Although there’s a lot to be said for writing by hand, it doesn’t quite cut it when it comes to submitting your manuscript to be professionally published—or even when working on self-publishing your book.
That’s because handwritten text isn’t easily edited, laid out, or otherwise processed for mass production…and mass production is the point of publishing a book, after all! If you wanted to reach a single person at a time, you’d write each of them a letter. A book is one-to-many communication, and for that, you need to be efficient.
But why, exactly, does your manuscript need to be typed in order to be published in a professional manner, whether you’re working with a publisher or doing it yourself? And how can you get your longhand pages turned into a typed manuscript if you’re not a good typist?
There are many reasons, mostly to do with efficiency. Let’s look at a few.
Everyone’s handwriting is different. Even if you learned to write using the same general system as other people your age (like the very popular Palmer method), your individual handwriting will be unique. Graphologists—people who study writing—and others argue about how unique that handwriting is and whether it makes up kind of a special “fingerprint” for an individual, but that’s a topic best left to scholars and maybe CSI.
What’s true no matter what is that because your handwriting is unique, it may have some quirks or features that a stranger isn’t familiar with. And that means that the editor reading your manuscript might not know whether you wrote a 4 or a 7, or have trouble reading your writing when you were excited about what you were discussing.
And if an editor can’t read your writing, they can’t help you improve it! So typing really helps for ensuring clarity—that your exact words are being conveyed as you wrote them.
One of the great things about working with a professional editor (and believe me, there’s lots) is that you can develop a really supportive working relationship based around feedback.
That’s your editor’s job, after all: to provide you with useful, clear feedback to help improve your writing.
It’s possible to do this by marking up a handwritten page—and, in fact, that’s how it was done for decades. Editors would go through a manuscript and mark it up with red ink using special symbols to indicate different edits that needed to be made and would write notes in the margins.
This practice continued even after typed manuscripts became more popular…but it’s incredibly inefficient in today’s digital era.
That’s because popular word processing programs like Microsoft Word include “track changes” and “comment” features that let editors directly change the text while showing exactly what’s been done—so you as the author don’t need to go back and rewrite everything according to the editor’s notes, but you can see exactly what’s been suggested so you can accept the change or reject it, and so you can learn from the suggestions.
The comment function is particularly helpful for engaging in constructive dialogue with your editor. A great editor will leave you notes about what’s working and what’s not, and will point out places that feel inconsistent or off pace or otherwise not quite right. These are way more descriptive than simple changes to the text and also far more valuable to your manuscript’s development and your own development as a great writer.
By doing all this straight in a Word document, you can work more efficiently and get your writing revised faster and with less hassle, letting you move forward in the publishing process.
In order to be published, either in digital or print form, your manuscript is going to have to end up getting typed eventually. If you already have it typed up when you submit, you get to skip the time-consuming step of having your publisher (or your freelance book designer, if you’re self-publishing) do it for you.
This means fewer transcription mistakes, as you’d be the one checking what you type in. And if you’re going the self-publishing route, it also means paying less for your freelance designer! A skilled designer’s hourly rate is going to be high enough that you probably don’t want to pay them to type your entire manuscript in, rather than just doing the design…and that presumes that a skilled designer will even be willing to do the typing for you (many won’t, because they would rather be, you know, designing).
How to Get Your Manuscript Typed
Odds are, you know how to type—at least a little. You may not be the fastest and you may have to look down to hunt and peck at the keyboard, but you can probably manage at least a little typing.
Typing your manuscript yourself is always going to be the best, most cost-effective choice. While you’re keying in your handwritten work, you can check for things that don’t make sense, make necessary revisions, and tighten up your writing if needed.
But what if you’d rather be doing something else?
There are plenty of options to get your manuscript converted to typed text without doing it all yourself!
While you may not want to pay a freelance designer to type in your 500-page manuscript, you may be able to find someone to do it inexpensively yet accurately.
High school kids were pretty much born sitting at a keyboard, and many would jump at the chance to earn some extra money by typing in a pile of papers. Check with friends and neighbors to see if anyone knows a teen who would like to tackle the task.
You can likely also find typists on freelance sites like Fiverr or even Craigslist who would be willing to do the job for a reasonable rate, although you’d have to trust them with your precious handwritten pages.
One of the faster ways to convert your handwritten pages to typed text is by scanning and using optical character recognition, or OCR, software to process it into text.
This works best if you have very neat handwriting, and particularly if you print instead of using cursive.
No matter what, you’ll have to go back through the typed document to find strangely formatted characters, numbers in the place of letters, and other weird glitches. That’s just the price of asking software to do a complex task like recognizing your individual handwriting!
There are several programs that work quite well with handwriting, as long as it’s reasonably neat, but unfortunately, most of the free OCR software available doesn’t do very well with handwriting.
If you’re looking to scan and convert your handwritten pages, try one of these:
- SimpleOCR (free): This freeware program is one of the best available to deal with handwriting without paying a hundred bucks. If you print in block letters, it’ll handle most of your writing without a hitch.
- ABBYY FineReader ($120 for Mac, $199 for PC): This pro-quality software is expensive, but it’s really, really good at what it does. It can convert your handwritten pages to Word, as well as letting you scan and edit PDFs and more.
- Omnipage ($149): Another pro-quality solution, Omnipage turns just about any source document, from handwriting to pictures, into searchable files in nearly any format you can imagine, including the Word files that you’ll need to publish your book.
A creative way to turn your handwritten pages into a properly typed manuscript is to dictate your book into the computer.
Many computers today come with free speech-to-text programs. Macs come loaded with Dictation, which is activated under System Preferences > Keyboard > Dictation. Turn it on and read away!
Windows users can do something very similar using Speech Recognition. Just search for Speech Recognition and go through the setup wizard to get started.
Again, you’ll have to go through your completed manuscript to look for strange transcription errors that inevitably pop up, but you’ll need to edit and revise your work anyway, so that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Formatting Your Typed Manuscript
Once you’ve gotten your manuscript typed, you’ll need to format it properly, whether for submission to a publisher or to go to your professional editor and designer before you self-publish.
Use a Standard Font
Use a standard system font, like Times New Roman or Cambria—whatever the default is for your word processing program, leave it alone. It’ll make matters easier for your publishing partner, as they won’t need to worry about installing a special font or having to change the font just to be able to read your work clearly.
Double-space your manuscript. You can do this easily by going to Edit > Select All and then using the Line Spacing tool in your word processor to change to “2.0.” Although double spacing isn’t as critical these days as it used to be, when editors had to read and make notes on printed pages by hand, it still helps them to get through your work more efficiently and prevents them from having to reformat your work themselves.
Export to Word
When you’re all done, you should make sure that your typed file is in Word format, either DOC or DOCX (most publishing professionals can work with either). If you’re using a program other than Word to type your manuscript (like Google Docs, Pages, Scrivener, OpenOffice, or another program), be sure to export your file as a Word file.
Some publishing pros do work with RTF files, but you should always ask to be sure you’re sending the best type of file for them to use.
Typed, formatted, saved, and exported—your manuscript is ready to go through the professional publishing process!
If you’d like to learn how to type more efficiently, read on:
- How to Double or Triple Your Typing Speed. Take Our Typing Speed Test and Prove It for Yourself
- Why I Switched My Keyboard from QWERTY to Colemak. How to Type Faster with a More Efficient Keyboard Layout
Kate Sullivan is an editor with experience in every aspect of the publishing industry, from editorial to marketing to cover and interior design.
In her career, Kate has edited millions of words and helped dozens of bestselling, award-winning authors grow their careers and do what they love!