How to prepare your manuscript for editing

Bright orange flower

So you finished writing your first book and are ready for the next step—which is editing, of course. What can you do to make the editing process as smooth as possible? Use minimal formatting. Make it good, then make it pretty!

When it comes to reviewing what you’ve written, how you present the material matters. Whether you’re submitting to an editor or doing a round of self-editing first, you want your manuscript to be easy-to-read. How do you do that?

Before you even start writing… get to know your software. Familiarize yourself with the menus and drop-down options. What kind of help features come built-in? Do you understand the formatting and layout features? Once you’ve figured out where everything is, it’s time to learn what each does.

When you’re setting up your document to begin writing, start with spacing. Set the whole document to double-spacing (or use one-and-a-half, if you dislike extra white space and have no intentions of ever paper editing your work) and make sure your margins are one inch (or 2.54 cm) all around.

The page itself should be set to standard page sizes of 8.5 x 11 inches or 21.59 x 27.94 centimetres. If you do this, with double-spacing, you’ll end up with about the same number of words per page as you’d see in a printed novel (typically printed at 5.5 x 8.5 or 6 x 9 inches in size). Keep everything left-justified, though, so you don’t accidentally enforce strange line break issues when your book gets to formatting. The right side will remain unjustified, or ragged, meaning words aren’t going to be forced to line up to each other. Let the formatter finish the margins, wrap-around text, and spacing once you’ve agreed on the size of your book!

There are countless tutorials online on all of this, as well, including ones direct from the publisher. You can even find classes that specialize in the software you use to really deepen your knowledge.

What about font, you say? Choose whatever font you want when you’re writing, but when you submit to an editor (or publishing house), 12-point Times New Roman is still industry standard. When you’re editing, you want to see serifs on fonts. Serifs are the little lips you see on letters that could otherwise be written without (sans-serif, such as Arial). These help you identify letters, numbers, and punctuation quickly.

The first line of every paragraph is indented a half inch (or 1.27 cm) in most publications. While tab (or pressing space bar five times) might do it, not all word processors use this measurement as their default setting. If you have the option to turn on a ruler in the document, you can easily see if you have the right indentation settings.

And don’t forget to cheat! You can make multiple templates with unique settings that match the various projects you work on. Save yourself some time.

As you’re writing, resist the urge to press the enter key fifteen times to start your next chapter on a fresh page. There’s a “page break” feature for a reason. This will cue your document to start a fresh page that isn’t affected by changes that happen to preceding pages.

… But what if you’re using page numbering? Won’t that screw it up? Nope! If you haven’t already set your page numbering, you can adjust it at any time. Just make sure you don’t have the numbering starting until you’re starting your narrative. I wouldn’t include your periphery material in this, since it will be numbered separately anyway. Microsoft Word will allow you to include chapter numbers alongside pagination, if you wish.

If you have any chapter breaks (as opposed to page breaks) you want to make it into the final product, you need to use dingbats. You may have heard this as an insult when someone does something foolish (You dingbat…”), but the technical term refers to the symbols you see separating blocks of text as a way of denoting the passing of time or a change in narrator. So long as you’re consistent, it doesn’t really matter how many of these symbols you use or which ones you choose. However, editors and proofreaders universally will understand * * * as a chapter break.

Finally, the last thing you should do to prepare your manuscript for editing is clean it up and put it all together. If you keep your chapters as individual files, it’s hard to see flow and to flip between sections quickly. Even if it’s your preferred writing method, you will need to send the manuscript in its entirety to your editor, agent, or publisher. At this point, any notes you’ve left in that are extraneous to the text should be removed. Whatever is important to you should be put into a new file, properly named, so you don’t’ lose it. If you had notes to your editor (not responses to editorial comments), put those in an email.

The less periphery material you have in the document to distract from editing, the better that editing will be.

Professional writers should fully understand the tools they’re using. You’d be surprised how many headaches you can avoid just by teaching yourself some basic formatting options and setting them up before you put fingers to keyboard. Once you get closer to publication, you can work with a designer to individualize your book. For now, follow the K.I.S.S. principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Overthink your plot, not your formatting.

Published by M Gardner

Editor and writing coach. I'm keen on helping establish and grow unique authorial voices for maximum impact in the reading world.

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