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How to Make a Book Editor Smile

david-sports-book-editingDavid Alan

For 20 years I worked as an editor for Publications International managing book projects and copy editing manuscripts. Whenever a writer sent me a document for the first time, I opened it with conflicting emotions. Part of me was excited, as if I were opening a present on Christmas morning; yet I also felt nervous, like a bomb squad worker with his hands on an explosive device. What would await me when I opened that file?

The quality of the writing would affect my mood for the entire day—and possibly the week and month. If you’re a writer who wants to make your editor smile, follow these tips:

1) Before you submit your manuscript, search and replace double spaces with single spaces. Not doing so comes across as sloppiness. Also, do not include double spaces after sentences; single spaces only.

2) Spell-check your manuscript—or at least check and fix red-underlined (misspelled) words.

3) Unless there’s a reason for it, as defined by your editor or discussed between you and the editor, don’t format your manuscript. Copy editors need to make the manuscript “raw,” with no formatting, and then add codes for the typesetter or designer. The editor usually will get rid of all your centered copy, varying line spaces, large fonts, etc. If you feel a need to have your work formatted, discuss the issue with your project editor or copy editor before you submit your manuscript.

4) Ask your editor if he or she can provide a style guide. You don’t have to follow it to a tee—that’s the copy editor’s job. But definitely adhere to the major stuff, such as serial commas. I remember editing a long military-history manuscript in which the writer, in hundreds of instances, spelled out ranks, such as Sergeant Jack Hammer, when the style guide called for abbreviations (“Sgt.”).

5) If you’re writing a nonfiction book, avoid short paragraphs. You may see one-sentence paragraphs in newspaper or website articles, but they are meant to be easily digestible. Books are more formal and call for longer paragraphs. Just don’t make them endless.

6) Consumers of vice products do not like sin tax, and copy editors dread bad syntax. Syntax is defined by Oxford as “the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language.” A copy editor can fix house-style and simple grammatical errors quickly, but a manuscript filled with butchered syntax is highly time-consuming to edit. The editor needs to first determine what the writer is trying to say in a sentence and then figure out a way to rewrite it. Editors understand that not every person has command of the English language. But a prospective writer needs to know that poor syntax could double or triple the time it takes to copy edit a manuscript.

I could offer many other related tips, but if you can adhere to the ones above, you’ll be on your way to making your editor’s day.

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