Formatting Your Manuscript

One of the questions we ask when we get an edit request is: Do you plan to self-publish or publish traditionally? More and more the answer comes back that they want to self-publish.

If you plan to publish traditionally, often the publisher will give you their formatting requirements, or they will format your manuscript during their edit process. However, if you plan to self-publish, you’ll need to be concerned with formatting your manuscript – preferably from when you start to type it up.

Many of the things we point out here can be implemented at any time. But if you get used to setting your formatting up from the beginning, it will make life much easier for you when you do your pre-publish cleanup later. It will also let you see what your final manuscript will look like as it grows. Often, this will help you spot and correct mistakes or highlight formatting issues as they pop up too.

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Be aware that we only work with MS Word in creating our own manuscripts and editing the work of other authors. So, if you use a different type of software to create your manuscript, the way you do things will likely be different. Also, we only publish using Amazon KDP. So again, if you use a different self-publisher, check with them to see what their formatting rules are.

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Let’s start with setting up your manuscript.

Unfortunately, there’s no “Format” button on your keyboard

So, we’ll start by having you go to the “Home” heading in Word where you’ll find the standard word settings across the top.

Fonts

We typically work in either Times New Roman, Calibri or Calibri Light. All are easy to read and accepted by most publishing software. They are also easy to read and work with as you develop your manuscript.  

Note: Some fonts, usually the more fancy and unusual fonts, will not be accepted by the publishing conversion software.

For font size, we use 12. This typically is what we publish in too. Anything smaller is too hard to read and it doesn’t add enough white space, so it jambs up the wording on the page. Anything larger takes up too much space and we think is overkill – unless you’re going for a “Large Type” book.

Note: We’ll talk more about white space a bit further down.

If you want something bigger to work with as you spend your days developing your manuscript, go to the lower righthand corner and use the zoom control to increase your display. We typically operate at 120 percent, which eases the eye strain and makes it easier to tell those commas from the periods.

Styles

Unless we’re doing something fancy, we typically use the standard style that shows up in Word. If you’d like something different, select the “Design” heading and choose a style that better fits what you’re looking for. If you type something into the body of the page, the changes will show as you slide your cursor across each of the styles to help you choose.

Line and Paragraph Spacing

For line spacing we prefer to use 1.15 rather than 1. This unjams the wording by adding a wee bit more white space, yet it doesn’t add much to the page count. It also makes things much easier on the eyes for the reader, and you as you write.

For paragraph spacing we do the same thing. We like to use 12pts between paragraphs. This again adds more white space to unjam things and is so much easier on the eyes.

Note: One of the things that drives us crazy as readers is to open a book and find page after page of jammed up wording running from top to bottom and edge to edge. Thus, we try to spread things out a bit and add white space.

We also know of no one who has refused to buy a book because it had an extra 10 or so pages from adding white space. We have, however, seen books put back on the shelf when we or others opened page after page to jammed up writing.

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The above settings will get you off on the right foot as you type up your manuscript.

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Some other common format issues.

  • Do not use the “TAB” key to set your indents! Amazon’s conversion programs will barf all over your manuscript if you use the tab key to indent. Indent your paragraphs via the style setting or the “Increase indent” selection on the home page.
  • Be sure to only use one space after a full stop (period).
  • Chapter titles should be larger (we use 16 font size), centered on the page and we use a Calibri or Calibri Light font to help titles stand out a wee bit more. They should also always be proceeded by a page break on the previous page to make sure they appear at the top of a new page.
  • One other thing we like to do is give each chapter a title. We consider chapter titles to be an enticement to pull the reader into the chapter. This is not as difficult as most writers seem to want to make it. Remember, you’re not trying to give anything away, just pull the reader in. So, find something enticing in the chapter that doesn’t give anything away. For example, don’t use titles like “Chapter 7 – Jackson Dies”. Instead try “Chapter 7 – Jackson’s in Trouble”. You’ll also have to be careful not make chapter titles too long. Make sure they don’t wrap to a second line.
  • For indicating scene breaks or character changes, use *** centered, rather then ——————-. This way the break indication is always the same. 
  • Finally, if you go to the middle of the Home page header, you’ll see a backward P with the top filled in. If you left click on it, it will highlight every time you entered a space, hit enter to start a new paragraph or inserted a page break. This is extremely helpful when cleaning up your manuscript – such as finding and removing extra spaces, paragraph commands and making sure each new page starts with a page break, when needed.

