You may have decided that your manuscript needs help from an editor – but how can you ensure you’ve ironed out the obvious mistakes before you send it to them?
In this edition of Expert Tips, Richard Sheehan shares the most common errors, and how to avoid them.
I see a lot of manuscripts in my editing work and I find many issues occurring repeatedly. As a result, I’ve collected some tips to help authors avoid these problems, and they also might save you a little money.
1. Check the formatting of your manuscript.
Use paragraph indents rather than tab marks.
Don’t position text using the space bar. It can cause problems when uploading manuscripts to document formatting programs and during some document conversion routines.
Make sure that you only use single spaces after a full stop and before a new sentence.
Ensure that the font type and size is consistent throughout the manuscript and that there’s a consistent use of either UK or US English.
Watch out for extra line spaces between paragraphs (except when indicating section breaks, of course).
2. Run the spellchecker in Microsoft Word.
It’s not perfect, but it will pick up some obvious typos.
3. Purchase New Hart’s Rules style guide.
It has great sections on grammar, punctuation and many other aspects of writing and preparing text.
4. Take a break.
Leave the manuscript for as long as you can prior to a last edit before sending it to an editor. Your eyes will be fresher when looking at the manuscript and you will notice errors that you haven’t noticed before.
5. Read the manuscript out loud.
You’ll be surprised how errors that you didn’t know existed will appear more clearly when read out loud.
6. Point of view is an integral part of any novel.
Learn to use it properly and well. There are books and online resources that can tell you everything you need to know.
7. Too much telling and not enough showing.
I also often see the reverse – where writers avoid using telling at all and end up using too much showing. Either is fine as long as they are used correctly; it’s all a matter of judgement.
8. Dialogue tags and dialogue formatting.
I see quite a few manuscripts where dialogue tags such as ‘he laughed’, ‘she smiled’, ‘he cringed’, ‘she breathed’, ‘he hurried’, ‘she rhymed’, and so on are used. These aren’t speech tags. People don’t ‘breathe’ words, and neither do they ‘laugh’ words. Stick with the more familiar dialogue tags, like ‘said’, ‘replied’, ‘answered’, etc.
Make sure you format your dialogue correctly. There are plenty of online resources, or a style guide such as New Hart’s Rules is even better.
9. Find a good writers’ group.
Feedback and constructive criticism from authors you’ve got to know can be invaluable throughout your writing career.
Give your editors and proofreaders time. You may have spent months or years on your novel. The more time you can give us, the better the work we can do for you.
Richard Sheehan has been working as a freelance copy-editor and proofreader since 2012, after qualifying with the Publishing Training Centre and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. He has worked on over 160 novels, with both publishers and an increasing number of self-publishing authors. He has also run editing workshops and masterclasses.
His website address is www.richardmsheehan.co.uk.
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