Tag Archives: common errors in manuscripts

Things to check for before submitting to a beta reader #amwriting

When we finish writing a story, an article, or a novel, we feel a rush of pride. The urge to immediately send it to a magazine or contest is strong, but the wise author must overcome it.

Don’t even show it to your writing group at this stage, because you are too involved in it, and there may be some awkward flaws that were introduced into the narrative during the rush of creation. You want their feedback to be constructive and not focused on the editable flaws.

Set your manuscript aside for a week or so then come back to it and look for

  1. Dropped or missing words.
  2. Words that spell check won’t find because they are spelled correctly but are wrong: They went their for breakfast.
  3. Extra spaces in odd places, and after sentences. Editors want one (1) space after each sentence.
  4. The paragraphs are indented, NOT WITH TABS, but by formatting the paragraphs correctly.

Tabs >.< I feel it’s important to revisit this subject, as I have recently seen two manuscripts where authors used the tab key to indent their paragraphs.

That is a huge no-no, and screams “never done this before.” Ninety percent of publications and publishing houses want electronic submissions. Too many spaces messes up the final formatting. For this reason, make sure you have removed the tabs. You may have to do it by hand which is a daunting task no publisher or editor has time for.

You want your work to look professional, even if you are only submitting it to your writing group for a critique. Always format the paragraphs by either opening the home tab and choosing ‘normal’ from the styles tab on the ribbon OR format by using the simple formatting tool:

Step 1: On the home tab, look in the group labeled ‘Paragraph.’ On the lower right-hand side of that group is a small grey square. Click on it.  A pop-out menu will appear, and this is where you format your paragraphs.

Step 2: On the indents and spacing tab of the menu: Use standard alignment, align LEFT. The reason we use this format is we are not looking at a finished product here. We are looking at a rough draft that will be sliced, diced, and otherwise mutilated many times before we get to the final product.

Step 3: Indentation: leave that alone or reset both numbers to ‘0’ if you have inadvertently altered it.

Step 4: Where it says ‘Special’: on the drop-down menu select ‘first line.’ On the ‘By’ menu, select ‘0.5.’ (Some publishers will specify a different number, 0.3 or 0.2, but 0.5 is standard.)

Step 5: ‘Spacing’: set both before and after to ‘0.’

Step 6: ‘Line Spacing’: set to ‘double.’

To summarize, standard paragraph format has:

  • margins of 1 inch all the way around
  • indented paragraphs with no extra space between
  • double-spaced text
  • Align Left. This is critical.

Do not justify the text. In justified text, the spaces between words, and letters (known as “tracking”) are stretched or compressed. Justified text aligns with both the left and right margins. It gives you straight margins on both sides, but this type of alignment only comes into play when a manuscript is published, and at that point, the publisher will handle the formatting.

Also, I have two things for you to look for before you submit your work to a beta reader or writing group, much less a prospective agent or publisher.

First up: Dialogue.

  1. Make sure every spoken sentence is enclosed in double quotes. All punctuation goes INSIDE the closed quotes, and quoted dialogue is enclosed in single quotes, ALSO inside the closed quotes.

Good: “I’m sorry, Mary. Your punctuation is horrific. Jake said, ‘I won’t accept it,’” said Helen.

When using dialogue tags, the spoken sentence ends in a comma, inside the closed quotes, followed by the dialogue tag which is NOT CAPITALIZED.

Bad: “I’m sorry, Mary. Your punctuation is horrific. Jake said, ‘I won’t accept it.’” Said Helen.

Good: “I’m sorry, Mary. Your punctuation is horrific. Jake said, ‘I won’t accept it,’” said Helen.

Next up: Commas. If you have a basic grip on commas, perfection is not needed. But commas separate clauses and act as traffic signals for our words.

  1. Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by any of these seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.

Good: My dog has fleas, and he needs to go to the vet.

Do not join dependent clauses to independent clauses with commas.

Good: My dog has fleas and needs to go to the vet.

Avoid comma splices at all cost. Use conjunctions or semicolons to join related independent clauses, not commas.

Bad: My dog has fleas, he needs to go to the vet.

Good: My dog has fleas, and he needs to go to the vet. OR if you absolutely must use a semicolon, write it as, My dog has fleas; he needs to go to the vet.

