As an editor, I get deep joy from weeding out errors and helping writers elevate their prose. What I enjoy less is the techy bit, which isn't about what's on the page but how it's presented. I know most of you understand that, judging by the state of some manuscripts I get! But, if you present a chaotic manuscript, your editor will not only curse you, they will likely charge you for time spent reformatting, especially if they charge by the hour.
So, if you intend to share your work with an editor, agent, or publisher, use this bare-minimum checklist.
1. Use black, size 12 Times New Roman font throughout. I know it's dull, but if you're worried that the font will make your book boring, you might have bigger problems than you realize! Select the entire text and then click on the TNR font; this will ensure any rogue fonts are banished. Don't forget the footnotes!
2. Do NOT indent the first paragraph of each chapter, after a subhead, or after a list.
3. Indent all other paragraphs to 1cm. NEVER use tabs or the spacebar for indentation!!!! (The overuse of exclamation points is justified here). To properly indent, highlight all of your text and then find the paragraph spacing menu on the HOME menu of Word (indicated with red arrow). In the drop-down menu, click "line spacing options", which will bring up this box below. Choose the "first line" option and set the size to 1cm (or go with the default of 1.27cm).
5. Use double or 1.5 line spacing (see above box) so it's easier to read.
6. NEVER use more than one paragraph break to separate paragraphs. If you want a slight gap between paragraphs, set the paragraph spacing to 6 or 8 pt (see box above). N.B. Gaps between paragraphs are not common in fiction or creative nonfiction.
7. Use single spaces after each sentence. Many people were taught to double space, but that's no longer necessary (in fact, it's actively frowned upon). To easily fix every double space, go to "Replace" on the HOME menu of Word (see pic). Click to bring up the box below.
In the top long box, press the spacebar twice, and in the bottom box, press it once. Then click "Replace All".
8. Run the basic Word Editor programme for spelling and grammar errors. Of course!
9. Use heading styles if your chapters have several subheads (common in nonfiction). If you know how to use heading styles in Word, hurrah! If not, at the very least, use your font to indicate a style for each level. For example, font 20 for chapter titles and font 16 for main headings. Your editor will then apply the heading styles and use them to create a table of contents.
10. One document only! Don't expect your reader/editor to piece it together themselves!
These first few weeks of the year are a time when everyone gets down to goal-setting. Being a long way from perfection, my list of New Year Resolutions is usually lengthy, and I always set myself up for failure. So, this year I’m keeping it simple when it comes to creative resolutions, and between January and June, my creative goals are simply twofold:
Any additional creative output will be a bonus. Come June, I’ll set more goals for the second half of the year.
If you are reading this as a writer, I expect you’ve completed a similar goal-setting exercise. But do you have any resolutions that will help you become better at self-editing? If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few practical resolutions you could adopt.
1. Keep on writing. Never review anything you’ve written until you have finished an entire first draft, be it a short story or a novel/memoir. Do not succumb to the temptation to redraft anything before you’ve arrived at what you believe to be the end point. Draft one is for your eyes only, so never be embarrassed about what you’ve written. It’ll be rough ‘n unready, but it will be complete. You cannot begin to sculpt your masterpiece until all the clay is on the wheel.
2. Practise abstinence. Put your first draft away for a minimum of ONE MONTH and try not to even think about it. In the meantime, try focusing your creative energy on something else (start writing another story, learn the ukulele, paint by numbers) until it’s time to review the project again. Without some distance from the work, self-editing will be severely hampered.
3. Think big. Don’t sweat the small stuff as you work on improving your first draft. It’s not worth tinkering with the finer points of punctuation/grammar and word choice if you need to rewrite or reorganise an entire chunk of your story. Focus instead on the big picture of narrative structure, character arc, theme, tone, setting and so on. Only when you’ve got to your final draft can the finessing begin.
While you’re practising resolutions 1 to 3, you could also expand your editing knowledge and skills by:
4. Reading Sin & Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose by Constance Hale. The book not only covers grammatical ground rules, it will also help you (among many other things) to:
5. Listening to The Editing Podcast, from fiction editor/proofreader Louise Harnby and nonfiction editor Denise Crowle. Though aimed primarily at editors, writers stand to gain key insights into how the editing process works and how writers can avoid certain editorial pitfalls. Well worth a listen. Find the podcast at www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com.
Good luck, writer! You got this.
When you're writing for fun or catharsis, self-editing will often take your writing as far as it needs to go. But if you're a writer with an eye on publishing, working with a professional copy editor can improve your publishing prospects, providing you are fully open to the process. Working with a professional editor (either one you hire or one assigned to you by the publisher) can be a stressful situation for many writers who are accustomed to flying solo, but with the right mindset, you'll enjoy a rewarding collaboration. Here are five ways to enter the process.
Mindset 1: It's as good as I can make it ... but it ain't perfect.
You'd be surprised how often I see manuscripts that have "author fatigue" written all over them, and it's clear the author has said, "Oh, that'll do." Only seek an editor when you have self-edited the heck out of your manuscript and are satisfied that you can take it no further. Copy editors love to work with manuscripts they can take from good to great, rather than manuscripts they can turn from okay to good (or from bad to readable!). However, don't hand it over with the assumption it's flawless ... because you WILL get a shock when the edited manuscript is returned. Expect there to be edits a plenty, and remember that even Hemingway needed an editor.
Mindset 2: It's great to collaborate!
As a writer, the page is your stage ... but even a one-woman show needs a crew! Think of your editor as the guy/gal in the lighting booth who's there to ensure you're looking your best. It is not in your editor's interest to steal the limelight or make you look bad, so enjoy the rare moment of creative partnership. Keep in mind that every editor is as unique as every writer, but hopefully your styles complement each other. If you continue to collaborate, the symbiosis will become stronger and the editing process will become easier.
Mindset 3: It's not about me.
The copy editor’s only objective is to make the reading of your manuscript as easy and pleasurable as possible. As tough as it seems (especially if you're paying), the editor's first loyalty is to the reader, not you! Edits are not criticisms, so try not take it personally.
Mindset 4: Every edit is a learning opportunity.
You are always free to disagree with the editor and reject any edit, but it’s often beneficial to understand the editor’s choices or recommendations. You will also learn a lot by studying the grammar, punctuation, and usage edits, which will improve your writing craft going forward.
Mindset 5: Professional editing is an investment.
Unless it's offered as part of a publishing agreement, professional editing will cost you hard-earned cash. That reality is especially harsh because writers themselves so rarely see financial rewards for their efforts. But if you feel you must hire an editor, think of the expenditure as an investment in your development as a writer, not only in terms of craft skills but also in terms of experience with professional editing, which agents and publishers appreciate. A professional edit is also an investment in your book, increasing its chances of being picked up by an agent/publisher or a reader. Hopefully, with great editing, you will see a return on your investment down the line!
One of my professional aims is to enable writers to become better self-editors so that the manuscripts they present for copyediting are as good as they can possibly be. Part of this mission involves demystifying the professional editing process, so here is the skinny on what a professional copy editor does to take a manuscript from so-so to SO GOOD!
The 5 C's of Copyediting
Lorna Partington Walsh, Wordsmith