It's our pleasure to welcome Alison Janssen to our blog. Alison is a graduate of Vassar and is a freelance editor for Carina Press and is also a freelance editor for Alison Edits. Allison blogs regularly for Hey, There's a Dead Guy in the Living Room.If you find her tips helpful, kindly leave a comment at the end of the post.
Yes, plot, character, pace, and resolution are very important in a manuscript. Big ideas and beautiful sentences and each and every word choice should be executed in your narrative with purpose. Your editor will engage you on all these levels, asking pesky questions and poking at plot holes, and after some hard work on revisions, your manuscript will be better.
But today I'm not talking about big picture character motivations or the problems of a deus ex machina ending.
Today is devoted to the fiddlies. These are small mechanics-level things you can address before sending in a manuscript file, and I promise they will make your editor smile.
- Word consistency. This will depend on a house style guide, but there's no reason to wait for a contract before making your word usage consistent. Decide if you're the kind of author who uses okay or OK. Figure out your preference between dammit and damn it, (janet!) and then stick to one usage. Are you a til, till, or 'til, kinda writer? Pick one and stay true. You may need to change your preference once you see a house style guide, but at that point it'll be a simple Find/Replace for you in the revision stage, and your editor will love you.
- Emdashes. Double hyphens are not emdashes. (Though I will admit I use double hyphens on this blog, but that's only becase this is a blog and not a manuscript file -- and I can't figure out how to make an emdash in the Typepad world.) Some word processing programs auto-change double hyphens to emdashes, but they never catch all of them. Do a Find/Replace for this, and your editor will love you. Bonus points if you consistently use spaces around the emdash, or no spaces, but not a combo of both.
- Apostrophes. Word does this annoying thing where if you type the word 'em, it treats the punctuation before the word as a single quote, rather than the apostrophe it should be. Annoying! If you're using Word, consider this solution (or figure out a Macros-based one of your own), and your editor will love you.
- Single spaces after sentences. I know, some of you hate this. But it's just the way things are now, I'm sorry. If you really can't train yourself to type with one space after a sentence, do a Find/Replace once you're all finished, with two spaces in the Find box and one space in the Replace. Voila! Your editor loves you.
- Page breaks. Please, please, please, PLEASE don't hit Enter/Return a bunch of times to get to a new page (like at the end of a chapter). Familiarize yourself with "Insert Page Break," and your editor will love you. In fact, experiment with Invisibles -- if you set your view to include invisibles, Word will show you all the formatting marks as well as the text. It's a wonderful way to spot extra line breaks, extra spaces between words, etc.
- Tabs. Along the same lines, please don't use Tab anymore. This tip may be slightly controversial and may not apply to every editor/house, but especially in cases where you're publishing the ebook format first, don't use tabs. You want to set your paragraph indentation using the menu instead. As with tip 5, if you can't train yourself to do this, then just use Find/Replace after you're finished writing. In the Find box, put the Tab symbol. In the replace box, nothing. Then Select All, and set the paragraph indentation. Your editor? In love with you.
- Timeline. Unless your story takes places all in one day, Keifer-style, then it will help you to have a timeline. Not just a vague one in your head, but a written timeline you can share with your editor. Nothing fancy, but a list of the events that occur on each day, and an accounting of any days that pass by off-page. You will be astounded how many times you think it's Thursday when it's actually Tuesday, and your editor will love you for it.
- Character bible. If you're writing a series, be sure to keep track of character details in one place. It needn't be a huge and unwieldy Trapper Keeper full of overlong character histories and artist's renderings, but hey, that couldn't hurt. Mostly you'll want to keep track of hometowns, eye color, phobias, any pertinent but small details that you may mention in Book 2, and bring up again in Book 7. Having a source to check details against will prevent you from accidentally renaming your main character's girlfriend's sister's godchild, and it will prevent your editor from needing to dig back through all your books to prove it. This, naturally, will make your editor love you.
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