Publishing Tips

First Steps to a Well-Edited Manuscript

A professional editor can polish your manuscript to make it look sensational and make you appear brilliant. But first, here is a useful list of basics that you can take care of yourself.

  1. Single space after the period.

  2. Use a hyphen between words that form a compound modifier, like “long-term.”
  3. Use a dash to indicate an abrupt interruption—like this.
  4. Use true ‘single’ and “double” quote marks rather than foot and inch marks.
  5. Place single quotation marks inside of double quotation marks.
    “Shocked to hear her whisper, ‘Don’t move,’ I froze,” Emily reported.

  6. Use a “curly” apostrophe, not a foot mark.
  7. Place commas and periods inside quotation marks. “Please place your commas and periods inside the quotation marks,” Gwen requested. “If you don’t”, she added, “Your book won’t look as well as it might”.
  8. Avoid the use of bold. For emphasis, use italic.
  9. Do not use underlining for emphasis; use italic.
  10. Choose an appropriate bullet, and use it consistently.
  11. For the main text of your book, serif typefaces are the easiest to read. (Times Roman)
  12. For headings, san serif faces work best. (Helvetica or Arial)
  13. When typing your manuscript, don’t type 0 for O (zero for capital o) or use l for 1 (ell for one).
  14. Use, but do not rely on, spell-checking software.
  15. Pronouns should agree with their subject.
  16. Be consistent.

Copyright 2003 Gwen A. Henson, SageBrush Publications

Common Editing Errors and How You Can Eradicate Them

by Gwen A. Henson, SageBrush Publications

It is more challenging than ever before to get your manuscript or book published. You need to make your manuscript stand out above the dozens or hundreds that hit the desks of acquisitions editors.

Formerly, a publisher might have accepted a manuscript that needed editing if the content was strong. New writers were groomed for success, and first novels weren’t expected to be blockbusters.

Things have changed. Publishers are cutting staff positions, including editors. They sign fewer authors, and they expect more from the ones that they sign. If a clean manuscript and one in need of editing arrive with equal quality of content, you can guess which one is more likely to be accepted.

In order to submit the best possible manuscript, it should be as good as you can make it. As the writer, you’ve have researched your facts and crafted your story. Now, the manuscript

1. needs to be edited by someone other than the author.
a. Authors are too close to their work to impartially correct it.
b. Authors know their own intentions. In their head, they read dialogue, for example, just they way they meant for it to be read. Editors recognize when the intent isn’t translated to the page.
c. More than simply correcting grammar and spelling, the editor is an author’s test reader, someone who will make sure the author doesn’t waste the reader’s time and that she delivers what she promised. (Barbara Kingsolver)

You have the option of hiring an editor yourself. Depending on your project, this may be a good choice. Even if you choose this route, if you are like most of us, you are on a budget. You may have a limited amount to invest in a writing project.

Editing is an excellent investment in your writing. It can pay off with a stronger book, more credibility, acceptance and better reviews. Nonetheless, resources for an editor can be limited. How can you stretch those dollars?

2. Control costs by performing some of the up-front clean-up. Simple things like using search and replace.
a. Eliminate double spaces.
In typing class, we were taught “period-space-space,” but with computers, these double spaces create “rivers of white” that we prefer to avoid.
b. Use open and close quotation marks and single and double quotes correctly. Single quotes belong inside of double quotes. Some computer programs use inch and foot marks, which you should replace. In the publishing world, the inappropriate or inconsistent use of quotation marks is the hallmark of a self-published book.
c. Place commas and periods inside the quotation marks.
Follow this general guideline, and you won’t go wrong. Incorrect or inconsistent usage of commas and periods marks the writer as an amateur.
d. Use dashes and hyphens correctly, with no space before or after.
A hyphen is used between words, such as “long-term goals.”
To show an abrupt change of thought, use a dash, either two hyphens or a true em-dash. (Alt 0151)
e. Eliminate bold text and underlining within the main body.
Italic is used for emphasis. Underlining had its day, and like the typewriter that spawned it, that day is dead.

