A post it note with "Seven Ways to Improve Your Manuscript Before You Send It Out" written on it.

Seven Ways to Improve Your Manuscript Before You Send It Out

Before you send your manuscript to beta readers or to an editor, use these steps to immediately see an improvement in your manuscript.

Check Your Spelling

Use your program’s spell checker before you send your document out. This sounds so obvious, but a large percentage of the manuscripts I receive have not been through this basic step. Every major word processing program has a way to check spelling, including Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Scrivener, OpenOffice, and WordPerfect by Corel. If you are using Notepad, then you are out of luck, I think.

Search for Weasel Words

At a minimum, search for really and very. If these words are used outside of dialogue, then try to find a better way. Search for turn, turned, and turning. Many authors overuse this poor verb, especially in beats. Unless the direction your character is facing is important to your plot, then find a more meaningful action to relate. Because turning is overused.

Search for Doubles

Do a search for each of the following:
  • the the
  • and and
  • an an
  • a a
  • ,
  • ??
These are the easiest doubles to find, and it is worth the time invested to remove them yourself.

Remove Hidden Tab Characters

When you use your Tab key to indent a paragraph, you insert a hidden character in your manuscript, just as you do when you use the Enter key. To see these hidden characters in MS Word, click the paragraph icon on the Home menu tab. Please, spend some time on YouTube to learn about paragraph formatting and styles.

Read Your Manuscript Aloud

Dear reader, you know I love you, so listen carefully. Do not skip this step. Read your manuscript aloud. If your throat gets sore, then use the software to read the manuscript to you while you follow along. All sorts of problems get solved this way:
  • Missing words,
  • Repeated words and phrases,
  • Unexpected hair and eye color changes,
  • Out-of-character speech patterns,
  • Character name changes and errors,
  • Weirdly funny phrases and descriptions,
  • Time shifts, and
  • Physical impossibilities.

Insert Page Numbers

This tip sounds silly, but page numbers get left out all the time. Give your editor or beta readers a way to refer the author to problems, or hey, give them a way to keep printed pages in order.

Insert a Page Break Before Every Chapter

Can I get an amen? Do not use the enter key to force a chapter to start on the next page. Instead, find and use the page break option at the end of each chapter to force a new page. On the next double-spaced page, hit enter six or seven times and type your chapter name. Hit enter and start your first paragraph of the new chapter. This assumes you are using Word or Google Docs. See Scrivener Tools below.

Scrivener Tools

To start a new chapter in Scrivener, all you need to do is use the wonderful New Text (+) button. Name the new chapter and start typing. If you are using Scrivener, one of my favorite self-editing tools is Project>Statistics>Word Frequency. This feature is a hidden gem; it can show you potentially embarrassing repetition. For example, I noticed in one of my books that clenched was used too frequently. Gads. There are only so many times a character needs to clench her hands or feel her stomach clench.


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