After pouring out pages of your creative sweat and tears, you finally type every writer’s favorite closing words:
Your book manuscript is now ready to submit to your editor, right?
Not quite …
It’s time to switch out your writer’s hat and think like an editor. Don’t fear the editor’s hat! We aren’t the evil destroyers of your creative dreams with our red pen markups and detailed comments. Editors want to help your book dream become a reality and we are passionate about our editing mission! But if you want the best bang for your book’s buck, remember this: edit before editing.
Helping Your Editor Help You
When writers edit before the editing phase, they’re allowing an editor to focus on giving their book the quality attention it deserves rather than getting hung up on the little stuff. An editor’s keen eye for detail casts a giant net over your manuscript. This net gets smaller and smaller when basic edits distract us from the content. We can’t help ourselves but to scratch our editing itches, even with a seemingly insignificant error to the average eye. Does it really matter where the comma goes in a sentence? It absolutely does matter and we’ll happily bore you with our punctuation knowledge while we explain why!
Reviewing your work not only allows your manuscript to receive a better quality edit, but you’ll also save time and money. If an editor is preoccupied with fixing small things in every paragraph or page, this can add several hours to the original time frame of completion and delay your publishing deadline. They’ll become distracted from analyzing your story’s structure and possibly overlook plot holes or awkward scene transitions. Also, if you’re paying by the amount of time spent editing, then you’re costing yourself oodles of dollars that you could’ve spent on an alluring cover design or marketing instead. This is one area you can save money on and get the most value out of your editing investment.
Editors can make your book shine and stand out amongst other self-published works. Help us help you with some basic edits before the editing really begins …
Putting on Your Editing Hat
1. Let your book breathe!
Resist the urge to dig in right away and set your manuscript aside. Maybe you let it rest for just a day, or perhaps a week. Giving your book some breathing room allows you to get distance from the content. This avoids what I call the “blind editing eye,” which is when you miss obvious mistakes because you’re too close to your writing. Your eyes read what you intended to say rather than what is actually on the page, such as an incorrect character name or a misused word. With a refreshed perspective, you’ll be able to spot facepalming blunders that escaped you before.
2. Double-space your manuscript.
This is an older notion from back in the days of hard copy editing. Editors needed the spacing in between lines to write in comments and make markups. In electronic files, the spacing can still be helpful to both you and your editor for readability of their changes and any comments they insert. Things can get jumbled and difficult to decipher in single-spaced line edits. Also, each editor has a different process and they might prefer to print your manuscript and edit on paper for their first look, entering their edits electronically later. To double-space your entire manuscript in just moments:
— Select all of your text by holding down the Control and A keys
— Go to the Paragraph section (usually in the Home tab)
— Find the Indents and Spacing section
— Select Double (or 2.0 depending your version of Word) under the Line Spacing drop down listing
*** Careful not to double-double space in between paragraphs. **
3. Choose readable and common fonts.
A serif typeface, such as Times New Roman, is a versatile font nearly any device recognizes. Set the font in a readable size such as 12 point, which is the standard font size for most manuscripts. Using a “fun” font can be tempting, but it distracts from the content. Also, you could wind up choosing a font that isn’t recognized by every program, making your text come through unreadable to your editor. Creative fonts can come later at the design and layout stages.
4. Remove all extra spaces.
Use the Replace feature (in the Home tab under Editing) to find and replace all double spaces from your manuscript, not just the ones you absentmindedly placed after periods. It’s time to move away from this outdated notion and break this bad habit. Double spaces were necessary in earlier typesetting because each character was an equal amount of horizontal space in a line. Double-spacing after a period helped set apart a new sentence for the reader. Double-spacing has become obsolete and unnecessary, since text is now automatically spaced out for readability—without us even realizing it. Find all of your double spaces and replace them with single spaces to align with the single-space rule of every major style guide in writing, including Chicago Manual of Style.
5. Set your margins, alignment, and indents.
Many think these are things an editor will do for you. Most of us will, but you could save us time and frustration by doing it yourself. First, set your margins. With the exception of the front matter content (title page, acknowledgment, dedication, etc.), leave at least a one-inch margin on all sides of each page. Next, text should be left-aligned for maximum readability. Right-aligning or center-justifying text jumbles the spacing between letters (kerning) and the spacing between groups of letters (tracking). This will in turn annoy and distract your editor as they navigate through your manuscript. Finally, keep the first line of a new chapter as flush left. Every following paragraph should be indented, not tabbed. Avoid the pull of the tab key! Apply paragraph formatting to your document by defining a set formatting rules that get applied to all paragraphs. The process varies depending on which version of Word you have, but it’s typically in the Paragraph section. Set a rule so that the first line of each paragraph gets automatically indented about half an inch.
6. Insert page numbers.
This tip seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many manuscripts I’ve received without page numbers. There are a lot of formatting variances as far as publishing preferences go, with different rules for sizing, alignment, and header versus footer placement. Don’t waste time overthinking this step, just make sure page numbers are inserted somewhere. I recommend centering the page number in the footer. It’s the easiest to spot and the first place most people would look for a page number.
7. Run a spell check.
A simple spell check will catch misspelled words and draw your attention to misused words as well. Go through each word that appears in the spell check carefully to make sure it’s used in the right context. It won’t catch misused words with correct spellings (such as your welcome instead of you’re welcome), but it will free up your editor’s attention and time to catch them for you!
8. Define chapter starts.
Don’t rely on your editor to format your chapters. Insert a page break at the end of the preceding chapter to begin each new chapter on a brand new page. Center the chapter number or name as a header at the top of the page.
9. Distinguish character dialogue from plot.
Maximize readability by setting character dialogue in quotes with each new speaker on a new line. When the character is done speaking, start the plot back up with a new, paragraph. This is not just a publishing standard, it’s also a way to tell your readers how to read your story. Our inner voice reads character speech differently from plot details, and this separation is a must if your book has dialogue.
10. Read your book aloud.
Listen to your own words and how they sound out loud. This especially helps with character dialogue improvements. How a phrase or sentence sounds to your ears might be vastly different from how it reads on paper. A perfectly constructed sentence is great, but one with flair and flow will keep your readers interest.
Following these 10 edit before editing tricks allows your editor to give your book a deeper look. It also illustrates to publishers that you are serious about your publishing goals and book dreams. Just make sure to give yourself enough time to edit without rushing it. Give your book a little editing love and make your story one worth telling!
Have an editing question? Ask away in the comments!
Holly Vossel, Editor at eBooks2go, Inc.