By searching for these simple errors before you submit your work,there’s a good chance that an editor will read beyond the first page.

Even if you intend to hire an editor, if you have these sorts of major amateurish flaws in your work, the editor will most likely refuse to take on the task of editing your work, as it would be too difficult to complete in a reasonable amount of time.

If I receive a request from a prospective client to edit a manuscript, and a glance through the first few chapters shows a clear lack of knowledge of how to write, my policy is to refuse it. The author owes it to herself, and the craft in general, to learn how to write.

In these instances, I am always gentle, but firm. I usually suggest the author join a writing group and invest in some books on writing craft. Many times, I see wonderful, amazing stories that are so poorly written no editor would take them.

It’s important to remember that we all begin at that place. With practice and feedback from others, we grow. These first drafts of our writing life are the beginner stories, the ones that come from the heart and which we learn from. I have a desk full of examples of “What was I thinking?” Each one of those stories had great bones. They are the foundation of all my work.

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#Proofreading is not #editing

Epic Fails signWhile some people will dispute this, proofreading is not editing.

Proofreading is done after the final revisions have been made, and hopefully it is done by someone who has not seen the manuscript before. That way, they will see it through new eyes, and the small things in your otherwise perfect manuscripts will stand out.

Anita Campbell, in her May 28, 2015 guest post for the SBA’s Blog-Industry Word says: “The first step of effective proofreading is understanding that not every typo or issue is alike.  Each needs to be attacked in a different way.” While she is speaking of editing blogposts, and short works, that profoundly true of longer manuscripts.

Even though an editor has combed your manuscript and you have made thousands of corrections, both large and small, there may be places where the reader’s eye will stop. Words have been left out, punctuation is missing–any number of small, hard-to-detect things can occur even after the most thorough of edits.

After the final edit we go over our work with a fine-toothed comb, trying to proof it ourselves. We read it aloud, and we read it from the bottom up, but our eye sees what it expects to see. We catch many things, but we don’t catch it all.

This is where the third person in the process comes in–the proofreader.

First of all, proofreading is not editing. Editing is a process that I have discussed at length elsewhere, and is completed long before we get to the proofreading stage.

SO, at the outset, the proofreader must understand that no matter how tempting it may be, they have not been invited to edit the manuscript for content. That has already been done and done again. If they cannot refrain from asking for large revisions regarding your style and content, find another proofreader.

What The Proofreader Should Look For:

Spelling—misspelled words, and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently). These are words that spell-checker may or may not catch, so a human eye is critical for this.

  • Wrong:  Bobby wint out the door, slamming the screen.
  • Right:  Bobby went out the door, slamming the screen.
  • Wrong: There cat escaped and he had to chase it
  • Right: Their cat escaped and he had to chase it.

Repeated words and cut-and-paste errors. These are insidious and damned difficult to spot, and spell-checker won’t find always them. Sometimes they seem like unusually garbled sentences.

  • Wrong: First of all, First of all, it is accepted practice to italicize thoughts.
  • WrongFirst of all, it is accepted practice to practice thoughts.
  • Wrong: First of all, it is accepted to ot  thoughts.
  • Right: First of all, it is accepted practice to italicize thoughts.

Missing closed quotes:

  • Wrong: “Doctor Mendel, you’re new to the area. What do you know about the dead man? asked Officer Shultz.
  • Right: “Doctor Mendel, you’re new to the area. What do you know about the dead man? asked Officer Shultz.

Numbers that are digits:

  • Wrong: There will be 3000 guests at the reception.
  • Right: There will be 300 guests at the reception.

Dropped and missing words:

  • Wrong: Within minutes the place was crawling with cops, and Officer Shultz was sitting at my kitchen table me gently while I made hot water for tea.
  • Right: Within minutes the place was crawling with cops, and Officer Shultz was sitting at my kitchen table grilling me gently, while I made hot water for tea.

keep clam and proofread

Each time you create a new passage in your already edited manuscript, you run the risk of creating another undetected error.

At some point your manuscript is done. You have been through the editing process, and the content and structure is as good as you can get it, but you need one last eye looking for small flaws. Before you upload that masterpiece to Kindle or wherever, do yourself a favor and have it proofread by an intelligent reader, who understands what you are asking them to do and who is willing to do only that.

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