Quick and Simple Ways to Polish Your Manuscript

When you’re getting ready to contact an agent, a publisher, or an editor, there are some quick and simple ways to ensure your manuscript looks its best and, thus, makes a good first impression.

  1. Use Microsoft Word. This industry works in .doc, and while you can convert a Pages file, the intricacies (like formatting) can sometimes get lost in translation.
  2. Type a single space after the end of a sentence. Some of us grew up with two, but the standard today is one.
  3. Stick to simple, easy-to-read 12-point font. No handwriting-type fonts or teeny text. Both are too hard on the eyes.
  4. Exchange all caps for italics. If one of your characters is yelling, format the dialogue in italics for emphasis (“Like this!”).
  5. Run spellcheck. It’s not going to catch everything, but you will be in better shape than when you started.
  6. Give it one last read through. By the time you’ve completed your manuscript, you’re likely sick to death of working on it. But because you know what the text is supposed to say, your eyes skip over what’s actually there—meaning words are probably missing, character names might be switched around, and bits of old story are likely mixed in with the new. So take a few days (even employing a friend or two) and go slowly over every line. Trust me: what you think you’ll find is likely very different from what’s actually there.
  7. Finally, don’t make big decisions at 3 a.m. Why is it that things always appear worse in the middle of the night? If you have an idea, a worry, or a decision about your manuscript that comes to mind when the house is dark and the moon is up, write it down, sleep on it, and look at it again in the light of day.

Have any questions, comments, or other suggestions? Leave them below!

The Basics: Becoming an Editor

Everyone comes to this career differently:

There are a few things, however, that all good editors-to-be have in common:

  • passion for detail
  • strong command of spelling, grammar, and punctuation
  • the drive, always, to learn more

Also, as Carol Fisher Saller writes in The Subversive Copy Editor, they are “liberally educated and culturally literate. They know a foreign language or two, are reasonably numerate, and have traveled a bit.”

Put simply, being well rounded will make you a better editor.

 

To be a successful editor, however, there are two more traits you’ll need, and they only come with time. Those traits are proficiency and experience. Or maybe that should read “proficiency through experience,” because really, that’s the only way to progress.

You start at the beginning with the most basic thing you can find—a friend’s term paper, a colleague’s PowerPoint presentation, a local nonprofit’s brochure—and you jump in with both feet. You make mistakes. You underestimate your timeline. You undercharge …

But you learn. You grow. And you begin to feel confident enough in your abilities to reach out to new prospective clients, introducing yourself and your skills, taking editing tests when needed, and generally expanding your business.

There’s no easy path. There’s no straight road. But believe me when I say that if can get there, so can you.

More to come on this subject in the days ahead …

 

Working smarter, not harder.

As an editor, I have always had a method:

  1. Do a quick run-through of a project, catching all the obvious errors.
  2. Go through it again, a little deeper.
  3. Spelling and grammar checks.
  4. Final read-through, just in case.

No one taught me to work that way; it’s just the way I’ve always done things. Consequently, larger projects could take several weeks, something I considered normal.

Two weeks ago, however, my boss introduced me to a different method, one I’ll call the “once-through.” Basically, you work the project once, slowly and methodically . . . And then you’re done.

I was skeptical, to say the least. There seemed to be too much room for error, especially without the double- and triple-checking. But I tried it anyway.

My last project was nearly 150k words plus cover copy. I finished it in a week and a day. Then I absolutely panicked, thinking I must have missed a million things. I mean, come on. A week and a day? It would have taken me three to four times that using my original method.

So I spent the past few days running spelling and grammar checks, cross-referencing quotes and song lyrics, and even spot-checking every chapter, just in case. Guess what? Everything was fine.

The once-through not only allowed me to finish faster but also lessened the amount of stress and anxiety I usually feel while working. How? Well, obviously the deadline wasn’t nearly as scary. But forcing myself to work slowly and with more precision brought back the enjoyment of editing while eliminating the frenzy.

I liken it to walking meditation, where you are in motion but still focused, still paying attention. Call it “editing meditation,” if you like.

Because of this new practice, I was able to take off in the afternoon on both Saturday and Sunday to go hiking: something I would never and could never have done before. I would have felt too guilty, knowing the deadline was looming and that I still had so far left to go. But the once-through has given me more time and energy to focus on things that matter beyond my work, like homeschooling. I’ve also been able to take small breaks during the day to look after myself, reading and resting and getting out into nature.

In short, the once-through has changed everything. And I am falling in love with the process of editing again.

Try it. See if it works for you. And enjoy the ability to work smarter, not harder!

Hidden Lake