3. Use, but do not rely on spell-checking software.
a. Spell-checking software doesn’t find missing words or extra words.
b. Spell-checking software doesn’t find “or” for “of” or “advise” for “advice.”
c. Still, you should run the spell-checker before submitting your document to an editor or publisher. Make it as good as you can.

4. The beauty of consistency. When in doubt, be consistent.
a. Consistency makes the book easier to read and understand.
A reader’s subconscious mind picks up on inconsistencies and pauses, disrupting the flow of reading.
b. Consistency is easy with the search and replace capabilities of today’s software.
Whether it be the spelling of a person’s name—I recently edited a book in which the author had spelled a character’s name three different ways—or the choice of “gray” or “grey,” today’s software enables you to make it the same every time.
c. Consistency enables your reader to understand content, rather than tripping on disruptions.
d. Consistency indicates professionalism.

Consistency shows that you’ve taken the time to do the job right.

5. Use consistency in:
a. Spelling, punctuation and capitalization.
For example, if you spell theater with an “re,” stick to that; don’t change to “er.” If you decide to capitalize Police Bureau, even if it isn’t the proper name, do it throughout the book.
b. Be sure to keep a stylesheet of such decisions; this will aid you in staying consistent.
c. Names, titles, places and their style.
If the character’s name is Laurie, don’t switch to Laury.
d. Numbers.
The Chicago Manual of Style has quite an interesting formula for which numbers are to be spelled out and which are to be written as numerals. Whether you choose to follow that style or another, such as the AP Stylebook, just do it consistently.
e. On the matter of stylebooks, the standard for books is The Chicago Manual of Style. Newspapers and some magazines use the AP Stylebook. Some publications have their own stylebook, which you can request or download from their website.

6. Give your editor what she can most easily work with to provide what you need.
a. Manuscript guidelines.
A manuscript should have one-inch margins; the type must be double-spaced; the pages should have about 250 words each. If you provide something different, you may face mark-up costs for difficult-to-read documents.
b. Disk vs. paper.
Your editor can edit on paper, which means someone will need to insert all the changes. Or she can edit the file directly, which means you’ll receive a final clean file. Editing the file gives the editor the capability to help you in a more efficient manner and to easily email the author any queries.

If you must see all the changes, your editor can probably use a software’s “track changes” capability so that all her corrections are “marked” by the software for your review.

7. If you’re uncertain whether the book needs editing, you might contract for an edit of one or two chapters; then decide.
a. Consider whether you’re willing to put out your product if it has deficiencies. Your reputation, as a writer, is essential. Ask yourself, whether you can afford to submit a second-level product.
b. Consider your market (as covered by other speakers).
Romance novels or other “entertaining” books don’t need to be as perfect as reference materials and some non-fiction books.
c. Consider the bottom line: Will the lack of a strong edit affect the sale of your manuscript or of published books? If the answer is yes, can you afford to skip it?
d. Consider the impact of a review that reads, “Needs a good edit.”

8. Ask your editor to create an editorial stylesheet that indicates repetitive problems.
a. Authors tend to make consistent errors. By working with an editor who is willing to help you identify these, you have the opportunity to improve.
One example is someone who consistently misuses choose/chose.
b. Do not feel complacent about locating your consistent errors; you won’t find everything using this method.
c. Example of Ph.D. client with consistent misuse of pronouns.
A client who had written a book on speaking obviously desired to be politically correct. He wrote of “a speaker,” but used the pronoun “they” to refer to the single speaker. In this situation, try to rewrite the sentence to state “speakers” and use the pronoun “they.”
d. Work with an editor who is willing to educate you.
Most editors like to spend their time helping you strengthen your manuscript. You can save the money of having an experienced editor deal with smaller points by educating yourself and handling some of the basics yourself.

9. An author might think of the editor as her secret best friend. After all, her job is to make the author look good in print, but the writer is the one who gets her name on the front cover.

Copyright 2003, 2008 Gwen A. Henson, SageBrush Publications