What is a manuscript?
In this article we will be tackling the ever-daunting behemoth that is the manuscript. For a lot of people, this word might sound a bit outdated. Originally, it referred to any handwritten text on paper, parchment or papyrus. As such, even a normal letter was considered a manuscript.
The word manuscript remained in use even after the invention of the printing press around 1440 CE though, the difference being that it now applied not only to handwritten but also printed texts. Nowadays, the word has evolved even further, and is used to describe an author’s unpublished text (even if they are not handwritten).
How to adapt your manuscript for printing?
Traditionally, publishing houses determined their preferred manuscript format individually. Hence, authors had to adapt their manuscripts according to the standards of each publisher they were submitting their work to. Then, if a manuscript was among the few submissions that were actually accepted, it would be printed and distributed by the publishing house. Times have now changed however. Nowadays, most of the things a publisher can do, you can instead do yourself – including the editing. This lets you bypass the inhibitions and restrictive selection procedures of traditional publishing houses. Naturally, you won’t have the same resources that they do (unless you’re independently wealthy). It is entirely possible however, to carve out a niche for yourself and live off your writing. The question is simply whether you want to deal with all the work this entails.
Before we begin
There are several ways to design a manuscript. You can make it a fairly simple affair, or adopt a more sophisticated approach. It all depends on what you have in mind. Experienced writers often use programs such as Adobe InDesign or Quark. With these programs, you can design very professional illustrated manuscripts. They certainly offer more options – and by extension, the potential for more advanced results – than a word processor like Microsoft Word does. However, the vast majority of people have far more experience with Microsoft Word than InDesign. Therefore, most of our tips will focus on the functionality of the former.
Naturally, having access to a good word processor is essential for creating a good-quality manuscript. It would be a monumental hassle to publish a book using a Notepad file, for instance. While MS Word is still the undisputed king of word processors, we understand that licensed software is expensive. Hence, Word might not be an option for some people. While this guide will be focusing on Word, you can probably apply many of the tips included here to whatever software you’re using. Popular free alternatives to Word include OpenOffice and Google Docs. Keep in mind however that these might cause some issues when converting the manuscript to a PDF – be prepared for some extra editing! We don’t recommend using these programs to create a print-ready file.
You also probably know someone with access to Word. With a well-placed coffee-bribe, they might let you copy your text over to a Word document and get it ready for PDF-conversion. As writers, we sometimes have to get creative.
Having been in the publishing business for a while, we’ve seen thousands of manuscripts. A lot of good ones, and many bad ones too. We know what a pain it can be to format a manuscript, and we try our best to assist our authors in this process. We’ve listed some of the most common mistakes we see:
- Incorrect basic format in Word: e.g., creating a standard-sized paperback from an A4 manuscript.
- Manuscript pages without bleed or margins.
- Confusion regarding page orientation (left side vs. right side).
- Page numbers lost or uncoordinated.
- Images that have shifted after a PDF conversion.
- Fonts that are not embedded.
- Unjustified blank pages when converting to a PDF.
In this article, we will examine the different ways to create a print-ready manuscript whilst avoiding these mistakes. We’ll also point you towards some YouTube tutorials that could be useful. With these, you can follow the process visually, step by step.
Do I create a paperback from an A4 manuscript?
How many books do you see that have A4-sized pages? Probably not many. It’s generally not something we think about, since the page we see on our screens is just an abstraction that we can zoom in and out of. Page dimensions are a simple but fundamental detail that people often forget about.
Therefore, it’s important to determine what book format you want. While the format is not always a defining quality of the book, we don’t usually find A4-sized thrillers in bookstores. Similarly, teaching materials are rarely published in your standard A (UK) or “pocket book” (US) format. As such, the format should correspond to your target group. You therefore need to adapt your manuscript to the format of the desired book. In other words, the page size of your manuscript should match the format (size) of your book.
Check out this video on how to change the page size in Microsoft Word.
What is “bleed” and how much of it do I need?
Printing to the exact edge of a piece of paper is extremely difficult. To ensure there are no excessively large unprinted edges on your page, the printer trims the document to make it symmetrical. In other words, the bleed is the very outer edge of the page that’ll be removed when printing.
The size of your bleed depends on the printer, but in most cases it varies between 2 mm and 3 mm. For example: an author wants a pocket-size paperback (120 × 190 mm). For this, he / she will need a 3 bleed. Therefore, the author has to set the page size to 123 × 196 mm when formatting the book. The printer will then trim the excess 3 mm from each side of the book.
In this context, the term “crop mark” is also important to know. Many printers require crop marks on manuscripts, which specify where the page should be trimmed. Unfortunately, this feature is not available in Word, so you would need a program like InDesign (or a printing company that doesn’t require crop marks). When using Mybestseller, the file is automatically converted and the crop marks are added automatically. As an author, you do not need to worry about crop marks when using our platform – only the bleed.
How do I adjust the margins of my manuscript and what should I consider when dividing pages?
It all depends on your personal taste. In principle, the margin is the white space around the text (or illustrations).
Our advice: take a few books from your library and a ruler. Measure the white space around the text and adjust your own script accordingly.
