Earlier this year, Fiction+ considered whether a novel should have a table of contents. Although it might seem to be a matter of personal preference, there are strong practical reasons for including or not including a TOC, depending on a book’s genre and format.
Almost every writer I know has a love-hate relationship with their writing program, whether it’s Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Scrivener, or a yellow legal pad. It’s clear there’s no single perfect choice for drafting, editing, and formatting your work for publication.
Copyeditors typically work in a word-processed manuscript, making and suggesting changes directly in the document. Proofreaders come in at a later stage, after the manuscript has been converted and formatted for publication in a program like Adobe InDesign.
If you’re a copyeditor, you probably use Microsoft Word, a desktop program introduced in the 1980s. Or maybe you use Google Docs, a browser-based application that debuted in 2006.
From our own reading, most of us know that some paperback and hardcover novels have a table of contents page in the front and some don’t. Lurking online, I perceive a widespread notion that tables of contents are old-fashioned and pointless for fiction.
One of my favorite MS Word tricks allows a novelist (or any book writer) to view and organize their chapters in the Navigation pane (an option under the View tab). Using this feature, I can see all my chapter titles at a glance, and I can go instantly to the one I want by clicking on its title.
Before a book is printed, while the text is still in manuscript form, editors at publishing houses speak in terms of word count, not page count. An appropriate word count for a project depends on the kind of book.
To a copyeditor working on a manuscript, a space is usually just a space, and line breaks are random, fluid occurrences that vary as text is added and deleted and moved around. Designers and typesetters will take the edited text and make it pretty for publication, in part by applying different types of spaces as needed to prevent unwanted breaks.
If you’re a copyeditor like me, you probably rely on the ability to track your changes, not only so others can see precisely what you’ve changed, but so you can keep track of where you’ve been.
When you write a book to send to an agent or editor, you are preparing a manuscript. And even if your ideas, characters, and plot twists are colorful and creative, your manuscript format should not be.