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10 Steps To Clean Up Your Manuscript

Editing publishing writer

So you've written your masterpiece and you are ready to dive into the deep end of self-editing or perhaps you've hired an editor. All you need to do is send off that document, or start doing edits, right? Well you could, but if you want a truly professional piece there are a few things you need to do before you start editing to ensure your document will be ready for formatting as soon as your edits are complete. Here are 10 steps you need to do to clean up your manuscript for a truly professional result.

I'm going to assume you are working in Word. I know many people love Google Docs for collaboration, but it creates a lot of junk on the backend that affects the ability to format the document, and editing in Google Docs is such a pain. So, get your work into Word, or better yet start in Word, then here are your 10 steps for a clean, professionally presented document.

1. Back up your manuscript

Always keep a back up of your work. Use one of the many free cloud storage options, but get that document backed up. The last thing you need right now is to have all your hard work lost.

2. Show 'paragraph marks and formatting symbols'

This is a button on your Home bar in word that looks kind of like a backwards P. Turning it on will show you line breaks, paragraph breaks and spaces and other formatting that has been applied to the document. If you have chosen to use something like Google Docs to create your text, this is where you are going to see some of the issues it creates.

3. Check line spacing

Most editors like to work at 1.5 line spacing but the most important thing is to confirm the line spacing is consistent. You can do this by selecting the whole document, right click, then select 'paragraph'. Under 'spacing' find the 'line spacing' field and set it to your desired line spacing. Click 'OK' to apply.

4. Check indentation

Indentation is the offset of a line of text compared to others. Growing up you were probably taught to indent the first line of each paragraph. You can do this quickly to the whole document by selecting all, right click, select 'paragraph'. Under 'spacing' select 'special' and from the drop down select 'first line'. To the left you can change the specific indentation settings.

Now there are a few things about indentation. For a professionally laid out text focused book, you should remove the indentation on the first paragraph of each chapter. Also ensure your titles and chapter headings are not indented.

But what if you are creating an activity book? Many activity books have specialized layouts. This is where you will need to develop a style guide or set of rules for your particular book. Perhaps you want all paragraphs flush because you are using text boxes and bullet points. Or perhaps certain sections will have standard indentation paragraphs. These decisions need to be set out in a style guide for your book, then applied.

5. Apply single paragraph breaks

Paragraph breaks are created using the enter key. Some people like to use the enter key twice between paragraphs. This is not right and that extra white space can cause issues with conversion software and eReaders. So go through and make sure there is only one paragraph break between paragraphs. 

6. Remove double spaces

This is a tough one for some people who were taught on a typewriter that you put 2 spaces at the end of a sentence. This practice was abolished many, many years ago as we moved to computers. It is best if you focus on retraining yourself not to do this, but either way, you need to remove all those double spaces. The fastest way to do this is to use the 'Replace' feature in Word you can find on the far right in the Home field of Word. In the Find field enter two spaces, in the Replace field enter one space, then click 'replace all' to get rid of all those pesky spaces.

7. Check chapter breaks

Chapter breaks are what denotes the end of a chapter or section of a book. It tells the eReader software or printing software to end the text there and go to the next page. Go through your book and make sure chapter breaks are in the right place to keep your book flowing properly. Ensuring your chapter breaks are in the right place will also tell your formatter how your pages should flow.

8. Fix punctuation

This one is a touchy one for some people, but if you truly want to be seen as a professional you need to stop abusing the poor exclamation point. Do a 'find replace' again, but this time replace the exclamation point (!) with a period (.). Then as you are editing, if there is a spot that really calls for the exclamation point, you can put one or two back in, but before you do that, look at your writing. Enthusiasm or excitement should be conveyed with your words, not punctuation. Consider rewriting to use stronger language and sentence structure to get your point across, rather than peppering your writings with exclamation points. Your readers will thank you.

9. Correct capitalization

Similar to point number 7, go through your document and remove any ALL CAPS. The use of all capital letters implies yelling and is not an effective way to add emphasis to your words. Readers do not like to be yelled at, so remove any non-standard capitalization. Emphasis can be created through sparing use of italics or bold (if that aligns with your style guide), or better yet through strong writing.

10. Start editing

Now that your document is cleaned up and polished, you simply need to complete the edits (or send it to your editor). Once the edits are complete you are ready for formatting, then uploading with your clean, professionally presented manuscript.

I hope this list helps you prepare a professional final product and removes some of the headaches from the process.

Happy writing,
Shelley



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