Publishers who ask for camera-ready copy

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A reader writes to ask:

I read your article on proper manuscript submission and found it to be very informative. I submitted my manuscript to a publisher and received an email that they would like to print but it is lacking formatting. I did not know of the correct formatting until I read your article. Question: Do I resubmit with your recommended format (courier, double spacing, etc.) for printing or do I do something else for the printing version? New at this.

The format described here on my site is intended only for manuscripts being submitted for consideration by an editor or agent. It is not a format for "camera-ready copy," which refers to the layout you see in a published book. A publisher asking you to provide a manuscript ready for printing is most likely a vanity or subsidy publisher, one that you pay out of your own pocket. In traditional commercial publishing, the publisher pays you for the right to publish your book, and then does the bulk of the work to prepare it for printing.

Commercial publishing can be hard to break into, with its complex systems of agents and editors and their rigorous ways of doing business. Getting your book published commercially can also take a very long time. What you get from a commercial publisher, though, is a certain level of professional treatment of your manuscript. If an editor likes your manuscript and wants to buy it for publication, he or she will guide you in rewriting it to make it the best and most compelling work it can possibly be. A professional copyeditor will help iron out spelling, grammar, and continuity errors. A professional typesetter will take your plain manuscript and render it in the sort of clean, beautiful format you're used to seeing in other published books. A professional marketer will, hopefully, help advertise your book in all the right places. A professional sales representative will convince bookstores to stock it, and a professional book distributor will deliver it to those stores.

Vanity publishing is much quicker, but if you go that route you will have to do most of these jobs yourself—not to mention paying up front for the privilege. The quality of your book will also likely not be as high. If you only want to print a few copies of your book for friends and family, that may be fine, but otherwise you should have realistic expectations about what the process will entail and what the likely payoff will be.

A big part of that process will be acquiring and learning to use desktop publishing software like QuarkXPress or Adobe Pagemaker. That is what you will need in order to turn your manuscript into the electronic files your publisher can use to print your book. The commercial publisher Wiley provides extensive guidelines for preparing camera-ready copy, which is not only a good reference for you but gives you some idea of the magnitude of the work involved. (For another discussion of book design, see this post from last year.)

There's nothing inherently wrong with vanity publishing. Just be sure that you understand going in exactly what services this publisher is going to provide for you, and what services you are going to have to provide for yourself. Be sure you're prepared to do all that work before you shell out any money.

3 Comments

This was a great article, and the adjoining "Proper Manuscript Format" piece was fantastic. I've just completed my first manuscript and needed ALL the tips for formatting it. Now I will use Mr. Shunn's advice and get to work. I have many questions to ask and hope Mr. Shunn is available through this venue or privately. Thank you for the opportunity to comment.
Sincerely, Joaquin DeTorres

Very helpful. We're in your debt.

I notice that you're using two spaces after a period, which is what I learned in high school using a typewriter. I thought that had been abandoned, however--MLA, for instance, now recommends one space after a period for material intended for print.

Thoughts?

Bah-- I just read your note regarding spaces after periods within your article. Thanks again.

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Looking for Bill's original properly formatted article on proper manuscript format? Click here.
Proper Manuscript Format Illustrated - Click here.
FLOG is Hugo- and Nebula-nominated author William Shunn's blog on manuscript formatting and preparation for fiction writers. It features formatting questions from real readers and writers like you. Submit your questions to format at shunn dot net. Identitying information will remain private. We regret that we can't always respond individually to submissions, and that we can't answer every question we receive.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 15, 2010 12:14 PM.

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