Friday, 30 July 2010

Editing 101: Formatting your manuscript

So you've finished writing and have edited for style and mechanics as discussed in previous posts, not it's time to format your manuscript before sending it off to agents and publishers. Formatting requests can vary from publisher to publisher so it's always worth checking submission guidelines. Follow the points below and you can't go wrong:

  • use paragraph styles (not spaces or tabs) to indent your paragraphs; every word processor will have paragraph styles so establishing your required settings once will apply to the entire manuscript
  • don't use fancy fonts; most publishing houses will prefer Times New Roman size 12
  • use italics only to place emphasis on a particular word to give that word or sentence a certain meaning. In some books, italics are used for thoughts, but if you have plenty of thoughts you may want to reconsider using italics as it may distract the reader
  • use ellipses or the em dash when trailing off or when there's a pause in speech such as someone interrupting
  • make sure there's only one space between words and after end punctuation
  • use quotation marks for direct speech
  • generally, manuscripts should be double-spaced with every new chapter starting on a new page. Don't forget to include your surname and the name of the book in the header and page numbers in the footer
To your publishing success!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Editing 101 for Self-editing Fiction: Mechanics Part 2

Last time I discussed the importance of spelling and fact-checking your writing, today I'm looking at grammar and word usage. While spelling and grammar may differ from country to country (I admit US comma usage is way beyond me), you need to know the basics. As a writer, you should have at least one grammar book and one dictionary/thesaurus available to you at all times, either as a book, computer software or you should be able to access the information you need online.
Another two points to look for when editing your book for Mechanics:

As a writer you know what grammar is, but are you fully aware of all grammar rules and exceptions? Reading a grammar book once in a while to refresh your knowledge will help. Generally, make sure
  • subjects and verbs are in agreement with respect to number and person
  • you don't have any displaced or dangling modifiers
  • you've used apostrophes correctly to indicate possession and elision
  • you haven't used 'of' instead of 'have' in 'would/could/should have' - this may sound obvious, but many writers make this mistake
  • you use commas correctly; now this is a tricky one because comma use in the UK varies from that in the US. Just make sure your usage of commas is the right one for your spelling, don't mix 'n match
  • you keep away from hypercorrection and stilted constructions where they don't suit the situation, tone, character etc.
  • make sure you've used 'that' for restrictive clauses and 'which' for non-restrictive ones (unless your spelling is British English)
  • don't confuse verbs, e.g. lie and lay
  • dont' use ambiguous pronouns or pronouns without antecedents
  • begin subordinate clauses with 'that' whenever necessary
  • don't qualify absolutes such as impossible
Should you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask in the comment box below.
Next time: How to format your manuscript

To your publishing success!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Editing 101 for Self-editing Fiction: Mechanics Part 1

So you've finished editing for Style and now you're ready to dig deeper than sentence structure and variation. Readers nowadays rarely take what they read at face value, which is why editing for Mechanics is so important. A book may be written well in a voice and style that appeals to a broad audience, but with information available at the click of a mouse a writer has to have his facts straight. Otherwise bad things happen such as nasty reviews that damage one's reputation and credibility as a writer.
This is what to look for in no particular order:

  • Don't ever rely on your PC's spellchecker, invest in a good dictionary. It doesn't have to be a heavy, bound book. I love my MacBook's dictionary and thesaurus because it doesn't clutter my desk. Also, always read your chapters paying attention to each word, and when you're finished, do it again to catch any spelling mistakes that you may oversee the first time.
  • Be consistent in your spelling. If you write for a British audience, use British spelling. There's nothing wrong with sending manuscripts with British spelling to US publishers and agents as long as the spelling is consistent and you don't jump back and forth between British and American spelling.
  • As a rule: look up every word you're not sure of. Don't pick synonyms just to ensure you don't repeat words without researching their proper usage because a synonym can't always be used in the same context.
  • Always check your facts: names, places, titles, works of art, events, anything related to history, geographical details, anything related to nature such as flora and fauna, physical possibilities, travel times, street names etc. Never assume the reader won't know anyway because many readers are more critical than the writer. Reviewers often do their research, and as a writer you don't want to come across as too lazy to invest a bit of time to get your facts straight.
  • Quote material properly (if applicable); if you use anything from other people's work never ever forget to mention it otherwise you risk being accused of plagiarism.
Next time: Editing for Mechanics Part 2

To your publishing success!