Learn the Definition of a Manuscript

Media Vocabulary You Should Know

person proofreading book manuscript
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A manuscript is essentially the earliest draft of a book. It is the unpublished version of a book submitted to agents and editors for publication consideration. In book publishing, agents and editors will often refer to books in manuscript form, noting that the book is in the earliest stages of preparation.

A book in manuscript form will be edited. Often it is sent back to the author for to be rewritten.

Once it is deemed to be fully ready, it is sent along to the production side where it's prepped to be printed as an actual book.

  • Examples: The author submitted his manuscript to a number of literary agents hoping one of the agents would offer to represent him.
  • Abbreviation: MS, plural MSS

Writing a Manuscript

Some authors begin work on their manuscript without first having had a book proposal accepted by a publisher. They write first, then look for a publisher or self-publish. Other authors only begin to work on the manuscript after a book proposal has been accepted by a publisher.

When you are composing your book, many people recommend not worrying about the format. You can compose your manuscript writing longhand with a quill on parchment if that's what gets your creative juices flowing. There are still writers who use paper and pen, typewriters. or record their manuscripts verbally before transcribing it or having it transcribed.

But it is probably more common to compose using a computer and word processing program so your work is saved and won't blow away in the wind. You also have the advantage of using spell checking and grammar checking.

Manuscript Style Guides and Preparation Guidelines

Whatever the method you use to compose your manuscript, it must eventually be made to conform to the style guide and manuscript preparation guidelines required by the publisher.

There may be different style guides and manuscript requirements for the type of books, such as fiction, nonfiction, children's books, scripts, and poetry. Ask the publisher or your agent for their guidelines before you submit your manuscript.

Common rules for formatting a manuscript stem both from tradition and to have a copy that is easy to read and annotate.

  • Use one-inch margins top, bottom, left and right.
  • Numbering begins after the title page, the title page itself has no number.
  • Each page should have a header with your name, the book title in all caps, and the page number.
  • The entire text should be double-spaced, which allows room for marks by editors.
  • Indent paragraphs five spaces without adding extra lines between paragraphs
  • You should use a standard font in 12-point type. Don't get fancy, stick with the basics such as Times New Roman or Arial.
  • Printed manuscripts should be produced on 20-lb. bond paper.

It is easy to reformat manuscripts you have saved in a computer compared with the days of yore when you would have to retype them completely. Not to mention going through quill after quill and rolls of parchment.

Once your manuscript is accepted, it is likely to come back to you after editing and proofreading and you will need to make requested changes.