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September 14, 2012 / Matthew Wolf-Meyer

Q: How Perfect Does a Book Manuscript Need to Be?

Here’s a question from a friend about finalizing a book manuscript:

My manuscript was reviewed about a year and a half ago by two people and I have a contract with an academic press. The editor has been super supportive, but I still know that anything can happen. So…the final version is supposedly due by December 31st for a final review. I have a full draft, though it still needs work and I am writing the introduction and conclusion. I have written three fully new chapters and everything else has undergone major editing. What I am wondering is: When you handed things in for the final review, how perfect was it?

It wasn’t perfect at all. It was done in the sense that everything that needed to be there was there — a couple new chapters, a new introduction and conclusion, lots of reformatting, etc. So in that sense it was done, and I was 90% okay with it going out for a second review. But I knew that it wasn’t as done as it could be, and I communicated that with my editor. He sent it out for review — back to one of the original reviewers — and she returned a really supportive final review. There were still some things she had problems with, so I made some changes — nothing so major as the transition between the first and second versions of the manuscript — and basically signed off on it being done. I prepared a letter outlining those changes, and then it was back to my editor who looked over those final changes and passed it on in the process.

And then it went to the proofreader… She identified other issues — vague sentences or confusing paragraphs — that I never would have caught no matter how long I worked on the manuscript. In fact, I would say that the longer I worked on it, the more I couldn’t see these sorts of problems: I became so concerned with the big picture that syntax and grammar went totally unnoticed. By the time it went through copy editing, it was finally done.

Which is all to say that it’s okay to send out a 90% complete manuscript; the reviewers and press staff will help get it across the finish line. And the book will be better entrusted to them, rather than constantly fretted over by its author.

You can read my whole adventure with the book manuscript here and here. The second one details everything that happened after the peer review process.

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