Editing Your Book

If you think your manuscript is ready to be published, it’s wise to do what you can to make it as clean as possible – whether you’re sending it to your agent, your editor, or whether you’re tempted to export that file right now into an epub format. We’re not discussing in this post the big work – the creating of character, the maintaining of suspense, the authenticity of your voice, the rigour of your argument – but however good the substance of your work, you will annoy those initial readers if it appears slapdash. And they won’t make allowances. If you are self-publishing it really pays to hire a professional copy-editor  and proofreader. Your readers will trust you more if you’ve taken care over how your work appears. However, if you decide on editing your book yourself, there are some basic editing rules that will help to make your manuscript more credible. The key is consistency. You may choose to spell the name Kennepth with silent ‘p’ – it may fit your character or your purpose – but the important thing is not to veer from it. In the old days, before mass printing, people spelt words in a glorious variety of ways. The name Shakespeare has famously been printed as Shakespear, Shakspere and Shakspeare. However these days we cannot return to those days of non-conformity. If a book is littered with typos and gaps, and if the heroine appears as Kate on page four but Hermione on page 63 (without some explanation), the reader will lose trust in you. How often do you come across complaints, especially relating to ebooks, that the work has been spoiled by these errors? Instinctively, a reader will not trust the author’s content if the author appears not to have bothered to check it over with this fine editorial toothcomb. And most readers won’t blame the editor, they’ll blame the author. In fiction, this moment drops the reader out of a world the author may have spent years painstakingly creating.

Victoria was seperated from her mother the moment her father laid eyes on her.

SepErated?, you think.

So, consistency is key – as long as it’s right. And don’t be silly (see no. 8). Iron some of these things out before it reaches your agent, editor or copy-editor. It will make your first readers trust you more, and it will save money. These are not points of grammar or spelling, unless there is a choice to be had.

General Style Rules

1. Double spaces between sentences are traditionally for writing letters. One space is all that is needed in a large body of text. 2. Don’t indent paragraphs. Just do one paragraph break. It’s much easier for the designer to do a blanket command to indent each paragraph, and make the opening paragraph in a chapter or after a line break range left. 3. Use two paragraph breaks if you want a line break to appear in the text. 4. In the UK, single speech marks are preferred. In the US, double speech marks are preferred. 5. If you have quotations within quotations/speech marks within speech marks, use the other kind: doubles within singles, singles within doubles. 6. -ize spellings are usually preferred, where there is a choice. But never apologise. Or paralyse. Or analyse.


7. Spell out any number if it appears at the beginning of a sentence. 8. Numbers 0–10 should be spelt out, and some prefer to spell out all numbers to 100. However, if your text is dealing with lots of numbers, then that would look silly so use your judgement. If you mention someone’s age then spell that out. Remember to hyphenate, eg thirty-five.

En rules: what are they?

9. This is a hyphen – This is an en-rule – For both of them you press the dash key on your keyboard. Sometimes different software will automatically create an en-rule, so you don’t always have to do it, but not all, and not all the time. So what’s the difference? A hyphen is used to link two parts of a word. An en-rule is used to punctuate a clause – such as this one – or between two numbers where the meaning is ‘from 18 to 20’. Eg the offices are at 18–20 Albemarle Street. If you have the idea of travelling to somewhere, then you’ll also remember that it’s used in destinations, eg the London–Brighton Bike Race. Or for use in time, eg the exhibition runs January–March.

[Use alt+dash to get an en-rule when it doesn’t happen automatically.]


10. You can do this two ways – if you’re indicating an omission, then you make a space, three dots, space, then recommence. Or, in other words, if you’re indicating … then recommence. If, however, you’re working on a more academic text, then the rule is: if you start your omission after a sentence, you have four dots and then a space. Eg The lightning struck the tower…. The moral is always go to bed wearing rubber shoes. The idea is that you should quote the closing full stop. However, this is one area in which copy-editors are hanging loose these days so it’s all right to opt for the three. 11. ‘All right’ not ‘alright’. All right? 12. ‘OK’ not ‘okay’. Surprising, isn’t it?


13. 6 May 1969 in the UK. No ‘ths’, ‘sts’, ‘rds’ or ’nds’. May 6 1969 in the US. Titles – when to quote, when to italicize and when to capitalize?

14. Book titles, eg To Kill a Mockingbird, should be put in italics. Note the ‘a’ is lower case, although again this is something that copy-editors are relatively relaxed about. All significant words in a title should be capitalized. If a book has a subtitle, usually only the first word has a capital, eg To Kill a Mockingbird: A user’s manual.

15. Journal articles and poems use inverted commas, eg ‘T S Eliot’s Concern with the Ankle’ and ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’.


16. Acronyms don’t have full stops, eg BBC not B.B.C.

17. Contractions where the first and last letter are included don’t use full stops, eg Doctor (Dr), Mister (Mr). Full stops after abbreviations are sometimes preferred in US style.

18. Latin abbreviations, eg ‘eg’, ‘ie’ don’t need full stops.

19. If you do have an abbreviation with a full stop at the end of a sentence, you only need one full stop.

The Bigger Picture

20. Sometimes Word thinks it knows best. It doesn’t always.

21. Do as much as you can to iron out these most obvious glitches and, if you have to, invest in a good copy-edit.   It’s all about the writing, not these footling style issues, but making them disappear as much as possible from the reader’s horizon will allow your work clearer expression.