Hi! I’m Kathy Ide. In addition to being a published author, I’m a full-time professional freelance editor. For CAN, I’m blogging about tips for writers based on the most common mistakes I see in the manuscripts I edit.
Here are some tips on little things you can do to polish your manuscript and make yourself look more professional.
Style Guides. Most American book publishers use The Chicago Manual of Style. If you don’t have a copy, I strongly encourage you to purchase one. (The current edition is the 16th, which came out in fall of 2010.) The Associated Press Stylebook is used for newspapers and journalistic magazines. (A new issue comes out every year, and the online version is constantly being updated.) If you’re writing for the Christian market, you’ll also want to get The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style by Robert Hudson (2004 edition).
Dictionaries. American book publishers use Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition). For articles, use Webster’s New World College Dictionary.
Sentence Spacing. Put one space between each sentence, not two. If you’re used to two, it can be a tough habit to break. There’s an easy fix, though. Just use “find and replace” to find two spaces and replace with one space. Click “replace all” until the count gets down to zero.
Paragraph Indent. Indent each paragraph to 1/2 inch with the Tab key (or better yet, using automatic paragraph indents). Do not use the spacebar. Don’t add blank lines between paragraphs. And take out any automatic paragraph spacing your word-processing program may add.
Scene Breaks for Fiction. Insert a blank line to signal a change in time, location, or point of view. Place a pound sign (#) or three asterisks (***) centered on the blank line.
Dashes. An em dash is formed using two consecutive hyphens without spaces before or after. Most word-processing programs can automatically change this to an “em dash”—which is preferred by many publishers. For book manuscripts, an en dash (–) should be used between consecutive numbers, such as in Scripture references or dates. (Articles don’t use en dashes; use a hyphen in these instances.)
Ellipsis. An ellipsis (. . .) consists of three dots with spaces before, after, and between each period. The Chicago manual allows for the converted ellipsis character (…) with spaces before and after if the author prefers. If an ellipsis occurs at the beginning or end of a quotation or parentheses, there’s no space between the first or final dot and the quotation mark or parenthesis.
If you’re interested in working with a freelance editor (or know someone who is), e-mail me through the contact page of my website. Or go to the Christian Editor Connection to get referrals to other established, professional editorial freelancers. If you’re a freelance editor yourself, or think you might be interested in that field, check out The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network.
And when you’re ready to proofread your manuscript, consider getting a copy of my book Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors. It reveals how multi-published authors proofread their manuscripts to avoid typos, inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and errors in punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling. The book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
If you read or write fiction, check out my new Fiction Lover’s Devotional series! The first book, 21 Days of Grace, released June 1. The second book, 21 Days of Christmas, released September 1. Both books are available in bookstores and online. For more details, visit www.FictionDevo.com.