How to Clean-up Your Manuscript: What to Look for, What Not to Do

21 Jun

While most books are different in content and purpose, there are some similarities between many of them as far as editing goes. Here is a list of common mistakes authors (and some novice editors) make, and how to correct them:

1: Remember the One Space Rule. Most writers still leave two spaces after a period, question mark, etc. The rule now is one space after all punctuation. You’ll save yourself some money if you will correct this problem throughout your manuscript before turning it over to an editor. If your editor doesn’t know about the one-space-after-a-period rule, maybe she/he isn’t the right editor for you.

2: Use the Em-dash Correctly. Many authors still leave the em-dash dangling between two words. The em-dash is correctly placed when it is about the width of the letter “M” and it connects the two words—thusly. Also, make sure that you use the em-dash appropriately within your text. While there is text within the newer Associated Press Style Guide book in which the em-dash is used correctly, the punctuation section of the older 1992 edition still shows the em-dash as a dangler. Use the em-dash to denote an abrupt change in thought within a sentence, to set off an explanatory element of the sentence and sometimes it’s used in place of a comma. The 2003 edition of the Chicago Manual of Style shows the em-dash (or dash) used correctly.

3: Avoid Muddying Your Writing. Many authors engage in what is called “muddy writing.” They sacrifice clarity for some sort of desire to use complicated, go nowhere sentences. Write so that you can be understood clearly and without lengthy explanations, or why bother.

4: Avoid Using Incomplete Sentences. Make sure that your sentences can stand alone—in other words that it has a subject, an action and appropriate connecting words. This is not a rule always followed in fictional writing, but you have to know the rules before you break them. Avoid this at all costs, and if you can’t avoid it at least keep it to a pleasant minimum.

5: Verbosity is Not A Necessity. New authors commonly write sentences that are too wordy and/or too complex. If someone has to read a sentence through again just to figure out what it means, the author has failed that reader. Keep it simple, and instead of saying “I write in order to make some people happy”, instead say “I write to make people happy.”

6: Don’t Be Repetitive. Novice writers tend to repeat themselves. Our editors spend a great deal of time suggesting that authors replace copycat words with fresh ones. When you finish a paragraph, read through it again to make sure that you haven’t repeated words such as, “had,” “also,” “very,” etc. When you are writing about a dog, vary the way you refer to him. Use his name, call him pup, the old guy, pet, canine, four-footed friend, fur kid, man’s best friend, etc.

7: I see some excellent, fresh writing and some boring, stale text. Make your paragraphs more interesting by varying the size and style of sentences and using unexpected words and phrases. One way to jazz up your writing is by increasing your vocabulary.

8: Don’t use words that are too fancy and obscure. Again, think about your audience. Ask, will they enjoy reading this or will it become a chore for them to make their way through unfamiliar territory?

9: Many authors aren’t sure where to break for a new paragraph. We deal with a lot of paragraphs that are too long. A good tip to avoid this issue is to remember to break paragraphs on new thoughts, new speakers and to break out or shorten wordy explanations/ descriptions.

10: Most authors use far too many instances of quotation marks. Often, it is Italics that they should use in order to emphasize a word or a phrase. Use Italics sparingly, however. Likewise, authors use quotation marks incorrectly in dialogue. They put punctuation outside of quotation marks and omit the comma before the quote, for example. Some don’t capitalize the first word in a quote—you should, you know. And, in dialogue, each new speaker starts a new paragraph.

11: Many writers today still use the passive instead of the active voice. Instead of writing, “The worm was put on the hook by the fisherman.” Say, “The fisherman baited the hook.” Rather than, “The chick was thought by us to be stunning.” Say, “We all agreed that the chick was hot.”

12: Be Consistent. Probably the most consistent problem I see in editing is lack of consistency. Rather than having our editors spend extra time fixing inconsistencies, I generally suggest that they use the find and replace tool on their computer and do it themselves. When you finish your manuscript, make sure that the words you want capitalized are all capitalized, that the names of your characters stay true, without different spellings throughout, and that your facts stay the same.

13: Some authors lean too much on their editors. When using an editor, you should be seeking to learn as you go along. Learn the rules and techniques so you have more than just a finished manuscript from the experience. But, alas, some authors repeat the same mistakes they encountered in their first. As a writer, you should always be interested in developing new skills.

Share Your Expertise: What additional editing tips would you give an aspiring author? Answer below in the comments section, and we might add yours to this list!


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