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Make Long Manuscripts Work For You

When your manuscript file gets longer than a few pages, it gets unwieldy in a hurry. Fortunately there are some things you can do to tame that beast and make your life and your writing easier. Try these ideas:

  1. Insert page number just as soon as you open a file. Do this even if you plan to add fancy running heads or footers later on. You’ll be printing out this manuscript more than once and the first time you drop it, you’ll be so grateful for those numbers! 
  2. Let the manuscript generate a working table of contents. If you’re using Word, you do this with heading styles – a bit of a pain to use, but more than worth it in the end. I’ll bet other word processors have something similar. I find I generate new tables of contents often because they help me keep track of my writing. 
  3. Probably every word processing program has some sort of book marking system. I ignore the official way and add a simple xxx when I finish a writing session. When I come back, I do a quick search and I’m right where I want to be in the next session. I sometimes will use another character, like z in the tripple form to mark other problem areas. Again, it’s a cinch to search on these and find where you were.
  4. If you’re going to have an index, you can start marking the words you want indexed right from the start. If that makes the manuscript difficult to use, open another file and simply list the words you want to index. The search function will stand you in good stead when it comes time to build your index.
  5. I find it easier to write even book-length manuscripts in a single file. Sure, most word processing programs will concatenate for you, but it’s awkward.

Links and Graphics in Manuscripts

eBooks, and edocs let you include live links as well as graphics. You can have a fully illustrated eBook that, if it were a trade book would simply too expensive to produce. You simply insert the drawing, photo or illustrations in your manuscript and when you convert, your pictures are there, in all their glorious color.

If your book has lots of illustrations, you’ll probably need page layout software to place them exactly where you want them on the page. Of course, if you have a publisher, you can leave that to them, just marking where each graphic goes.

If you’re self-publishing and have only a few graphics, your word processing software may be able to handle it. I’ve done it and it can become a nightmare. The best tip I can give you is keep multiple backups… backing up to two or more files every single time you add a drawing or picture.

The problem with illustrations is they can make your final file huge. You can mitigate this by using compression on your downloadable file, but keep file size in mind and make sure there is a real reason for every graphic.

Word, frankly, doesn’t do a great job with graphics; the file tends to blow up when it gets too large. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell what “too large” actually means. In truth, if you want a long manuscript with a lot of graphics, you need some sort of type setting or page layout software.

If you’re going to include  illustrations of one sort or another, you’ll also need to know how to use some sort of image editing program. Expect too, to spend some serious time placing the graphics exactly where you want them. It’s a fiddly process, but worth doing when the graphics serve a purpose.


Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • jorgekafkazar

    Long m/s’s often have to be printed out multiple times in multiple copies. One of the unforeseen things that goes along with computers. For that reason, I find it very helpful to add the date of printout to the footer or header. It updates automatically each time you open the file, so you can forget it. It’s nice to be able to look at a copy and know right away that it’s not the latest version.

    • Anne

      That would work… and I too work on one manuscript file to avoid some of the problems you mention… but I like adding the date. Think I’ll adopt that.

  • Hannah

    One thing about Word that drives me crazy is the Pagination. I tried to turn it off (in Word 2007) but it didn’t seem to work very well. Every time I moved something or cut, it would repaginate, and sometimes it was completely crazy and ate my page breaks! Gah!

    • Yeah, Word pagination is wonky. The most helpful thing is to know when to use Section Breaks and when to use Page Breaks. Section breaks at the top of each chapter are probably best. Also, if you want to paginate a play with numbers that read Act-Scene-Page, be prepared that you may have to then print out pages one at a time (“current page”) or all of them. Word doesn’t like to look for complicated page numbers when printing.
      .-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Tenirax, Ch V =-.

      • Anne

        Jorge, I’ve never really understood sections… sometimes I can get them to work to use running heads and sometimes I can’t… and in the new word I don’t even understand normal pagination! I’m rapidly becoming some sort of luddite!

        • jorgekafkazar

          Regarding Luddites: Bjarne Stroustrup (developer of the C++ programming language) says:
          “I have often wished that my computer was as easy to use as my telephone. Lately, my wish has been granted. I no longer know how to use my telephone.”

          • Anne

            lol… that’s a good one. 😉

  • I find the ‘Document Map’ feature in Word very helpful. If you use heading styles, you can use the map to skip from one section to another instantly.

    Matthew Stibbe’s last blog post..Writing tools: concentration timer

  • admin

    Monica, I use Word for almost everything… notepad when I need pure text. But Word is my standard… not at all sure what others use.

  • This is a little off topic, but I’d like to know which types of software writers prefer. Is it all MS Word these days? I personally can’t stand it and use a simple text editor as much as possible. I know there are other fancy programs out there designed for writers that help you store notes, references, etc. Any experience?

    Monica’s last blog post..Twitter Basics from Janet Barclay

    • Hannah

      Monica, I use something called PageFour from Bad Wolf software that a coworker turned me on to. It’s great because it is kind of no-frills, and doesn’t try to format stuff for you like Word does. It has notebooks you keep your stuff in, and you can import Word documents into it.

      For books, you can write chapters or scenes in different pages and then merge them all together. I did that and then pasted the whole thing in Word for proper formatting to print. I’m not sure if it will export; I’m a copy and paste gal, and I had a Word copy on my flash drive that I took to work with me and would mess with when things got slow.

      The program doesn’t cost very much and it’s worth every penny. Here’s the link.

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