Sometimes I hate writers for making me do all this work, but I would earn significantly less if they didn’t, and I earn more per hour cleaning up these messes than some writers earn creating them. Want to take food out of my mouth, save publishers money, and make editors happy? Learn to submit clean manuscripts.
THE FIRST GO-ROUND
Some of the many things I correct while cleaning up electronic manuscripts:
Extra Spaces. Don’t put extra spaces between words, between sentences, at the beginning of paragraphs, at the end of paragraphs, or on otherwise empty lines.
Tab Characters. Don’t randomly insert tabs. (Note: Many editors prefer you indent paragraphs using the Format Paragraph drop-down menu. More important than whether you do this or indent paragraphs by pressing the tab key once at the beginning of each paragraph is that you indent paragraphs exactly the same way each and every time throughout the entire manuscript. And don’t ever indent paragraphs by pressing the spacebar multiple times.)
Manual Line Breaks Instead of Paragraph Marks. Always end paragraphs by pressing the return key. (Note: Holding down the shift key and pressing the return key inserts a Manual Line Break. Don’t.)
Improperly Used Dashes. Know the difference between the hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash, and use them properly. (Note: House styles differ on whether or not there should be a space before and after the em dash. If in doubt, choose one style and be consistent throughout your entire manuscript.)
|Sadly, the design department at my alma mater|
does not know the difference between
an apostrophe and a single opening quotation
mark, leading to errors like this.
The above problems appear in so many manuscripts that I do a series of search-and-replace passes through every manuscript to find and correct these problems.
THE SECOND GO-ROUND
Some of the changes I make address the requirements of individual publisher clients, and some of what I clean out of electronic files prior to beginning the editorial process is unique to individual writers, so I have developed search-and-replace procedures specific to them.
For example, one publisher’s house style requires a space before and after all em dashes, another requires that all author bylines be typed in caps. I address these and many other house style issues during the second go-round.
I have also learned the foibles of several writers whose work I regularly see. For example, one writer consistently misuses a word, using instead a sound-alike word, so when cleaning up that writer’s manuscripts I search for and replace the misused word with the correct word. Another writer consistently fails to put the comma after the state in statements such as “I went to Waco, Texas, to visit the Silos.” So, I search for state names and insert the missing commas as appropriate.
Then I format every manuscript to look identical. For one client this means 14-point Times New Roman, double-spaced, with a .5” indent on the first line of every paragraph.
THE THIRD GO-ROUND
The third go-round is the actual editing phase. After I have performed my janitorial duties, I pass the manuscripts on to the publishers’ editors. Depending on the client, it may be a single editor or it may be a team of editors, each tasked with a different responsibility. Some editors are subject matter experts, ensuring the accuracy of the information presented, while others edit for spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
Regardless of how many editors touch the manuscripts, sooner or later the manuscripts come back to me for a final pass. This is when I make last-minute tweaks before sending the manuscripts into production.
Production imports the electronic manuscripts into page layout programs such as InDesign, and the cleaner the electronic manuscripts, the less effort it takes production to format text and lay out pages.
ROUND AND ROUND
Not all publishers use manuscript janitors (which isn’t even a real title). In many cases, the janitorial duties fall to copyeditors, who perform these tasks as part of the editing process rather than separate from it. Regardless, someone has to clean up the messes writers make.
In fact, right now there’s a manuscript janitor somewhere working her way through one of my manuscripts and shaking her head in dismay at the extraneous junk I failed to remove prior to submission.
Speaking of editing, I’ll soon be reading submissions for a new anthology series: Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir isn’t watered-down mysteries for dilettantes; it’s a crime-fiction cocktail that will knock readers into a literary stupor. An annual anthology of hardboiled and noir crime fiction to be released each fall beginning in 2020, contributors will be encouraged to push their work into places short crime fiction doesn’t often go, into a world where the mean streets seem gentrified by comparison and happy endings are the exception rather than the rule. For complete details, visit www.crimefictionwriter.com/submissions/html.