Seven Tips for Preparing a Happy, Shiny Manuscript

ID-100120249My fellow authors, I love editing your manuscripts. I truly do. I can’t even believe it’s my job! I’d ask someone to pinch me, but I bruise easily.

As much as I enjoy being an editor, what slows down my process is a manuscript that has not been properly prepared as a submittable draft. It’s important to think of me the same way you’d think of a publisher—send me your absolutely best draft ever. Trust me, I’ve been in your shoes. I’m an author, too. Self-editing is hard, I know. But this post includes some things you can do to make your manuscript shine.

Remember! A draft that’s in poor shape could cost you more money, because the editor will most likely have to do several editing passes. If you’re on a tight schedule, this could also result in missed deadlines.

Manuscript health checklist

Here are the tasks I want authors to perform before sending me their work. You can also use these tips if you’re submitting to a publisher.

  1. Format the manuscript with a commonly-used template. I have noticed publishers often prefer the William Shunn style. (You can choose Times Roman 12pt or Courrier 12pt fonts when submitting to me, but please note any publisher’s specific guidelines.)
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  2. If you download the Shunn template you should be fine, but if you’re creating a similar template, remember to set your paragraph styles with indents and not tabs. Do not add extra hard returns for paragraph spacing. Use the style formatting options to set the space between paragraphs. Also, set the line spacing to double. Scene changes are marked with a centre-aligned hashtag (#).
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  3. Understand how to punctuate dialogue. Here’s a good post about it from The Editor’s Blog.
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  4. Read your manuscript out loud, or have it read to you. You would be amazed how clunky dialogue can sound when it’s read aloud. Also, if you use apps that read your manuscript for you, and you visually follow the story while listening to it, you’ll find typos or awkwardly worded sentences that didn’t previously register. I normally convert my manuscripts to epub format and use the Read Aloud feature on Google PlayBooks, but you can also set voice features on Apple.
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  5. Have other people review your manuscript. Beta readers are essential. Good ones will tell you what works and what doesn’t.
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  6. Be honest with yourself and see if you have a repetitive habit, such as a phrase or sentence structure you write way too often, or what are known as “useless words.” This article from The Writer’s Circle discusses the most commonly overused and unnecessary words. (Confession: My manuscript was filled with “really” and “just.”)
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  7. Spell check and grammar check. Seems silly to include these, but they’re a must.

I’m sure I could think of more things, but if these seven items were checked off the list, I’d be a happy editor. A manuscript in good tick helps me concentrate on the flow of the story and pinpoint things that have been missed. No one editor can do a perfect job, but the fewer the mistakes when I receive the manuscript, the better I am at capturing those remaining.

Just another quick note before I go. Don’t think that by doing these things you won’t need an editor. I followed these tips for my book, and the three editors I had with my publisher still spotted stuff that needed correcting. It’s always good to have a fresh and professional set of eyes. We editors want to have your back and we do care that your book turns out well. Your impression as an author reflects on our work, too. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

So, happy self-editing. I look forward to working with you!

/cg

(Image: Hand Typing Computer Keyboard Stock Photo)

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Cait Gordon is the president of Dynamic Canvas Inc., a consulting company that offers editing and web development services. She has worked for high tech companies, the federal government, small businesses, artists, and authors. Cait is also the author of "Life in the 'Cosm," a space opera with an appalling amount of dessert, and is proud to be the editor of the Spoonie Authors Network, a blog whose contributors are writers who manage disabilities and/or chronic illnesses.

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