12 Do’s and Don’ts Before Editing Your Manuscript (or Sending It to an Editor)

Nowadays, all the bells and whistles that come with word processing programs can be fascinating. And it’s tempting to think that the more stylization you can do to your manuscript (I’m talking generally about books here) in order to give it a finished look, the less your editor will have to do, and that translates into saving money, right?

Wrong, unfortunately. While it may give you a brief burst of pleasure to see your work look more like how you envision the finished product will look like, doing all that formatting is more like getting dressed for the ball and then taking your shower. Instead of saving time, there’s going to be more time needed, time needed to peel those wet clothes off and dry them so you can scrub the manuscript properly. Or, to use another metaphor, you don’t ice a cake before you bake it.

Here’s a list of 12 Do’s and Don’ts when sending your manuscript to an editor.

1. DO correct glaring errors like bad grammar, misplaced punctuation, and misspellings. The cleaner your manuscript is of unnecessary errors, the more your editor can focus on the less obvious areas that need work, saving you money.

2. DON’T dismiss the revision process. It might be tempting to think your job is done and to want your editor to handle all the cleanup, but revision is primarily the author’s job, not the editor’s (although an editor can certainly help polish your work). Performing the necessary multiple revisions often takes longer than the initial writing. Bonus: When done thoughtfully, the revision process can really hone your writing skills! Unless you’re looking for a development editor to assess your overall storyline or framework before finalizing it, it’s a waste of your money to send an unpolished draft to an editor. Start by taking a break before revising. Shove it in a drawer, real or virtual, for a couple of weeks and avoid thinking about it. You’ll be amazed at how much jumps out at you when your eyes are fresher.

3. DO check for excessive repetition—of words and/or phrases. We all have distinct speech patterns and favorite words and phrases we use repeatedly, without realizing. Word cloud software, often free, can help you zero in on words that appear with high frequency so you can swap out any unnecessary usage with other words and phrases. We all notice when authors use the same wording frequently. Your readers will notice too. Don’t let this yank them out of your story.

4. DON’T rely solely on grammar and spell checks to find errors. A lot of folks assume spellcheck is infallible. It isn’t. While it might warn you to change “alright” (only okay if you’re writing in UK English) to “all right,” it might not spot the difference between “their,” “there,” and “they’re,” and it’s notoriously bad when it comes to confusing “its” and “it’s.” Grammar suggestions aren’t always right either. These software-based checks are tools, and helpful ones, to be sure, but they don’t replace combing through the text yourself to make sure that what you’ve written really is what you intended to write.

5. DO jot down a list of all unusual spellings of names, made-up words, etc., and give them to your editor, along with the manuscript. If you can supply your editor with a list of unfamiliar terms, names, etc., before they start, that will save them time and you money, and your editor won’t have to flag such items in order to query you about any inconsistencies.

6. DON’T be casual about quoted material and citations. In the Internet era where information has never been more readily available to us, it’s easy to mistakenly feel info is there for the taking. Credit for work borrowed should always be given! Plagiarism software exists to find such offenders, and copyright infringement can be a costly lesson to learn. Note sources carefully and thoroughly. An editor can always delete what’s overkill. It’s a lot harder to go searching for what you’ve failed to include.

7. DO consider having one or more “beta readers” to read your work first. This is a great way to find out how an independent reader might react when reading your story.

8. DON’T rely on anyone close to you to review it. It can be hard for those who love you the most to give you an honest appraisal and constructive feedback. That means avoiding asking anyone who might be overly critical as well as overly enthusiastic. The goal here is to find and fix any weaknesses.

9. DO stick to formatting basics at this stage, and leave the real formatting to a skilled page designer/typesetter who will import it into a more appropriate software, such as InDesign. By all means code chapter titles or headings as appropriate, but keep everything in the same style font for now, ideally 12-point font in a style that’s easily read, like Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri. Double-spacing is the industry standard, first line of each paragraph indented, and don’t insert extra line spaces between paragraphs except in the event of scene changes within a single chapter. Insert line breaks between chapters. And avoid excessive use of capitalization, boldface, italics, and ellipses.

10. DON’T submit a pdf or other file that is not conducive to editing. Word processing-based files are the best for editing, whether it’s Microsoft Word, Pages, OpenOffice/LibreOffice, or any other. And always—ALWAYS—use the appropriate change tracking feature when making even the slightest alteration. It can prevent a lot of headaches.

11. DO remember that quality editing takes time. It’s not possible to edit text at a pace faster than most people can even read it. Take a few breaths and leave the editor alone to do their magic. They’ll reach out to you if they’re unsure about anything.

12. DON’T make changes after you’ve given it to an editor. However tempting it is to revisit your manuscript multiple times to polish it while waiting for an editor to finish, please don’t. Multiple versions of the same manuscript are a major headache. And, generally, it’s best not to try to circumvent this by uploading the document to a cloud-based location, like GoogleDocs. If you must tinker, then simply highlight portions of the original text and insert a comment balloon containing a brief description of your concern or the suggested revision, so that when you share it with your editor, they can easily flag the places you want to adjust and make any changes in the version they are editing.

If your manuscript is heavily laced with photographs or other graphics, I strongly recommend you keep such graphics in a separate file, each with its own identifier, and simply insert a note where the photo should appear with its identifier (e.g., 1.1 for the first insert in chapter one, 2.1 for the first insert in chapter two, and so on). Don’t bother noting page numbers as these can change, sometimes significantly, during the editing process. You may find it helpful to insert something like “xxx” in these placeholder notes, something unique that makes it easier to do a quick global search to ensure you don’t overlook anything when it comes time to inserting them, at the end.

Congratulations! With these tips in hand, your manuscript should be editor-ready!

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