May 29, 2007

The Process: Part V—Manuscript Cleanup and Tagging

So now that you have reviewed the copy editor’s suggestions, answered any queries, revised the text, added an introduction, the acknowledgments, a dedication…once you are really sure that the manuscript reflects the final book you want it to become, you will return the document file to me to prep for the designer.

Usually the electronic manuscript is looking a mess by this stage. There can be anywhere from two to a dozen different tracked colors appearing in the document depending on how many people have made their mark in the file. (Word tracks individual computers and assigns a new color for changes made on each one; if you modify the file on your home computer as well as your work computer, you will have two unique colors.) Luckily, you as the author don’t have to worry about sorting through and fixing this. That’s where I come in.

When I receive your revised document, I go from start to finish and browse each page looking for embedded queries you may have answered. For example, the copy editor may have inserted [[AU: Where can readers buy this product?]] in the midst of a paragraph, and I would expect you as the author to either answer the question directly within the brackets, or more appropriately, have inserted the answer into the running text as part of the final manuscript. When I figure out which one you have done (if you incorporated it into the text, I just delete the query altogether; if you have merely answered it in the brackets, I will try to place it myself), I modify or approve the text accordingly and move along. An aside: I can also "Reject Changes" as I go along if I feel something is inappropriate or incorrect, or if you the author prefer a certain style over something the copy editor has selected.

Similarly, if the acquisitions editor or the copy editor or I have asked you to expand on a particular point, I will do a light copyedit of the new section of text you have inserted to make it consistent with the rest of the book. My responsibility is to get the manuscript cleaned up as much as possible so the proofreader (and you again) can focus on the important details (correct tense, hyphenation, word choice) rather than common mistakes (typos, missing commas) throughout.

After I have gone through the entire document (this can take a few hours or a whole day; it comes down to how messy it was to begin with, how long the book is, and how much you have modified), finalizing all the text, verifying all queries have been attended to, and deleting any comments or notes back and forth that are not meant to be in the book, I select “Accept All Changes in Document.” This brings me back to a totally clean black and white text file that has every single mark anyone made using Track Changes now incorporated. At this point the file is ready for tagging (also known as coding).

This part of the process is very similar to Web and software programming languages. If you have ever looked at HTML code, you will see that it and InDesign tags are nearly identical in some ways. Basically, just as HTML is telling your computer how to display a Web page, InDesign tags tell the program how to feed in the text and display the correct font, spacing, etc.

I’m sure this won’t appeal to many of the creative writers out there, but for the more analytical/logical types, here is an example of how coding in a manuscript would appear:

{ParaStyle:chapter}The Title of My Chapter
{ParaStyle:txtni}This is the first paragraph of my chapter. First paragraphs are rarely indented according to common style. That is why the name of this tag stands for {CharStyle:bold}text, not indented{CharStyle:}.
{ParaStyle:txt}This is the second paragraph of my chapter. This paragraph is indented, so it is just called {CharStyle:bold}text{CharStyle:}. I could also have named it “indtxt” or something similar. As a production editor, I get to make these choices.
You will also notice that there is no closing mark for paragraph styles. They continue until they find the next paragraph style, meaning that even though this paragraph has not been tagged, because the closest tag is for “txt”, that will apply to this one too.
And finally, you will see I have used a character style tag above. Character styles need a closing tag because they only apply to a small portion of the text (and thus change the style of those collective characters—i.e. letters, numbers, spaces, etc.).

**Of note: The tags actually utilize < these angle brackets (not {}), but because they are used in HTML, it won't show up in the blog!**

You may notice that there are no extra returns between lines, and no tabs or alignment or boldface, etc. The reason for this is that the file is imported into InDesign as text only, meaning no character formatting or special attributes will carry over into the design. I strip everything out before sending it to the designer (if you were to open the text file after that final step, you would see a long jumble of words in courier font that is quite unreadable). This is why I have to tag the manuscript: the designer can just bring the file into InDesign with its presets and the coding tells the text what to do. (And the designer has "programmed" InDesign to display the text according to the approved interior design.)

Anyhow, it really is a crucial step in the production process. Many years ago my publishing company would send all manuscript files to a freelancer who coded the documents (at that time for Quark, as that was the only publishing program available—the tags for that are quite different). These days, with a swell of younger, tech-savvy employees, the company can save money by having the production editors take over that role. There are a couple of other tagging methods/styles, but many designers prefer the InDesign tags because they are easy to trace and usually help them finish the layout that much faster. Although it can be time consuming (for straight text I might be looking at two hours tops, for design intensive books, I could spend two days finishing up) and tedious (guidebooks are by far the worst, especially if they have icons and sidebars), I actually find tagging to be a soothing and mindless task that can be very rewarding and gives the production editor the control rather than entrusting everything to the designer (remember, they don't read the books, so it may not always intuitive for them why something is handled a certain way).

So, when all of these final steps have been completed, the text file is sent to the designer, who should be ready and waiting. I usually send a note with the file about any special considerations and the due date (the standard is two to four weeks). The designer is in direct contact with me as they prepare the first pass of the book proofs. The next time I see the manuscript, it will look like a book on loose-leaf paper.

Coming up: receiving the first pass of the interior layout from the designer

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