When you are ready to submit your manuscript to a traditional publisher, or if you are publishing on your own, that is the time when you have to switch your mindset from writer to editor.
The story and characters are on the page and screen about to be placed in print and out into the world. What a wonderful accomplishment!
But is it really, really ready?
Artistically, yes. Technically, maybe not yet…
By that I mean the physical look of the manuscript itself that will relay and transmit the content (your story) in the best possible and polished ways.
Your manuscript must be dressed-up and presented in the most professional manner which means that the margins are all uniform (usually, an inch or a bit more on all four sides), the titles, subtitles, and chapters centered, and all words are spelled correctly (unless intentionally misspelled). Ditto with grammar and punctuation.
Sometimes, there are issues that pop up and become glaringly obvious to confront more so in the editing process than in the writing.
For instance, your characters are naming other sources like a play or movie they have seen. Do you place the titles they mention in quotes? Italics? Underlines?
When do you use dashes, and when do you use hyphens?
In fiction, do you write out the numbers or use actual numerals?
How do you write a quote within a quote? Sometimes, characters in dialogue will quote another character.
These type of small, but essential editing choices are vitally important for the end result—no writer wants a reader to stop in the middle of the story and mutter, “Huh—so confusing!”
Traditional publishing houses and other print media (like the almost archaic newspaper) rely on resources called stylebooks. If you are a journalist, or had to write an in-depth research paper for a class, then you may be familiar with these invaluable and very thick and detailed books.
There are three major stylebooks and each publisher uses and will always stick to one (and they expect their writers and editors to adhere to them as well):
The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook—Mostly used by journalists. https://www.apstylebook.com/
The Chicago Manual of Style—Used by all writers; their rules will differ from the AP Stylebook. https://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html
The Modern Language Association (MLA) Style—Used by academics, college students, and useful for fiction writers too. https://www.mla.org/MLA-Style
All are helpful, but can be overwhelming because of all the many, many ways to standardize texts. They are also updated at least annually because English usage evolves and changes.
I have an older version of The Chicago Manual of Style that I use and find very helpful for tangled things such as, how do I name a character from a play that my own character in my story will be acting as (see what I mean by tangled?).
Certainly, traditional and reliable writing resources like The Elements of Style by Strunk & White should still be consulted as needed, but these voluminous stylebooks are the sources for when you need specific, detailed, and professional answers to complicated or bewildering editing choices.
If stylebooks are far too overwhelming with all the various editing conditions they include, then go online and ask specifically for what you need to know. Usually, a good and useful link will appear.
For instance, here are the links to the editing questions above:
When to italicize and underline or quotes: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/italics.htm
When to use hyphens and dashes: https://www.ef.edu/english-resources/english-grammar/hyphens-and-dashes/
When to use numbers in fiction: https://theeditorsblog.net/2013/01/13/numbers-in-fiction/
When to use a single or double quote: https://www.scribendi.com/advice/when_to_use_double_or_single_quotation_marks.en.html
And when the editing is all done, and the manuscript sent, then return to your writer mindset and write another story.
“If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”—T.S. Eliot, American/British Poet, Essayist, Playwright.
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