Have we provided you with at least one new formatting tool or idea? Did we miss anything that you think should be added?

Adding Visual Impact to Your Story – Part 1: Letting your scenes tell your story

As authors, we’re all taught to develop our story primarily through our characters. We’re taught to paint detailed descriptions of our characters, use conflict, flashbacks and other methods to let the reader form images. Images of our protagonist, our antagonist, our hero, their lover and our stories supporting cast.

But what about other story elements? Our settings? Our scenes? Dialogue? Character actions? Aren’t they just as important to building your story as describing your characters? Isn’t where they go, what they eat, what they see, hear, and smell important too?

As a mater of fact, does telling your reader that your hero has brown eyes really say anything about them? Do we really care if their hair is blond, red, brown or black?

Painting a picture

What if we say it’s blond with streaks of blue on one side and a faded patch of orange on the other? Doesn’t that immediately form a picture of someone young, a bit wild and daring?

My point being that you can subtly paint a picture by adding visual impact to each element of your story. And that, will be the subject for this blog series.

Letting your scenes tell your story

In the first of this series we’ll look at painting a picture with your scenes and settings. Actually, not only the scene or setting, but also the locations you choose to place them in.

Aren’t these just as important to building your story as your characters? Isn’t where they go, what they eat, what they see, hear, and smell important too? The picture you paint in any scene must contain at least some of these images to be complete; to draw the reader into your scene and make them feel as if they’re part of it.

Many of us refer to this as “Show don’t tell”. Uh, yes! Of course! How simple! But, is it?

 

Let’s give it a shot. Write a quick scene of someone walking on the street above.

Okay. Time’s up. Let’s see how you did.

First, did you tell us where they are? In New Zealand, Germany, Ireland, San Diego?

Did you describe what they saw? What they passed?

What did they smell?

Did they stop and buy something? What was it? What did it smell and taste like?

How about the woman pushing the stroller? Is the baby crying?

Using the five senses

If it’s not clear yet, we’re asking you to put yourself into your characters’ shoes. For you to describe the scene using their five senses. What they:

  • Saw
  • Touched
  • Tasted
  • Heard
  • Smelled

Also, what emotions, if any, each invoked. What about when they saw their destination, the book store? Did they smile? Chuckle? Did the smell of books fill their nostrils?

If you’ve included all or most of the above types of descriptions in you example, you’ve painted a complete picture for your reader. Not only of the scene but of your character too!

After all, aren’t we all best described by our inner feelings? By how we react to what we see, smell, hear, touch and taste? By the memories and emotions each conjures up, or doesn’t?

Finally, don’t forget the sixth sense, intuition. Intuition not only influences, it interprets what our senses are telling us. It translates their meaning into our unique world.

Writing Demystified

So, you want to be a writer but you have no idea where to start, what to do, how to do it, or really what your story is about?

That means you pretty much look like this guy. Lost, no idea where he’s at, where he’s going, who to ask for help or even what to ask.

It also means you’re where most authors are, or soon get to, when they start.

Are we going to write it for you? Nope, we have enough trouble writing our own stuff. Besides, it’s your story, not ours. But, we’ll get you started by:

  • helping you collect your ideas
  • pushing them around to form a rough story
  • building an outline
  • adding details
  • forming a story
  • creating nice guys, not so nice guys and plain old villains
  • adding lovely women, sexy women, ugly women and even evil women
  • inserting characters that support and bring out your main characters
  • developing plot twists and turns
  • inserting flashbacks, flash forwards and maybe a flash sideways into a parallel world, if you’re into Sci-Fi
  • helping you build settings that put the reader into your scenes
  • wrapping it all up with a bow around your ending.

