on how to convert them without having to do it by hand throughout my entire document. I found a page (Strange Horizons) that told me how to do it, but their instructions were a little outdated (2004). I figure it out though with their help.
Note: You can't simply changed from HTML text to plain text by changing the font from Times New Roman (or whatever) with curly quotes to a font like Courier or New Courier--they will still be "curly" (they won't look curly but they'll look slanted rather than straight).
Another problem I had to figure out was how to change my underlined, italicized, or bolded words into plain text (I used underline for my Chapter titles, though I'm not sure that's correct and I'll probably end up changing it. I used italics for thoughts, I don't think I actually used bold but did the function just to be safe). Instead of UnderlinedItalics or Bold, in an electronic document with plain text it should read _Underlined_, _Italics_, or *Bold*.



The very first thing you do before you start any of this is to make a copy of your original document. Make many copies, if you feel the need, so that your word processor doesn't automatically save changes you don't want yet as you go along (if you have it set to do so), or in case things get messed up instead of fixed!

The second thing you do is Select All and change the font to something like Times New Roman, which shows curly quotes, so that you can see the changes you make easier in your document.

Turning off "Smart Quotation Marks" in Microsoft Word 2010

  1. Click on the File tab > Options
  2. Click on "Proofing" and then the AutoCorrect Options... button
  3. Under the AutoFormat tab, under Replace, uncheck the box "Straight quotes" with "smart quotes"
  4. Also uncheck the box for hyphens with dash 
  5. Also uncheck the box for *Bold* and _Italic_ with real formatting
  6. You can also uncheck the rest of the boxes as well for superscript, fractions, and hyperlinks since all of those could interfere with formatting. I didn't use any of those in my document so I didn't have to worry about them, but I did it anyway in case I added to my mansuscript and tried to use them.
  7. Under the AutoFormat As You Type tab, uncheck the same boxes.
  8. Click OK and OK. 

That should do it for you (I think) if you are just beginning to type out your manuscript and you won't have to go back afterwards to fix the font from smart to plain.

If you've already written out your paper like I have and now need to convert everything, after you've already  turned off smart quotations, here is what you do to replace your curvy quotes with straight quotes without having to do it one-by-one.

Changing curly or curved quotation marks to straight-up-and-down in Microsoft Word 2010

  1. In your document in Word 2010, under the Home tab, find the Editing box and click "Replace." My button is on the far right side of the toolbar.
  2. Under the Replace tab in the "Find What" box, copy and paste a curly opening quotation mark (the one that you have at the beginning of a sentence--it's different from the one at the end of the sentence!) from your document. If you type it, since you turned off your curly quotes, it will type out as a straight quotation mark which won't help you. The mark should look sort of like a straight one, but slanted.
  3. In the "Replace With" box TYPE a straight quotation mark.
  4. Click the Replace All button. It will tell you how many it corrected, and hit OK.
  5. Now, in the "Find What" box, copy and paste a curved closing quotation mark PLUS A SPACE. You will always need a space after closing a quote, whether you're continuing with a sentence or ending it. If you use two spaces after every sentence (I still haven't figured out if I'm supposed to or not yet, but will change this if I do), you can always use the same method to replace the ends of your sentences from [." ]  to  [."  ]  without the brackets--there is one space in the first one and two spaces in the second one. If I need to change my spaces, I will probably use this method.
  6. In the "Replace With" box type a straight quotation mark PLUS A SPACE. 
  7. Click the Replace All button. 
  8. If you realize you forgot to add a space for the straight mark in the "Replace With" box (I did this), you can always close the editing box and hit "undo" on your word document. Since now both the opening and closing quotation marks are the same, trying to just add a space in the "Replace With" box would create spaces at the beginning of your quotes that you don't want.
  9. Now repeat the process to replace a curved apostrophe with a straight apostrophe. You don't need spaces here, unless you're having someone speak with an accent where they need an apostrophe to shorten a word. This you might need to do by hand, but you'll be proofreading your work anyway. 

Changing Underlined, Italics, or Bolded text into plain text format in Microsoft Word 2010
  1. In your document in Word 2010, under the Home tab, find the Editing box and click "Replace." My button is on the far right side of the toolbar. 
  2. Under the Replace tab in the "Find What" box, if there is any text, delete it. Otherwise simply click in the box so that your cursor is blinking there. 
  3. Click the More>> button if you need to.
  4. At the bottom of the box under Replace click the "Format" button, and even though the words look grayed-out, click on "Font..."
  5. In the Font Style box, click on "Italic" and hit OK. You should see after "Format:" under your "Find What" box it should say "Italic" and depending on whether or not this is your first go, it could also say "Not Bold" and/or "No Underline" because you are working on Italics at the moment.
  6. Delete any text in the "Replace With" box and type _^&_ (underscore caret ampersand underscore), and leave your cursor blinking there.
  7. Click on the "Format" button and "Font..." again
  8. In the Font Style box, scroll down and click on "Not Italic" and hit OK. Again, after "Format: under your "Replace With" box, you should now see at least "Not Italic" written there. 
  9. Click the Replace All button and then OK. All your italicized text should now not be italicized and have underscores around them instead. 
  10. Do the same steps for replacing underlined words, except change the Font Style to "Regular" and choose the appropriate underline in Underline Style that you want to change (just to test it, I tried it out and my regular underline was the first line under "(none)" and "words only") for your "Find What" box, and set "Regular" Font Style and "(none)" for your "Replace With" box. [aside: As I said that I used underlining for my chapter titles, this function did not work well for them--underscores would show up elsewhere across the line/in random places, so I will fix those by hand however they are supposed to be).
  11. To change Bolded text into plain text, choose "Bold" in Font style for the "Find What" box (still blank with only the cursor) (also change the Underline Style back to "(none)" if you haven't already).
  12.  In the "Replace With" box type in *^&* (asterisk caret ampersand asterisk), change Font Style to "Not Bold" and make sure Underline Style is "(none)". 
  13. Click the Replace All button and then OK. This should have changed all your Bolded words into *Bolded*. 
Extra Tip: Always remember when doing this, spaces count as Italicized or Bolded, so underscores and asterisks can show up accordingly. If you seem to have floating asterisks, chances are some of your spaces are Bold without you knowing it. 

Also always remember, you can always go back into the word document and hit "undo" if you mess something up. 

To save as a plain text document

  1. Choose File > Save As. In the Save As dialog box, choose  "Plain Text" in the Save As Type box. (Don't choose "Text Only with Line Breaks".) 
  2. Enter a name for the file, ending with ".txt" (without quotation marks, example: "Finished_Product.txt"). Click Save 
  3. When a dialog box appears that lets you set options, make sure that the "Insert line breaks" option is turned OFF. Leave everything else as is.
  4. A warning may appear, telling you that the document may contain formatting which will be lost when you save in Text Only format. That's fine.
  5. Click  OK or Save to proceed with saving the document as text.
  6. Close your document.
  7. To open your document in plain text format, open Microsoft Word, then File > Open 
  8. Navigate to the correct folder. Make sure the drop down menu to the right of the "File name:" has Text Files selected rather than All Files or anything else. If you couldn't see your document before, it should show up now. Select it and open it. 
  9. Click OK. It should look very plain-texty now.
After creating it in plain text, to add blank lines in between paragraphs so you know where paragraphs begin and end, simply go into Edit > Replace again and replace ^p (caret p) with ^p^p (caret p caret p). 

Now you can copy and paste it into an email for electronic submission.

I genuinely hope this helps someone out there Googling away for help. I'll add more as I go along with the various rules that I learn along the way.
Best of luck to every writer out there!