As an indie author, you are responsible for the entire publishing process – writing, editing, proofreading, publishing, and marketing. But that doesn’t mean that you should do it all yourself. Even if you are working with a low or almost non-existent budget, make sure that you get someone else to participate in the editing process – someone that has editing experience and who won’t be shy about pointing out problems in your manuscript. Your editor can be a paid professional editor or a qualified and capable friend. You should never unleash your masterpiece on the world without having it properly edited.
Before you submit your work to your editor, make every effort to weed out as many of the errors in your manuscript as possible. Eliminating simple typos, extra spaces, and so on, will make it easier for your editor to focus on the story flow, the wording, and the important stuff that you simply don’t see because you are too close to the story.
Here are a few tips to help you improve and clean up your manuscript before you submit it to an editor, proofreader, or beta reader. (The specific instructions below are based on Microsoft Word. Most word processors offer similar options.)
Finding overused words
You can use the Find option on the Navigation view to identify the frequency and location of words that you know you tend to overuse.
On the far right end of the Home ribbon, click Find. The Navigation view opens automatically. Type a word or phrase that you want to locate in the field. The number of times that the word or phrase is found is listed and the specific instances are highlighted in yellow in the body of the document.
In the example below, I searched for “but,” one of the words I tend to overuse. Even Word had something to say about it – “That shows up a lot!”
I was then able to browse through the document using the up and down arrows and consider ways to vary my phrasing more – especially when those yellow bits were clumped together.
Deleting extra spaces
You can use the Find and Replace option to kill off extra spaces in your manuscript by selecting Replace on the far end of the Home ribbon.
What extra spaces should you delete?
- Consecutive spaces (i.e., two or more spaces after a full stop/period/comma, between words, and so on)***
- Space before a full stop/period
- Space before a comma, colon, semi-colon, or question mark
- Space on the inside of a parenthesis (before the first word or after the last word)
The Find and Replace feature searches for a specific string in your document. A string can include any number of characters and words, including spaces. This makes systematic removal of extra spaces really easy.
For example, to eliminate two consecutive spaces:
- On the far right end of the Home ribbon, click Replace.
- In the Find what field, type two spaces (hit the space bar twice).
- In the Replace with field, type one space.
- Click Find Next, then click Replace All*.
Using the same method, you can find and remove spaces before other punctuation marks. In the Find what field, hit the space bar once and type the punctuation mark (comma, colon, semi-colon, or question mark), then in the Replace with field, type only that punctuation mark.
*This is generally a safe option unless your document contains programming code or some other text that must not be changed under any circumstances.
Running the Spell Checker
Almost every word processor has a spell checker of some sort.
Always run the spell checker before submitting a document for any kind of review!
It won’t catch all your mistakes, but it will help you pick off lots of typos.
To run a spell check in Microsoft Word, click Spelling and Grammar on the left end of the Review ribbon.
Important: Never accept spell check recommendations without looking at them. And if the recommendation pertains to grammar, look twice before accepting them. Best intentions aside, automated spell checks are not infallible.
Note: Microsoft Word has multiple language options. If you work in more than one language on the same computer, I suggest that you set the proofing language for your document before running the spell checker the first time or if the spell checker stops at words that are correct in your preferred language:
First, select the entire document by pressing Ctrl + A. Next, on the Review ribbon, in the Language section, click Language > Set Proofing Language.
In the Language dialog box, select the dictionary language for checking your text, for example, English (United States) or English (United Kingdom), then click OK.
So the editor has done their thing and you have done your best to implement the necessary revisions. That’s great. But don’t rush to hit Publish just yet. New errors tend to sneak in as a byproduct of the revision process. Words somehow end up stuck together (no space between them) and extra spaces multiply like rabbits. Run the spell checker again, and then search for and remove the extra spaces. Manually proofread your document, and if possible recruit as many people as possible to proofread and/or beta-read your masterpiece before its release.
Have any tips of your own? Feel free to comment and share your ideas.
***Postscript about spaces (added Aug 13 in response to a reader query):
To the best of my knowledge, a single space is the industry standard for typesetting/publishing these days. I, too, was taught to type two spaces after a period but that was back in the days of typewriters (and other dinosaurs) when all characters and spaces took up exactly the same amount of space (width). Today, modern fonts implement kerning – which basically means that the width of letters is not uniform (think “m” vs “i”) and spacing autoadjusts if your text is justified on both sides so that your text reaches both margins. Sometimes an extra space can make the difference in how the text sits on the line, whether that last word fits on the line or goes onto the next line resulting in very spaced out text.