Don’t book-format it yet

Every ms I get is already gussied up to be as much like a book as possible. Cute typeface. Graphics sometimes inserted. Ornate capital first letters of chapters. Tables, carefully aligned. And the worst, pagination by numerous hard returns. They didn’t know how to use the hard page break, so they just hit Enter over and over until they got a new dotted line.

No good, and here is a simple analogy. Suppose you had to rake leaves and clean eave-troughs before going out to dinner. In what order would you perform the tasks?

  • Put on beat-up work clothing
  • Gather rake, ladder
  • Clean eave-troughs, throwing as much as possible into bin
  • Rake yard and pick up errant eave-trough crud
  • Put away tools
  • Take off filthy clothing
  • Shower
  • Put on nice clean clothes

Yeah. But if you were the typical author, you would:

  • Shower
  • Put on nice clean clothes
  • Gather rake, ladder
  • Clean eave-troughs, throwing as much as possible into bin
  • Rake yard and pick up errant eave-trough crud
  • Put away tools
  • Take off now-filthy, partly damaged, once-nice clothing
  • Shower again
  • Put on more nice clean clothes

Don’t do it this way, all right? All the frippery, fonts, cutesiness, illustrations, inserted graphics, and so on–save them until we have finalized what your book actually says. That’s the difficult and exhausting part, the one where we confer, edit, debate, brainstorm, reconsider, shift, declare war on adverbs, sign a temporary armistice with adverbs, violate the armistice and ambush the adverbs, and so on. The result is the completed, proofread, verified, exhaustively scrutinized full body of what you want to say to the world. Everything we do to it while editing will be hampered by graphics, tables, and cutesy typeface decisions. All that prettying-up can happen once we decide what the book will say.

I’m all in favor of prettying-up. Chefs put work into presentation because it matters. They also do it at the pass, not at the prep table. At most, they carve or shape this or that so that it will fit the future presentation, just as when you are cleaning the eave-troughs, you will try not to cut your forehead wide open by mistake.

Text first. Formatting and beautification later.

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