 

WOW! All that? Yup! And we’ll even throw in:

  • how to find the rules of your genre, style sheets and outlines
  • getting help from a developmental editor
  • what NOT to do
  • how beta reading and editing fit into the writing process and why they are critical
  • covers
  • book descriptions
  • chapter titles
  • writing software.

 

If you’re already an author with a story partially or fully written, you’re probably thinking this is pretty lame stuff. Perhaps. But why not give it a read? It’s never too late to learn something new. Then bouncing your work against new, different, or even rehashed writing ideas may just help you tweak your characters, fine tune your plot, brighten your settings or make that boring subplot really work for you.

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So grab a note pad (lap top or tablet if you prefer), pull up a couch like Oscar Wilde here and get ready to become famous. Once you are, you too can wear a cool fur coat, boots and spats like his.

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This blog is intended to cover the basics of writing your story, but is there something we haven’t covered? Something you think might help you develop or fine tune your draft? If so, jump in there and let us know.

Editing – Part IV – Proofreading and other types of editing

In Part I we covered the basics of editing. Parts II and III then went on to talk about the most common types of editing: Developmental Editing and Copy or Line Editing.

Part IV will wrap up the basics of the editing process most authors will need and cover two other types of editing primarily used to help new authors get off the ground with their first manuscript.

 

By now, you and your editor have pored over your manuscript. You’ve gone back and forth with ideas, screamed at each other, hugged each other, tweaked things till they’re perfect or as close to perfect as you can get them, and there are no more post it notes hanging everywhere!

The really good news? You’ve learned to trust yourself!

You’re also one step away from being ready to publish. Uh, actually, make that several steps; but that’s the subject of another blog.

So, what’s next?

Proofreading

Proofreading is the final review on your completely edited manuscript. You know, the one you’ve hashed over, revised and tweaked on just about every page.

And, because of the changes, we need to go back and check for:

  • Typographical errors
  • Punctuation
  • Grammar
  • Spacing
  • Print quality and font consistency
  • Sufficient white space – margins, paragraph spacing, indenting.

In short, we need to make sure it’s completely error free and print ready.

Other types of edits

But what if you’re still not sure and somehow, someway, things are still just not working for you?

Well, this calls for a Substantive or Content Edit

A substantive or content edit is a complete assessment of an author’s final manuscript for:

  • Style
  • Structure
  • Logic
  • Tone
  • Accuracy

 

This is in addition to, and in our case, after or during a full copy edit.

Often, any good editor will throw in some or all of these as part of their copy edit. Why? Well because they, like you, have now lived with your characters and your story from beginning to end. They have built a picture in their head and when the structure or tone isn’t working, it jumps out at them. Likewise, when the style of your story changes or the logic or accuracy drifts and doesn’t make sense they quickly pick up on that too.

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The final type of edit in our editing chest is a Production Edit.

A production edit coordinates all of the manuscript processes from a Developmental Edit through publication, including:

  • Copy edit
  • Internal content and cover design
  • Printing
  • Binding
  • Distribution
  • Coordination with the publisher

Think of a production editor as a project manager, and the womb-to-tomb writing and publication of your manuscript as the project.

Editing – Part III – Line Editing

 

In Part I we covered the basics of editing. Why you need an editor and an overview of what an editor does and doesn’t do. Then, in Part II we covered Developmental Editing, which is intended mainly to help new writers who are having difficulty getting started with their story.

In Part III, we’ll cover the most common form of editing, Copy or Line Editing.

At this stage, you’ve likely gone over, and over, and over your manuscript. Now you’re either in love with it and convinced it’s perfect or can’t stand to look at it another second!

Whichever it is, will help you and the editor decide which form of line editing you’ll need.

If you’re certain you’ve found and corrected everything you could, are in love with your plot and characters, then a light line edit is likely all you’ll need.

On the other hand, if you’re convinced none of it makes sense and you wrote it in some other language, then you’re probably headed for a heavy line edit.

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By now you’ve likely guessed that a copy or line edit is performed on the what the writer believes to be a completed manuscript and is a line by line check of the authors work.

Line editing can be light, medium or heavy, depending on what state the manuscript is in. As noted above, a clean self-edited manuscript would likely need only a light line edit. Whereas a manuscript the writer is uncomfortable with will need a deeper, heavy line edit to help finish developing the story as well as fixing things.

