How to Prepare Your Manuscript for an Editor: Tips to Save Time and Money

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been working on the final edits (I hope) of my book, To Wield The Stars, and during this process, I’ve learned a lot about how to prepare the manuscript so my editor can focus on the content.

Before I jump into it, I want to remind you that

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You’ve finished your draft, so now what? Do you find an editor to fix it?

I highly suggest some other editing options, check out a recent post, Five Tips for Editing a Manuscript Without an Editor for suggestions to self-edit but even if you were to get an editor I would still recommend the above post to help the editor. Usually, I simply make sure it is a Microsoft Word file (which is fundamental requirement of most editors) and the rest is just worked out during the editing process.

So you’ve self-edited and are ready to submit to an editor.

Below are tips that can simplify the editing process quickly, with less hassle, and at a lower cost. Just as it would be careless for you to skip spelling and grammar checks before submitting your MS, there’s no reason you can’t also do these basic formatting and self-editing tasks.

A Few Words about Traditional Publishing

If you’re pursuing the traditional publishing path, you’ll have to follow the publisher’s submission requirements precisely. It’s your responsibility to locate them—usually on their websites under “submission guidelines”—and to abide by them. Longstanding formatting practices from the days of submitting in hardcopy often still apply to the electronic file submission: Times Roman font in 12 point, 1-inch margins on all sides, double line spacing, black “ink.” But don’t assume this is the only way.

Many publishers now accept manuscripts only through Submittable and have instructions and a link on their website to do that. But do your research. Your MS will be sent to the rejection pile if you don’t follow their instructions.

If you’ve targeted a publisher that specifies Canadian or Australian or British spelling, Editor J.K. Kelley advises keeping a copy of your original MS in your native spelling and making a second copy for your submission. In the submission copy, set your Word dictionary to the applicable country’s spelling and run a spell check. Skip this and risk making the publisher feel their nationality and/or their requests have been disrespected. Or they may believe you sent your MS without seeking out their requirements and your MS could be seen as a mass mail-out rather than a targeted submission, landing you immediately in the reject pile.

File Format

Rarely an editor whose work focuses on developmental, content, or line editing will request a hard copy of a MS. Sometimes copy editors and, particularly, proofreaders will work from a hard copy or PDF output, especially if they’re tasked with assuring the page numbers, headers, footers, and other elements are properly done.

Most editors prefer to work in MS Word. Many, in fact, insist on it. Although it has shortcomings, it’s generally the easiest for editing, with tools and features specifically for the sharing and review of revisions and comments. If you aren’t acquainted with the comments and tracking features in Word, LEARN THEM. Tutorials on YouTube and the Microsoft website can help you develop MS Word skills that will serve you well for the rest of your writing life. Here is a short self-edit video to help you edit it.

If you must provide a file format other than MS Word, make sure the editor is aware in advance; find out upfront if this would take extra time and add to your costs.

Manuscript Layout

Generally, don’t try to make your written work look a certain way on the page/screen. This isn’t the time to get fancy with the layout. Even if you spend hours making your file “pretty,” selecting a certain font, using colour, matching the look of a favourite book or the online journal you plan to submit to, everything you do might be stripped away when it reaches the editor, especially if it impedes her work. Don’t waste your time. Focus on the content first; the look of it comes later.

Having said that, editors universally have two simple recommendations concerning file layout:

  • Do not to use tabs or hit the space bar five times to create indents or center text, including inside tables and text boxes
  • Use only one space after punctuation at the ends of sentences

If you want blank pages in your manuscript, provide some indication where these are intentional. Simply type the words “intentionally blank” so the editor doesn’t delete the extra page, believing it to be a mistake. This also will be useful to the person who formats your file; you can instruct them to remove the words once the layout is in place.

Similarly, if the manuscript needs blank lines, such as the white space often used to indicate a novel’s scene change, center a symbol or other mark on the line to indicate the intentional break. Traditionally, a series of three pound symbols (same as a hashtag) has been used for this. Again, the formatter will thank you and you can instruct them to remove the marks, leaving the white space, or replace them with a symbol that relates to your book.

A Few Last Tips to Ease the Editing Process


Another way you can prep your manuscript for your editor is to run it through an editing software like ProWritingAid. “But,” you might be saying, “I pay my editor to catch mistakes.” That’s true: you do pay your editor to catch mistakes in your manuscript. But you also pay them to look at the structure and the flow of your work. They won’t be able to offer the suggestions that really transform your work if they’re distracted by misplaced commas or overused words. Rather than waste your editor’s time (and your money), clean up your manuscript before you share it.

A simple suggestion for self-editing is to read your MS or document aloud before sending it to the editor. In addition to catching errors as you read, you’ll hear the rhythm and tone of your text. This can be especially helpful for fiction writers who need to assure a consistent point-of-view voice as well as true and unique voices for different characters.

A main concern for editors relates to version control, especially when the MS is a compilation of writings from more than one author. Once the MS is in the hands of the editor (the “hot copy” or “live” file), no new changes should be made on the author’s or the client’s end.

“But I Pay My Editor to Do That!”

This is the argument some authors might offer up against taking any of these “extra” steps to prepare their manuscript for editing. And the answer is: Yes, indeedy, you do.

If your editor has to reformat a messy manuscript, must keep coming back to you for clarifications about simple content elements, or if she encounters a file conversion mishap, their time must be compensated.

So why wouldn’t you do a few simple tasks to clean it up in advance and save yourself a little money and time too?

Remember that your editor is not there for technical support. You might not be using the same software versions so don’t expect your editor to walk through MS Word problems. Your editor is there to guide, inform, educate, and support you.

If you don’t have an editor, don’t worry—you can easily improve your work and edit your manuscript by following the steps outlined in the previous post.

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I only send one letter on the 4th of every month, so it won’t overload your inbox. But it will give you the first insight on my books, as well as early or exclusive access to content, which I am happy to announce some really big news but you have to subscribe to my newsletter to receive it.

Until the next writerly post,
Keep your pencil sharp and your sword sheathed. 

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2 thoughts on “How to Prepare Your Manuscript for an Editor: Tips to Save Time and Money

  1. I was lucky enough to experience working with an editor in a trad publishing setting, and that was an eye-opening experience. I mean, I used to work with tons of editors, but this was a whole new thing altogether. Anyway, thanks for this informative post!

    • Thanks Stuart! I haven’t been lucky enough to work with a Trad publisher but working with editors through the self-publishing has been such an informative process as well. Thank you and all the best 😁