Editing Your Own Work

I first started submitting my stories (counts on fingers… counts on toes…goes out and borrows more…) 43 years ago. This is before there were computers in every household, before Word was even conceived, back when words were pounded on paper using typewriters and ink. Back when you had to use White-Out to cover up your mistakes, and then type over them. In those days we mailed sheafs of papers to editors, who usually mailed them right back in the Self Addressed Stamped Envelope. One editor, who I submitted often to, would send back a sheet of proofreader’s marks with every rejection. I don’t know where I filed these things, but lists of proofreader’s marks are available on the internet. I’ve put a link to one set at the bottom of the editorial.

These are very useful things to learn and use when reading yours and other people’s works. A type of shorthand that slips easily between the lines, and which is standard, so it means the same thing to everyone. Some of these marks are for correcting typos, but there is another set that were used to indicate the formatting that would be used—after all, when manuscripts were submitted on paper, they would have to by typeset on the page, and the typesetter was responsible for the formatting. The typesetter would literally set type—each letter was a separate piece of metal, and the typesetter would set them into a frame letter by letter, and position them so that, when the frame was inked and pressed onto paper, the pages would be printed. Here’s a video that shows the process—sorry, it's not the Rifttrax version. You’ll need to make your own commentary.

These days, typesetting is all done electronically. The manuscripts come in through email, are put into the preferred Word Processing program, are edited, then formatted for print, and sent to the printer. The two downsides to this are that typos and mistakes are less likely to be caught, and that different word processing programs will trip each other up when they disagree on word processing codes. That’s why it’s best, no matter where you submit, to keep the formatting to a minimum; and what you do use, you set up through Styles. Word, and every Word Processing program that is a stripped down version of Word, uses Styles. Every page element—normal, title, subtitle, and so on—has its own Style, and when you modify that Style, every single instance of that page element is modified at the same time. To modify a style, right click on the Style in the Style menu and change what you want. Remove space between paragraphs and add indents. Change fonts and sizes. Change the justification. There’s a wonderful book that explains everything about how to use Styles as a fiction writer, and it’s free from Smashwords.The Smashwords Guide to Styles.

One of the things which messes up typesetting is tabs. Tabs come from the days of typewriters. Pressing the tab button would advance the carriage five spaces (or in more advanced models, an amount you set yourself.) In Word processing programs, if you use tabs to indent the paragraph rather than setting a first line indent through Styles, then your paragraphs will indent an additional five spaces when the editor formats the manuscript for publication. Or they might show up as a completely non-sensical symbol. Make it easy on the editor and remove all your tabs. How? Click on the Pilcrow symbol (aka paragraph symbol, see top of article) in the menu selections to reveal the formatting symbols. Look for any straight arrows. Delete them. Or, if you are working in Word, you can do a search-and-replace with ^t, replacing with nothing.

The same goes for the “line breaks,” also known as “soft returns,” which show up when you press the shift key and enter at the same time. These show up as a bent arrow.

If you’ve added a space between paragraphs, remove them.

If you are submitting a story in *.rtf, and the guidelines specify no headers or footers, then they must be removed at your end. Once you convert your story into rtf format, headers, footers, and page numbers cannot be easily removed at the editor’s end without retyping the entire story. If the market asks for them, include them, but if not, take them out.

Follow the guidelines. Always and faithfully. It’s true that if you’ve written a totally fantastic, otherwise perfect story, you can be forgiven any number of sins. It’s also true that if you are a well-known writer, you can also be forgiven these sins. But if your fantastic story is in competition with other equally fantastic stories, your story is less likely to be included simply because it will take more work to be usable. Always read the guidelines and follow them faithfully. It’s in your best interest to give your stories the best possible look and ease of use by the editor.

Find a list of proofreaders’s marks here.

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