Typically, a medium line edit and its depth, will fall somewhere in between, depending on what the editor finds during his/her initial manuscript evaluation.

Things the editor will make sure are correct and proper for each type of line edit are:

  • Light
    • Spelling
    • Punctuation
    • Grammar
    • Capitalization
    • Number usage
    • Abbreviations
    • Typographical errors
    • Omitted or repeat words
    • Overall story accuracy

 

  • Medium – A light edit plus:
    • Consistency of American or British English, colloquialisms, accents
    • Sentence construction and run on sentences
    • Elimination of unnecessary words
    • Syntax
    • Proper and consistent tense
    • Overused words and adverbs, clichés, purple prose
    • Logic or plot holes
    • Character/time inconsistencies
    • Style sheet/guide adherence (if applicable)

 

  • Heavy or Full – A light edit, necessary elements from a medium edit and suggestions for:
    • Cuts
    • Additions
    • Rewrites
    • Revisions to unclear passages
    • Replacement words
    • Rearranged sentences and scenes

 

Which type of line edit is right for you? That’s up to you, the condition of your manuscript and your editor.

When is your manuscript done being edited? When you and your editor agree that it is. Remember, this is a circular process. The more changes you make as a result of the edits, the more additional checks the editor will need to make.

In Part IV we’ll cover the final common step in the editing process, proofreading, and mention a few special editing processes you may want to consider.

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Line editing can range from simple to complex. Have we covered what’s generally contained in each type? Do you have a question about something specific? Let us know and we’ll gladly answer it.

Writing Allsorts Support the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts

 

At the November 2019 Guild meeting, Susan Strasser of the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, Creative Writing Department, asked if Guild members would be interested in helping students at her school.

We volunteered after the meeting and have since been working with her to help the school’s students perfect their writing skills.

In January, we were given twelve short stories from students and asked to critique them. Then in early February, they were part of a four person ‘Jury Panel’ that listened as each student read their paper. The other two jury panel members were instructors from the school, who had also pre-evaluated the student’s papers.

After each student finished reading their paper, one by one the jury panel members provided their critique of the paper, offering both positive feedback and suggestions for enhancements.

Before the first student read their paper, the four panel members did a quick comparison of our critiques. Instantly, it became obvious how impressed all of us were with the twelve papers. Each student had done an excellent job and almost all of the suggestions for improvements were truly enhancements that an edit of a published writer might find.

Perhaps even more impressive was that none of the students took offense to our comments or suggestions and each and every one of them expressed appreciation for our helping them to become better writers.

In mid-April, we put together a PowerPoint presentation on how to enhance Creative Non-Fiction using Creative Fiction writing techniques.

This was presented by Bob at the end of April, as the Creative Non-Fiction class kicked off its first session via Zoom. The session covered the three structures of Creative Non-Fiction which the students were to choose their first paper from.

It then provided example topics within each structure and gave examples of how, show don’t tell, emotions, the five senses and other fiction techniques, could be used in each. Once again, the presentation was very well received as the students went off to select the topic for their first paper.

Next up, once on grounds classes resume, we have offered to do the Editing Untangled Workshop to help round out the students’ skill sets.

We were even given food!

 

Here’s what Susan had to say about what we did:

“Bob and Robyn were a great addition to our student’s development as writers. Not only did they provide meaningful feedback for student writers during our mid-year jury, but they also gave a workshop about picking topics when the school was doing distance learning [during the pandemic]. I can’t wait to have them back next year.”

 

Susie Strasser

San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts

Creative Writing Department Chair

Yearbook Advisor

English Department

Developmental Editing – Part II

In Part I we talked about why you need an editor and briefly noted the different types of editing.

In subsequent parts we’ll define what an editor does in each type of edit, starting with developmental editing.

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Before we get into developmental editing though, lets take a second to tell you what an editor, any editor, should never do.

  • Make corrections to your document, no matter how insignificant, without your permission!
  • Write your story for you! (That’s called ghost writing)
  • Change or rewrite your story or document, under any circumstances! (That’s called co-authoring.)

