How to present your typescript – 12 tips
If you are looking for someone to read your piece of work, there are a few important things to bear in mind. It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend, a beta-reader group, an editor or a prospective agent or publisher – these tips will all come in useful!
- Read – and revise – the text before sending it out
This may sound obvious, but it’s surprising how often I’ve been sent work that the writer has never actually read. If you expect someone else to read and enjoy your work, you need to do this yourself first. A first draft is often an outpouring of ideas, and can quite often be repetitive or contradictory, with strands started and then forgotten, others started mid-stream, and so on. The prose itself may not be quite the best you can produce. Don’t disadvantage yourself by letting it go out like this. This revision stage can be very useful for helping you get a better sense of the overall structure and strengths (and weaknesses) of the work, and is an important step in the writing process.
Assuming you have read and revised your text, and are reasonably happy with your finished draft, then the following will help readers not only to read and, hopefully, enjoy your work, but to give you useful feedback.
- Page numbers
A script without them is inviting trouble. If a script is printed out (and it often is), they are vital for helping to keep pages in order. They also make it easier to reference feedback. Don’t forget them! Make sure that the numbers are consecutive throughout, and don’t start at ‘1’ at every chapter.
- Make sure your name is on the front page
… and maybe even in the footer throughout the script. If the script is printed out, perhaps with several others, this will help avoid unfortunate mix-ups. It will also ensure that if someone reads a particularly pearly passage, they’ll quickly be able to see who wrote it, without shuffling back to the beginning. This may also help with potential intellectual property rights (IPR) issues.
- Don’t forget the title
And perhaps include it along with your name in the footer throughout. Anything that helps identify your work and keep it as a unit is important.
- Include your contact details on the title page
Essential, if you want to hear back, and important to include on the script itself, not just on a covering letter/email.
- Proofread the text first
Try to make sure the text you send out is as clean (i.e. free of error) as you can make it. This will make it much easier to read, so that your readers can appreciate your prose and your message without constantly tripping over typos and clumsy grammar, etc. It doesn’t need to be perfect (if you’re contacting a freelance editor or proofreader, they will, after all, help you tidy it), but it does need to be clear enough to allow what you are saying to be visible, even to shine. This stage is particularly important if you are submitting the script to prospective agents or publishers.
- Crisp, fresh print-outs for hard copy
Until recently, editors and agents asked for hard-copy to be sent to them, rather than a Word document (or similar) – and some still prefer that. Check submission guidelines or, if you can, contact the person you are sending to to find out their preference. If you are supplying hard copy, make sure the print-out is crisp and fresh. People won’t want to hold a dog-eared, dirty or even smelly script; I was once given a print-out (of a gripping novel, unfortunately, so I had to read the whole thing) that reeked of cigarette smoke to such an extent that it actually made my office smell. It wasn’t pleasant, and I will always associate that novel with that smell. Equally, don’t spray your script with perfume! (It has been known.) You never know what your readers may or may not like.
- Standard software for electronic versions
There are several handy programs for writers, and different word-processing tools depending on what kind of computer you’re using. As you don’t know what your readers might have, it’s best to play it safe and send your script in as standard a format as possible. I work with Microsoft Word, for instance, and most people will have that – it’s a safe option. There are open-source versions of Word which should work as well, or send your script as a Rich Text Format (rtf) file. It would be worth checking submission guidelines before sending a pdf – and remember, if you have forgotten to include page numbers, they usually can’t be added to a pdf by the recipient. However, if you are sending to beta-readers, a pdf is probably a good reliable option.
- Space it out
Your readers may mark up the text with comments and suggestions, whether on screen or on paper. To make this easier to do, and to read, allow reasonable margins on both sides, and double-space the text (1.5 line spaces is also fine). This is good practice anyway, as pages crammed tightly with text can be rather daunting. Don’t bother with blank pages (e.g. between parts or chapters) though – use the space sensibly.
- Avoid colour
Black text on a white background is the most reliable way of presenting your text -– it is readable for everyone except those with certain visual impairments. Some text colours can be difficult to read. And if your text is printed by your readers, remember that they may not have colour toner – in which case, anything in colour simply won’t be printed.
- You could include the wordcount
This is helpful on the title page, but it doesn’t need to be included throughout the script. It’s more useful for hard copy than electronic versions.
- And finally: editable files for editing work
When you are sending something to an editor to work on, it is important to send an editable file (not a pdf). For me, this means sending a Microsoft Word document, not a Pages or Scrivener file. I use Word’s Track Changes and Comments to mark up text, and Word also has a useful ‘compare files’ tool that can help with version control if necessary. You will be able to quickly see what has been done and either accept, change or reject it; alongside the Comments, this enables a conversation between author, editor and the script itself. A pdf, while it protects your work from any changes, by the same measure makes the editing process unhelpfully laborious. Conversely, a shared document that can be simultaneously edited by two or more people (e.g. via Google docs) makes it harder to keep track of what is happening, and much harder for the author to consider edits properly, working out the ramifications of any changes. It can work well before the editing stage, especially for a collaborative piece of work. But a simple Word document is, I find, the most effective tool once you have an editor on board.
Next I will be writing a short guide to using Track Changes and Comments in Word – keep an eye on the blog for that!