As a copy editor, it has been a huge joy to work on some really rather excellent books. Many of those in the widget on the right were exciting to be a part of. I'm still passionate about them now, months or years later.
But there are some books I've worked on which, well, haven't been such a delight. I won't name names, of course. But I would like to pass on some of the things I've learned to writers, to help you ensure your book is in the best possible shape before it is submitted.
Here, then, are ten easy ways to keep your editorial team happy.
- Remember that if your book is popular with the editor, they are likely to promote it. See right for some examples. There are some books I've worked on that I actively promote to others. I'll tweet that I'm working on it and that it's great, and I'll tweet again with a release date and a link to Amazon. If authors or manuscripts annoy editors, they are less likely to recommend them to others, however professional they may be. This is why the following points matter.
- Don't try to typeset it yourself. A professional designer with the right layout software will do a better job than you will with the tab key in Microsoft Word. By all means use bold for headings where required, and a very occasional sprinkling of italics if they're needed. But the copy-editor is likely to spend a lot of time undoing anything fancy that you have introduced to the document. Keep it simple.
- Read the publisher's house style document. And then apply it to your text. This means that if they always write references out in full (eg Philippians 2:4), you should do likewise, even if your preference is different (eg Phil. 2.4). Yes, changing this sort of thing is all part of the editor's job. No, we don't mind correcting a few of them. But if our focus is continually on these niggly corrections rather than the overall readability of your prose, then the book ultimately suffers.
- Run a spell check. This very simple point sounds obvious but is often overlooked. Note that before you run it you should make sure you select all the text and mark it in the correct language, such as UK English. This will make sure it picks up American spellings as mistakes and helps to prevent 'autocorrection' errors.
- Keep bullet points simple. Don't use six levels of bullet points. And don't use 'cute' symbols in place of ordinary round bullet points. They drive us mad.
- Keep your punctuation under control. One exclamation mark makes your point. Seven in a row are not necessary. If you are prone to using one type of punctuation, check that it isn't repetitive. Some authors, for example, love to use ellipses (...) and sprinkle them a little too liberally through their text. Others use too many brackets. Everything in moderation is often the key to successful punctuation.
- Keep your manuscript clean and tidy. Don't leave in notes to yourself about checking the facts later, or colour-coding that is meaningless to others. Don't use six different fonts and four sizes of type. If in doubt, use 11 point Arial in black, unless the publisher requests otherwise.
- Complete your references. If you're quoting or referring to someone else's writing, make the reference as specific and accurate as you possibly can. We can always remove information we don't need, but trying to work out which edition of a book you mean or which 'Smith (2006)' you're talking about can cause some tearing out of hair.
- Keep your deadlines. Yes, this is another obvious one, but I have worked on plenty of projects where sections have been missing until the last possible moment (and sometimes even later that that). It makes it more likely that mistakes will sneak in, because everyone is doing a rushed job. It can play havoc with the pagination of books if the length of a late section is different than what was expected. And it can make editors (and especially production staff) very grumpy if they are having to make up time or rearrange schedules because you were late with your manuscript.
- Write with passion. There is nothing more joyful to work on than passionate writing. An enthusiastic, engaging writer can make me forgive all manner of spelling, grammar and presentation 'crimes' because I am so caught up in the ideas being expressed and ensuring they're communicated clearly. I know other editors feel the same way. Write like you mean it. And if you can follow points 1-9 as well, I might even send you flowers.
If you have questions about these tips or related issues, you're welcome to ask and I'll do my very best to help. If other editors have further tips to add, please leave them in the comments below.