Remember, this is your story, not theirs!

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Okay, your story is done! Well, sorta.

So, how do you know what type of editing help you need?

Easy, ask the editor.

Any good editor should first evaluate your story and advise you of what they think it needs. For us, this is typically done by requesting the first chapter of your story and another about three quarters of the way through.

Why? Because, first of all we want to see what state your story is in. If it’s a collection of PostIt notes (like above) or only an outline, you definitely need a developmental edit. An extensive developmental edit!

If it appears your chapters are comprehensive, your story is complete (yes, we can tell) and your writing follows most of the rules, you likely only need one form of a line edit.

Of course, there is a lot of in between territory. We’ve seen stories go south in Chapter 4. Sub plots from Chapter 6 to 10 that added nothing to the story. Things stolen from other places and stuck in. Stories written by several people that changed style with each chapter.

So, why Chapter 1 and a far in chapter?

Simple. There are rules for the first chapter that are used to pull the reader into your story. Did you follow them? Did you even know about them?

Also, your writing should get better as you go. Does it? Are you getting into your story, falling in love with your characters, improving your descriptions as you write?

If not, we’ve got a lot more story suggestions (developmental editing) to come up with.

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Simply put, developmental editing concentrates on helping you develop and keep true your story, your characters and your scenes.

As editors, we’ll work with the author by providing guidance, feedback and critiquing the following areas:

  • Structure
  • Characterization/character arcs
  • Goals, motivation, conflict
  • Correct point of view
  • Show don’t tell
  • Plot
  • Pace
  • Genre specific and appropriate form
  • Believable and genre specific dialog
  • Balance between narrative and dialog
  • Scene descriptions

We’ll also provide templates and a checklist as requested or needed.

Our whole intent is to keep you from getting frustrated as you build your story.

As we stated in Part I, we’re a second set of eyes intended to help you perfect your work. In developmental editing that means helping you build a complete story that pulls the reader in from Chapter 1 and holds their attention till “The End”.

We hope we’ve also made it clear that developmental editing can run from helping you build your outline to barely tweaking your story. In the later case, you’re more likely to need a heavy line edit, which will be part of what we cover in Part III.

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We love questions so, is there anything else that you would expect an editor to comment on or help with during a developmental edit?

 

Editing untangled – Why do you need an editor? – Part 1

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One of the things we have noticed as we’ve attended writers’ conferences and writers’ group meetings is the confusion surrounding editing. From why do I need an editor, to what does an editor do, to what type of editing do I need?

Here we’ll attempt to clear the confusion by answering these and other common questions about editing.

So, let’s start with: Why do you need an editor?

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Yay! Congratulations! You’ve finished your story. You’ve pored over it and over it and over it. You’ve made it absolutely perfect. Or so you think.

But now everyone says you need to get it edited.

Why? Because a professional editor is a second set of unbiased, educated eyes.

An editor doesn’t know:

  • your story or where it takes place
  • who your characters are
  • what your characters look like, act like, feel, how they behave
  • who’s likable and not
  • what your scenes and settings look like, feel like, smell like
  • what you meant to write
  • what word you thought was right
  • what your character really meant to say
  • why you switched POV or tense.

In short, they have no preconceived ideas about your plot, where it’s going and will not read into it what you intended to write. It’s up to your story and writing to tell them all that. Finally, they’re also trained to spot and not read over grammatical, punctuation, typographical and other errors.

Simply put, editing helps you perfect your work. It can range from helping you build your story to polishing it or suggesting a complete rewrite.

How much an editor does depends on the status of your work and the type of edit you’ve requested.

Here is a link to the three basic types of editing.

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Not sure what edit formula’s right for you?

In Part II we’ll go into a lot more detail for each type of edit to help you select.

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Have you used an editor at any stage of your writing? How did they help you?

Brain Teaser

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This is an unusual paragraph.

I’m curious how quickly you can find out what is so unusual about it. It looks so plain you would think nothing was wrong with it. In fact, nothing is wrong with it. Study it but you will still may not find anything odd.

Email us if you think you know the answer!