About Errors and Reformatting a Manuscript

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by Bobbie Christmas

Q: A publisher recently requested my manuscript, and within forty-eight hours I received an email that said, “Only Word files are excepted.” Shouldn’t the word be “accepted?”

A: Possibly, but the answer depends on the intent of the sentence. If the publisher was saying it rejects all manuscripts with the exception of those received in Microsoft Word, then the sentence is okay. I haven’t seen the entire e-mail, so I cannot be sure, but I suspect you are correct, though, and the publisher was attempting to say it accepted only Microsoft Word files.

Q: Should I be concerned that I have noted misspellings or typographical errors in emails I’ve received from potential publishers?

A: Some publishers may use relatively unskilled clerks to respond to the large volume of mail they receive. Your gut is trying to tell you something about the quality of the companies you are dealing with, if they are unconcerned about sending out unprofessional emails. Listen to your gut. The number of unprofessional “publishing” companies has grown exponentially. They want your money. Find a professional traditional publisher that wants to give you money, instead, and you’ll find that their correspondence is usually free of errors.

Q: I keep hearing people speaking in odd idioms, but I hear the same thing so many times that I think maybe I’m the odd one. For example, I hear people say, “I have a pit in my stomach.” That doesn’t make any sense to me. Am I crazy?

A: Crazy like a fox. I have heard the same incorrect idiom time and time again, even in scripted shows, so even script writers are getting it wrong. The correct idiom, the one that makes sense, goes like this: “I have a feeling (or an odd feeling or a bad feeling) in the pit of my stomach.” I have no idea how or why it got incorrectly shortened to “I have a pit in my stomach,” but idioms have a way of getting misconstrued and convoluted. I could quote many other idioms that make no sense, because people use them incorrectly. The first that comes to mind is the “I could care less” idiom, which is the reverse of the original, correct idiom, which is “I could not care less.”

Q: I’m editing my new book. The typed version has different type styles and some hard-to-read passages, because of the many months it took for me to write the book. Should I have a service prepare a clean, uniform copy or have it done by an editor?

A: Your decision depends on what you plan for your book as well as on the editor you choose. Here’s what I’d do if I were in your shoes.

  1. If I planned to self-publish, I’d need to use an independent editor, so I’d ask my intended editor to look at the file and tell me if she or he can fix the format in addition to editing the manuscript. I’d ask how much the total cost would be. Sometimes reformatting is quick and easy (and therefore inexpensive), but it depends on the manuscript, the formatting styles in the manuscript, and whether your intended editor will do that sort of work. I have reformatted many manuscripts for clients and most were easy, but it depends on the manuscript.
  2. If I had already sold the book to a traditional publisher, I’d ask the publisher if it reformats the book. If so, traditional publishers pay all expenses, so I wouldn’t have to pay for reformatting.
  3. If I hoped to find an agent and sell it to a traditional publisher, I would follow the same steps as in number one. I’d find a professional editor and ask if he or she also reformats manuscripts, and if so, at what cost.

In my opinion, services that reformat books are best used when your book is completely edited and ready to turn into an e-book. Use such services only if you are self-publishing and want a manuscript formatted for use with e-readers. I would not use such a service simply to reformat a manuscript for editing.


Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style: Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing, and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more Ask the Book Doctor questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.

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