Before you send your manuscript to an agent, editor, or your beta readers, use these steps to immediately improve your manuscript.
Ways to Improve your Manuscript (updated)
Check Your Spelling
Use your program’s spell checker before you send your document out. This sounds so obvious, but a large percentage of the manuscripts I receive have not been through this basic step.
Every major word processing program has a way to check spelling, including Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Scrivener, OpenOffice, and WordPerfect by Corel. If you are using Notepad, then you are out of luck, I think.
Search for Weasel Words
At a minimum, search for really and very. If these words are used outside of dialogue, then try to find a better way.
Also, search for turn, turned, and turning. Many authors overuse these verbs, especially in beats. Unless the direction your character is facing is important to your plot, then find a more meaningful action to relate because turn, turned, and turning are overused.
I could say the same for look, looked, and looking. And if we are naming names, walk, walked, and walking are pedestrian at best. Sorry for the pun. These are valid words, but we tend to wear them out.
Search for Doubles
Do a search for each of the following:
- the the
- and and
- an an
- a a
These are the easiest doubles to find, and it is worth the time invested to remove them yourself.
Remove Hidden Tab Characters
If you use your Tab key to indent a paragraph, you insert a hidden character in your manuscript, just as you do when you use the Enter key. To see these hidden characters in MS Word, click the paragraph icon on the Home menu tab.
Many people of a certain age learned to type on an electric typewriter;
we they learned to use the tab key to indent paragraphs and hit the space bar twice at the end of each sentence. It is difficult for us them to unlearn these habits.
Tab characters are evil; they will cause unwelcome surprises down the line. Use paragraph formatting in your word processing program to create indentation.
If you want to achieve expert level in Microsoft Word, learn how to use Styles.
To avoid inserting tab characters by accident, turn on the option to “Set left- and first-indent with tabs and backspaces.” Go to File>Options>Proofing> AutoCorrect Options and check the box under “Automatically as you type.” (See photo above.)
Read Your Manuscript Aloud
Do not skip this step. Read your manuscript aloud. If your throat gets sore, then use the software to read the manuscript to you while you follow along. Problems you can eliminate by reading your manuscript aloud are:
- Missing words,
- Repeated words and phrases,
- Unexpected hair and eye color changes,
- Out-of-character speech patterns,
- Character name changes and errors,
- Unnecessary speech tags,
- Awkward phrases and descriptions,
- Time shifts, and
- Physical impossibilities.
Insert Page Numbers
This tip sounds silly, but page numbers get left out all the time. Give your editor, agent, or beta readers a way to refer to problems, or hey, give them a way to keep printed pages in order.
Insert a Page Break Before Every Chapter
Can I get an amen? Do not use the enter key multiple times to force a chapter to start on the next page. Instead, find and use the page break option at the end of each chapter to force a new page.
On the next double-spaced page, hit enter six or seven times and type your chapter name. Hit enter and start your first paragraph of the new chapter. This assumes you are using Word or Google Docs. (See illustration above.)
If you want to get fancy, use Styles to create a separate style for first paragraphs to omit the indention for the first paragraph of every chapter and scene. This is optional, but you are a step closer to having your document formatted for publication.
Scrivener Chapter Changes
To start a new chapter in Scrivener, use the wonderful New Text (+) button. Name the new chapter and start typing.
Bonus Scrivener Tip
In Scrivener, one of my favorite self-editing tools is Project>Statistics>Word Frequency. This feature is a hidden gem; it can reveal potentially embarrassing repetition.
For example, I noticed in one of my books that clenched was used too frequently. Gads. There are only so many times a character needs to clench her hands or feel her stomach clench.
Take a few hours before you send your manuscript out to tidy things up. Don’t obsess over it, but if you hit these high points, you will be more confident your work is as ready as you can make it.
See Part 2 of this series: Seven More Ways to Improve your Manuscript Before You Send It Out.
What are your favorite last-minute checks before your send your manuscript out? Share your tips in the comment below.
- Grab a copy of “Preparing Your Manuscript for an Editor or Agent in Microsoft® Word”.
- Weasel Word List
- See the Resources Page on my website for more.
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