The left-hand side of the page; i.e., the side facing the spine, needs a slightly larger margin (called the “gutter”). The size of the gutter increases with the number of pages. Fortunately, there is a feature on Word allowing you to set the size of the gutter, which also solves the alignment question at the same time! Go to “Layout”, then “Margins” and select “Mirror” (see “Custom Margins” to apply the changes to the entire document). Here you’ll have the option to set your margins and gutter (or “binding” in Word). Here’s a video explaining this as well.
Use the following dimensions as a general rule of thumb (bleed included):
- Height: 1.8-2.1 cm
- Bottom: 2.8-3.3 cm
- Outside: 2,3-2,8 cm
- Inside: 1.5-1.8 cm
Gutter (or correction of the binding side):
- 150 pages maximum: 0.6 cm
- 300 pages maximum: 1.0 cm
- 500 pages maximum: 1.2 cm
- 500 and up: 1.5 cm
How to number your pages in Word
Inserting page numbers can be a bit tricky, but with the following information you should be able to achieve good results. Apply the following settings:
- Add page and section breaks in the page layout menu so that Word doesn’t start counting pages right from the start. Check out this tutorial to learn how to do this.
- Want to place page numbers on the right side of the right pages and on the left side of the left pages (instead of in the middle)? Then you just have to distinguish between even and odd pages. More information can be found here. You can also check out this tutorial.
How to prevent images from shifting when converting to PDF
When producing texts without illustrations in InDesign or Quark you won’t have to deal with this problem. Unfortunately, Microsoft Word users regularly struggle with this.
This happens when images are positioned incorrectly. By opening the “insert” menu, you’ll be able to insert pictures with a click or two. As soon as you’ve inserted the image a formatting menu will pop up. Choose the option to set the image “with text in row”. Avoid the option of placing the picture in front or behind the text as these tend to cause problems.
When exporting a Word document as a PDF, we tend to recommend 3 different alternatives:
Create a PDF with the integrated ISO standard:
- Go to the tab menu
- Click save as
- Select a folder
- Select save as PDF in the drop-down menu
- Before you save click on the option menu
- Select ISO 19005-1 compatible (PDF/A) under the PDF options
This option is by far the easiest, as it’s an integrated feature of Microsoft Word. Minimal hassle!
Create a PDF with the free CutePDF:
- Download and install the CutePDF program:
- Switch to Word after the installation
- Go to the tab menu
- Click on print
- Select CutePDF Writer as the printer
- Click on print
- Save the file as a PDF in the desired folder
Create a PDF with the free PDF Creator
PDF Creator is a more advanced PDF program, including many useful features. This is the best third-party program for complex Word files.
- Download and install PDF-Creator:
- Switch to Word after the installation
- Go to the tab menu
- Click on print
- Select PDFCreator as the printer
- Click the properties option
- Click on expand
- Enter the settings window and fill in the following information
- Set the page size: your book size (size of the custom page) plus 6 mm clipping for the “height” and 3 mm for the “width”
- Set DPI to 300
- ICM color management: “ICM is run by the host”
- TrueType: select the setting “download font” / “download as font”
- Click the OK button twice
- Click on print and save the PDF in the desired folder
How to embed a font in a PDF file?
Instead of using the PDF-saving function in Word, you need to load and save the font in a PDF. Unfortunately this is not possible with Word. Therefore, save the PDF easily with one of the above mentioned alternatives under point 5 to avoid further problems.
Are blank pages appearing after converting the document to a PDF?
Blank pages can cause a lot of trouble, since they usually aren’t visible until after the conversion. This is usually due to the fact that the code used to display the text in Word may appear display it slightly differently in Adobe Reader. This might result in page ends being added together to form entire blank pages. Inserted images can also have this effect. Unfortunately, there is only one solution: keep trying.
Press Ctrl + * to view all paragraph marks and hidden format icons. View wherever pauses appear. It often helps if you insert breaks or place them differently. Therefore, use the different options available for page and section breaks. From our point of view this is the only way to solve the problem. If any readers have tips or good comments we’d be happy to receive them!
Some additional tips:
- Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri and Helvetica are often considered the most “readable” fonts
- Optimal font sizes for legibility are 12pt for Times New Roman, 10pt for Arial and 12pt for Helvetica. However, for an A5 format you obviously want smaller font sizes.
- Start each chapter on a new page
- We generally recommend a line spacing between 1.1 and 1.5 for optimal legibility
- When the manuscript is uploaded to a page such as MyBestseller.com it shouldn’t contain a cover/cover file since this must be uploaded separately.
With the tips and tricks mentioned above, you’re one step closer to creating a flawless manuscript without having to shell out money for pricey programs or formatting professionals. Naturally, practice makes perfect and you may have to spend some time in order the achieve results that you’re happy with. If you still experience problems, you can always contact us via MyBestseller.com. Also, please don’t hesitate to leave us a comment! Which tips did you think were useful – what else would you like to see us cover?
Speaking of covering things – now that you have your manuscript all set up, it’s time to start thinking about a cover for your book! Check out our article on the subject to get started!